safe and alive, but “traumatized”, their future in the UK is still very uncertain – .

safe and alive, but “traumatized”, their future in the UK is still very uncertain – .

During the last period of the Taliban regime, women were banned from playing sports, and at the end of August Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghan women’s football team, urged players to remove their network profiles. social workers and burn their kits to protect themselves.

“They are like a nightmare for my generation. They conquered our whole country overnight. And after that night, we got to see the Taliban in the streets. They were cruel. They didn’t have mercy on anyone, ”19-year-old defenseman Narges Mayeli told CNN.

Mayeli is one of two Afghan footballers now living in the UK who spoke to CNN about their experiences.

After the Taliban took power, women feared for their lives and the safety of their families.
An attempt to board an evacuation flight to Qatar failed in August following a suicide bombing at Kabul airport. The young women therefore rushed to leave Afghanistan by land, via Pakistan, via the Torkham border, in mid-September. They finally got a flight to the UK in November after two precarious months.

“I feel sad and worried, and I want to be able to go home. We never dreamed of leaving our country, but it’s very difficult and scary to know that as women we have lost our light, our freedom that we had in Afghanistan, ”Sabreyah Nowrozi told CNN, the captain of the 24-year-old women’s team.

In August, the British government announced a resettlement program for Afghan citizens facing “threats of persecution from the Taliban”.

The program, which prioritizes women, girls and religious and other minorities, will see the UK host up to 20,000 refugees over the next five years and grant indefinite rights to stay in the country or to get citizenship.

But the women’s football team has not been given any assurances, Copenhagen-based Popal, who has led efforts to evacuate women and girls, who only have temporary six-month visas, told CNN.

“These girls do not have refugee status,” said Popal, who lives in Denmark after being forced to flee her home country in 2011 out of fear for her life due to her role in creating the Afghanistan Women’s National Team. “They’re sort of in limbo not knowing what will happen to them in six months,” she said.

Restrictive policies and uncertainty

The UK’s position on immigration has hardened in recent years: Home Secretary Priti Patel has repeatedly promised to return the Channel crossing to the UK from France “no viable ”for migrants.

Last Wednesday, 27 people – including a pregnant woman – drowned in extremely cold water off the French coast after an inflatable boat carrying migrants to Britain capsized in the English Channel.

Thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the world’s poorest or war-torn countries risk the dangerous crossing, often in dinghies unfit for travel and at the mercy of smugglers, seeking asylum or economic opportunities in Britain.

Ministers on both sides of the Channel on Thursday blamed their counterparts after Wednesday’s tragedy, which was one of the biggest casualties in the Channel in recent years. It is not known whether the Afghans were among those who perished, but the road is one that other Afghans have taken in the past.

Afghan players say they feel safer now that they have reached the UK. “Now we can have calm sleep, we are less worried,” Mayeli said.

But without guaranteed refugee status, young women say they don’t feel safe.

“Of course, you can’t focus on studying, you can’t focus on integration, knowing that maybe tomorrow you will be kicked out of the country,” Popal said.

Nowrozi told CNN: “It’s worrying to me that after six months the UK can say, go back to Afghanistan. “

“These girls, these families, the whole group have been through a lot. Their lives were in great danger. They lost a lot, ”Popal told CNN.

“They didn’t want to leave Afghanistan, but they were forced to. They were pushed into it. They have lost so much along the way. They were afraid of their lives, ”Popal said.

“It was not only the fear of losing their lives because of the Taliban, but it was also the fear of the neighborhood, of society which was against the participation of women, especially through football,” he said. she declared. And it was not only the girls in danger, according to Popal: “The brothers, and some of the fathers were threatened, beaten.

“And there, some of them lost their homes. They were set on fire because as soon as the Taliban took control of the country, these ideologies were supported by [the] Taliban. ”

The UK has given the group six months leave to facilitate their entry into the UK, according to an Home Office official.

They will be processed for an indefinite residence permit (ILR) in the UK before their initial six months of leave expire, following the government’s standard approach during and since the evacuation, according to the official.

If they get the ILR, there will be no time limit on their ability to stay in the UK.

The future of women’s sport

The future of women’s sport in Afghanistan remains uncertain.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, told SBS News in Australia that Afghan women should not play cricket and other sports in which they are “exposed”.

“In cricket, they might be faced with a situation where their face and body won’t be covered. Islam doesn’t allow women to be seen like that, ”Wasiq told SBS News.

Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman Azizullah Fazli later told Al Jazeera that Taliban officials said there was “no official ban on women’s sport,” but many remain concerned.

Popal told CNN that the Taliban was sharing inaccurate information about the status of women to appear more progressive in the eyes of the international community.

Members of the Afghan national women's football team arrive at the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in Lahore on September 15.

“I have received a lot of phone calls, messages, emails: people are desperate, especially female athletes. They are really trying to find a way out, to feel free, to have access to education, ”Popal said. .

In October, CNN spoke to women in Kabul who were returning to public spaces after staying indoors during the uncertain first weeks of the Taliban regime.

Still, there are concerns about a steady decline in women’s freedoms since the group took power three months ago, most recently with a ban on women appearing in television series.

“We started playing football in a small area of ​​a community where everyone knows us as footballers. We were the women who played football, not only as a game, but we played football to empower other girls in order to raise our voices for women’s rights, ”Mayeli told CNN.

“As a woman, as a footballer, I didn’t feel safe in Afghanistan. ”

An opportunity – but not an “end of the game”

Young women say they are hopeful for their “bright future” in the UK.

Mayeli said she was grateful to everyone who worked to help her reach the UK, including the UK government, Popal, ROKIT (a UK based charity that has helped footballers) and Kim Kardashian.

“I want to get a higher education and help others as much as I can. As I have abilities, I want to raise my voice for the other girls, because they are still in Afghanistan and they are in danger, ”she said.

Popal told CNN that girls need to get refugee status, academic support, mental health and financial support.

“In the beginning, the main objective is to provide them with mental health support, because they are traumatized. They need special care and they have been on the move for so long now, ”she said.

“They did their job. They have been through a lot and they risked their lives to leave Afghanistan. They have shown leadership. They showed bravery. dreams and goals. ”

Nowrozi told CNN that she wanted to become a child psychologist because she was studying psychology at university in Afghanistan. And the players can’t wait to keep playing football.

“Playing for Chelsea is my ambition. ”

“I love it, because when I play football I feel free. I feel relaxed. At first it was a hobby, but then it became my love, ”she said.


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