Although alive and safe, 130 Afghan female football players alongside their families remain uncertain of their new lives in the United Kingdom.
It is known that the Taliban gained control in August 2021, the minute the United States and other Western allies pulled back their arm forces. Since then, women were immediately imposed to stay home from school and work. Many of the country’s athletes have fled into hiding and waited for rescue.
Women were not allowed to participate in sports – this was stated in the Taliban rule. And by August 2021, the former captain of the Afghan women’s soccer team had encouraged all-female soccer players to delete all their accounts on all social media platforms and to burn all their kits for self-preservation.
“They are like a nightmare for my generation. They took over all of our country in one night. And after that night, we were able to see the Taliban on the streets. They were cruel. They didn’t have mercy for anyone,” 19-year-old defender Narges Mayeli shared.
Mayeli, one of the two Afghan female soccer athletes who is now residing in the UK, shared that when the Taliban gained control, the women instantly feared for their lives and safety. They attempted to board an evacuation flight headed to Qatar in August of 2021 but failed because of a suicide attack at Kabul airport. From there, these young women had no choice but to leave Afghanistan by land, via Pakistan, going through the Torkham border. With the help of Leeds United chairman Andrea Radrizzani and the US-based Jewish charity Tzedek, they were able to secure a flight going to the United Kingdom in November 2021.
In October 2020, the Taliban replaced the sign at an entrance gate of a government building in Kandahar. This sign was from the Department for Women’s Affairs; they changed it into the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
“I feel sad and worried, and I want to be able to go back to my home. We never dreamt of leaving our country, but it’s very difficult and scary knowing that as women, we lost our light, our freedom that we had in Afghanistan,” Sabreyah Nowrozi, the 24-year-old team captain of the women’s football team.
The UK government has then announced a resettlement scheme for all Afghanistan citizens facing threats of persecution from the Taliban.
In this matter, the resettlement scheme prioritizes girls, women, and other minorities. The UK has opened its doors to 20,000 refugees over the next five years and will provide full rights to stay in the country and even pursue citizenship. However, the female soccer team is still hoping for assurance. The Copenhagen-based Popal, who led the rescue mission to save these women, shared that the team was only given a 6-month temporary visa.
The Popal, who now lives in Denmark, was forced to leave her country in 2011 because her life was in danger after establishing Afghanistan’s national women’s team and shared that these young women have no refugee status. “They are in kind of a limbo of not knowing what will happen to them in six months’ time,” she added.