It was one of the worst phone calls I’d ever received: a friend in Kabul calling on a Sunday afternoon to tell me that armed men had just arrived at her home. Her voice was trembling to the point where she sounded like she was gasping for air. The men had intimidated her and fled, and she had fled to a friend’s house with her children to hide. She had no idea when they would return, if they would find her, or when she would be able to relocate to a more distant location. I’ve never heard anyone sound so terrified.

She begged for assistance in leaving the country, and I promised to keep trying. However, options were dwindling all the time.

She was desperate to leave Afghanistan as the situation deteriorated in recent months. Early in July, Biden administration officials stated that they were “considering” 2,000 expedited visas for “vulnerable women,” including journalists, politicians, and activists, who might be targeted by the Taliban following the withdrawal. My friend asked me to assist her in locating additional information. I looked for more information, but even as a native English speaker and someone who researches things for a living, I couldn’t find any clarity on this proposal, or any other legal avenues through which Afghan journalists could seek resettlement. As it happened, the scheme for vulnerable women never materialized.

This is an especially heinous crime because women in Afghanistan have long been used as a political talking point in the West; the protection of Afghan women was a key justification for the invasion and a reason for Western forces remaining in the country. I was only 14 years old when the 9/11 attacks occurred and Afghanistan was invaded, but I vividly recall the proliferation of images of Afghan women – either brutalized, with their noses or fingernails cut off, or completely shrouded, their blue burqas a symbol of the oppression that Bush and Blair ostensibly sought to overthrow. The position of women was used as a marker of cultural progress at the time, dividing the world into two distinct categories: good versus evil, civilised versus barbaric.

Prior to this week’s disastrous events, relocation schemes that brought vulnerable Afghans to the west were primarily limited to those who worked directly for foreign militaries as interpreters or in other roles. Even in the United Kingdom, these people have had to fight for their right to protection from the United Kingdom, which has been denied on spurious grounds. The Home Office frequently claimed that Kabul was a safe haven.

The current schemes do not meet the magnitude of the need, and the vast majority of those who qualify are men. Friends and family of vulnerable Afghans are desperately seeking solutions all over the world, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working around the clock. However, there is a gap in international government action. At the time of writing, the United Kingdom and Canada are the only Western countries offering a more comprehensive resettlement program, with both announcing plans to accept 20,000 Afghan refugees.

The British program, which was announced late Tuesday, is ostensibly aimed at women and religious minorities, two of the most vulnerable groups under Taliban rule. However, when you look at the details, the 20,000 figure appears to be somewhat lower: this is the same number that was resettled from Syria, a country with roughly half the population of Afghanistan. With no clear exit routes out of Afghanistan, officials say Britain may end up prioritizing those who have already reached a third country, such as Pakistan. And, most importantly, it will take place over a five-year period, with only 5,000 people expected to be relocated by the end of this year.

On Wednesday morning, I learned that a female journalist in Kabul had been detained by the Taliban while on her way to the airport for a military evacuation flight. They took her passport, a chilling reminder that the most vulnerable people do not have the luxury of waiting five years.

Perhaps more countries will follow suit with relocation programs in the coming weeks, but for many, it may be too late; government bureaucracies operate on a completely different timescale than the immediate threats on the ground.