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

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During the last days of the Taliban regime, women were banned from participating in sports.

“They were like a lion’s dream to my generation. They captured our entire country overnight. I was able to see the Taliban on the streets after that night. They were horrible. They showed no mercy to anyone.”

Mailey was one of two Afghan female footballers now living in the UK who spoke to CNN about their experiences.

When the Taliban seized power, women feared for their lives and the safety of their families.

An attempt to board an evacuation flight to Qatar in August following a suicide attack at Kabul airport failed, so the young women tried to leave Afghanistan and land in mid-September via the Darkham border via Pakistan. They secured a flight to the UK in November after two dangerous months.

On October 20, at the entrance to a government building in Kandahar, a Taliban changed the identity of a women's affairs ministry to the Ministry of Moral Promotion and Suppression.

“I feel sad and anxious, I want to go back to my home. We never dreamed we would leave our country, but it is so hard and frightening to know that we as women have lost our light and freedom. Afghanistan,” said Sabrea Nowrosi, 24, captain of the women’s team. Told CNN.

In August, the UK government announced a resettlement plan for Afghan civilians facing “threats of persecution from the Taliban.”

The plan, which prioritizes women, girls and religion and other minorities, will take up to 20,000 refugees in the UK over the next five years, granting them indefinite rights to stay in the country or continue their citizenship.

But no guarantee was given to the women’s football team, and the Copenhagen-based Popal, which has been pushing for the expulsion of women and girls with only six-month temporary visas, told CNN.

“These girls do not have refugee status,” said Bhopal, who lives in Denmark. “They have no idea what will happen to them in six months,” he said.

Restrictive policies and uncertainty

The position of UK immigration has been difficult in recent years: Home Secretary Priti Patel has repeatedly vowed to make the English Channel from France to England “impossible” for immigrants.

Last Wednesday, 27 people, including a pregnant woman, drowned off the coast of France when 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 are at risk of dangerous crossings, often seeking asylum or economic opportunities in Britain at the behest of ineligible dinghies and human traffickers.

On November 25, French police patrolled Wimereux Beach in search of immigrants.

Ministers on both sides of the channel on Thursday blamed their colleagues in the aftermath of the tragedy on Wednesday, one of the biggest casualties on the English channel in recent years. It is not clear whether there were Afghans among the dead, but the path used by other Afghans in the past.

Afghan women athletes say they have now reached the UK and are safe. “Now we can sleep peacefully, we’re less anxious,” Mayeli said.

But young women say they are vulnerable without a guarantee of refugee status.

“Of course, you can’t focus on study, you can’t focus on integration, maybe tomorrow you will be deported,” Bhopal said.

Nowrozi told CNN: “I am concerned that the UK will return to Afghanistan in six months.”

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

“They did not want to leave Afghanistan, but they were forced. They were pushed. They lost a lot of things along the way. They were afraid for their lives,” Bhopal said.

“It was not only the fear that the Taliban would lose their lives, it was against the participation of women from the neighborhood, especially through football,” he said. According to Bhopal, it was not just women at risk: “Brothers and some fathers were threatened and beaten.

“There, some of them lost their homes. The minute the Taliban took over the country, they were set on fire because they supported those ideologies. [the] The Taliban. ”

According to a Home Office official, the UK team was given six months’ leave to facilitate their entry into the UK.

They will be processed for indefinite leave (ILR) in the UK before their six-month initial leave expires, in line with the government’s standard approach, during and after eviction, according to the official.

If they are issued an ILR, there will be no deadline for them to stay in the UK.

The future of the girls game

The future of women’s sports in Afghanistan is unclear.

Ahmedullah Wasik, vice-president of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, told Australia’s SBS News that they would “emerge” in Afghanistan women’s cricket and other sports.

“In cricket, they face a situation where they do not cover their face and body. Islam does not allow women to look like this,” Wasik told SBS News.

Azizullah Fazli, chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, later told Al Jazeera that Taliban officials had pointed out that “there is no official ban on women’s play,” but many were concerned.

Bhopal told CNN that the Taliban were sharing misinformation about the status of women in what appeared to be a highly progressive international community.

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

“I get a lot of phone calls, messages, emails: people are very pessimistic, especially women athletes. They are really trying to find a way to get out, feel free and have access to education,” Bhopal said. .

In October, CNN spoke to women in Kabul who had stayed inside during the first few uncertain weeks of the Taliban regime and returned to public places.
However, since the group seized power three months ago, there has been concern about a permanent setback for women’s freedom, most recently when women were banned from appearing in television dramas.

“We all started playing football in a small area of ​​a community that knew us as footballers. We played football not only as a sport, but as a sport to promote other women. To raise our voice for women’s rights,” Mayley told CNN.

“As a woman, as a footballer, I did not feel safe in Afghanistan.”

A chance – but not an “endcom”

Young women say they are optimistic about their “bright future” in the UK.

Mayeli thanked the UK government, Bhopal, ROKIT (a UK-based charity that helped footballers) and everyone who helped reach England, including Kim Kardashian.

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

Popal told CNN that the girls should be given refugee status, educational assistance, mental health and financial assistance.

“Initially the main focus was on getting mental support for them because they are traumatized. They need special care and they are on the go for a long time now,” he said.

“They have done their job, they have enjoyed a lot, they risked their lives to get out of Afghanistan. They have shown leadership, they have shown courage. The community must unite to support the team to achieve them. Dreams and goals.”

Nowrozi told CNN that he wanted to be a child psychologist because he studied psychology at a university in Afghanistan. Players can not wait to continue playing more football.

My ambition is to play for Chelsea.

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

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