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Safe and alive, but ‘traumatized,’ the future of these Afghan women footballers is very uncertain



During the final interval of Taliban rule, women had been banned from taking part in sports activities, and by late August, Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghan women’s soccer group, had urged gamers to delete social media profiles and burn their kits to guard themselves.

“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 informed CNN.

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

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Once the Taliban seized energy, the women feared for his or her lives and the security of their households.

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An try and board an evacuation flight to Qatar failed in August following a suicide assault at Kabul airport, so the younger women scrambled to go away Afghanistan overland, by way of Pakistan, by means of the Torkham border, in mid-September. They finally secured a flight to the UK in November after two precarious months.

A Taliban replaces a sign of the Department for Women's Affairs with the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, at an entrance gate of a government building in Kandahar on October 20.

“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 group captain of the women’s group, informed CNN. 

In August, the UK authorities introduced a resettlement scheme for Afghan residents dealing with “threats of persecution from the Taliban.”

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The scheme, which prioritizes women, ladies, and spiritual and different minorities, will see the UK soak up as much as 20,000 refugees over the subsequent 5 years, and grant indefinite rights to remain in the nation or pursue citizenship.

But the women’s soccer group has been given no assurances, Copenhagen-based Popal, who spearheaded efforts to evacuate the women and ladies, who solely have six-month short-term visas, informed CNN.

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“These girls have no refugee status,” Popal, who lives in Denmark after she was pressured to flee her residence nation in 2011 in concern for her life as a result of of her function in establishing Afghanistan’s nationwide women’s group, mentioned. “They are in kind of a limbo of not knowing what will happen to them in six months’ time,” she mentioned. 

Restrictive insurance policies and uncertainty

The United Kingdom’s stance on immigration has hardened in recent times: Home Secretary Priti Patel has repeatedly vowed to make the English Channel crossing to the UK from France “unviable” for migrants.

Last Wednesday, 27 individuals — together with a pregnant lady — drowned in bitterly chilly waters off the coast of France after an inflatable boat carrying migrants certain for Britain capsized in the English Channel. 

Thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing battle, persecution and poverty in the world’s poorest or war-torn nations threat the harmful crossing, usually in dinghies unfit for the voyage and at the mercy of individuals smugglers, in search of asylum or financial alternatives in Britain.

French police patrol the beach of Wimereux searching for migrants on November 25.

Ministers from either side of the Channel on Thursday laid blame on their counterparts after Wednesday’s tragedy, which was one of the largest losses of life in the English Channel in recent times. It is unclear whether or not Afghans are amongst those that perished, but the route is one which different Afghans have utilized in the previous.

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The Afghan women gamers say they really feel safer and safer now they’ve reached the UK. “Now we can have a calm sleep, we are less worried,” Mayeli mentioned. 

But with out the assure of refugee standing, the younger women say they really feel insecure. 

“Of course, you cannot focus on studying, you cannot focus on integrating, knowing that maybe tomorrow you will be kicked out of the country,” Popal mentioned. 

Nowrozi informed CNN: “It’s worrying for me that after six months the UK could say, go back to Afghanistan.” 

“These girls, these families, the entire group have been through a lot. Their life was in great danger. They have lost a lot,” Popal informed CNN.

“They didn’t want to leave Afghanistan, but they were forced to. They were pushed to. They have lost so many things on the way. They were scared of their lives,” Popal mentioned. 

“It was not only the fear from losing their life by the Taliban, but it was from the neighborhood, from the society that were against the participation of women, especially through football,” she mentioned. And it wasn’t simply the ladies in peril, in accordance with Popal: “The brothers, and some of the fathers had been threatened, overwhelmed. 

“And there, some of them, they lost their homes. They were put on fire because the minute the Taliban took over the country, those ideologies were supported by [the] Taliban.”

The UK granted the group six months of go away to facilitate their entry to the UK, in accordance with a Home Office official.

They shall be processed for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK earlier than their six months of preliminary go away expires, in keeping with the authorities’s commonplace method throughout and since the evacuation, in accordance with the official.

If they’re granted ILR, there shall be no time restrict on their means to remain in the UK.

The future of women’s sport

The future of women’s sport in Afghanistan stays unclear.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural fee, informed Australia’s SBS News that Afghan women shouldn’t play cricket and different sports activities by which they might be “exposed.”

“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this,” Wasiq mentioned to SBS News.

The chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Azizullah Fazli, later informed Al Jazeera that Taliban officers had indicated there was “officially no ban on women’s sport,” but many stay involved. 

Popal informed CNN that the Taliban was sharing inaccurate details about the standing of women to appear more progressive to the worldwide neighborhood.

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

“I have been receiving a lot of phone calls, messages, emails: people are desperate, especially the women athletes. They are really trying to just find a way to get out, to feel freedom, to get access to education,” Popal mentioned. 

In October, CNN spoke to women in Kabul who had been returning to public areas after staying inside throughout the preliminary first few uncertain weeks of Taliban rule. 
Still, there was concern a few regular rollback of women’s freedoms since the group seized energy three months in the past, most lately with women barred from showing in tv dramas.

“We started playing football in a small area in a community where all of the people know us as football players. We were the women who were playing football, not only as a game, but we were playing football in order to empower other girls in order to raise our voices for women rights,” Mayeli informed CNN. 

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

An alternative — but not “endgame” 

The younger women say they’re hopeful for his or her “bright futures” in the UK. 

Mayeli mentioned she is grateful to all of the individuals who labored to assist her attain the UK, together with the UK authorities, Popal, ROKIT (a UK-based charity that has helped the footballers) and Kim Kardashian.

“I want to have higher education, and help other people as I can. As I have abilities, I wanna raise my voice for other girls, because they’re still in Afghanistan and they are in danger,” she mentioned. 

Popal informed CNN that the ladies have to be given refugee standing, training assist, psychological well being and monetary assist.

“The main focus in the beginning is to get them mental health support, because they are traumatized. They need special care, and they have been on the go for such a long time now,” she mentioned.

“They have done their job. They have been through a lot, and they have risked their life to get out of Afghanistan. They have shown leadership. They have shown bravery. We need the community to come together to support the team to achieve their dreams and goals.”

Nowrozi informed CNN that she desires to grow to be a toddler psychologist, as she studied psychology at college in Afghanistan. And the gamers cannot wait to hold on enjoying soccer. 

“To play for Chelsea, it’s my ambition.”

“I love it, because when I’m playing football, I feel free. I feel relaxed. At first, it was a hobby, but after that it became my love,” she mentioned.


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