Girls evacuated from Afghan football team ‘do not’ have a home in UK


Girls of the Afghan national junior football team and their families, who escaped the Taliban, are at risk of being stuck in temporary housing or going their separate ways because a council says it cannot relocate them all.

A leaked email from Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghanistan women’s team, suggests that Leeds City Council is refusing to provide accommodation to the 132 Afghans in the group, which includes 32 teenage footballers, their families, their coaches and other staff.

it comes after The independent revealed in early September that the girls were stranded in Afghanistan, then in October that they were evacuated by Fifa.

Leeds United president Andrea Radrizzani has said his football club will “give girls a prosperous and peaceful future” by offering to put all players in its youth development teams – but the government and local authorities are trying already treating thousands of refugees since Afghanistan fell under Taliban control in August.

In the leaked email Ms Popal said: “If the Leeds Council cannot accommodate the 132 people, we have to find other clubs, foundations, universities and divide the team, so far we don’t don’t have any. “

A source closely involved in helping the girls, the youngest of whom is only 12, said: “They once had the trauma of fleeing the Taliban and now they are facing disruption. It’s sad that they have to break up the band because they know each other so well and get along so well. It’s frustrating.

“They arrived in the UK late in part because of the difficulties in finding them long-term accommodation here.”

The girls and their families are expected in Britain on Thursday, flying from Pakistan to Birmingham, where they will be placed in hotels in quarantine for up to two weeks.

Leeds City Council has denied claims it will host only five of the girls, but declined to say how many it will host.

A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said: “Leeds is fully committed to welcoming Afghan refugees and a large number of families have already been accommodated in the city.

“However, the issues affecting all Afghan refugees, including those involved in women’s football, are complex and we continue to work with the government and other partners to address the challenges faced.”

Initial efforts to evacuate the girls to Doha did not work as they were prevented from reaching Kabul airport due to the continuing terrorist threat. The girls were trapped in the Taliban underground in Kabul for another 10 days before being granted temporary visas to enter Pakistan.

Kashif Siddiqi, a London-born footballer who played for the Pakistan international team, led the campaign to bring the team and their relatives to Britain. Mr Siddiqi, who co-founded Football for Peace, is currently in Islamabad alongside Ms Popal to help plan the girls’ impending trip to the UK.

Ms. Popal said The independent: “The girls have been through a lot. They had a very, very difficult journey. They went through a lot of stress and risk – they hid them in a hostel in Kabul and were displaced from their homes.

“Their lives were in danger not only by the Taliban, but also by the men of the community. I am very grateful to the UK for saving their dreams and their lives. I look forward to seeing them breathe freedom and practice basic human rights.

Ms Popal, who was forced to flee Afghanistan in 2011 because helping to establish the national women’s football team put her life in danger, said women’s football in Afghanistan is based on the activism and highlights the “social and cultural challenges” women face. .

“We were standing up to say that we are half the population, you cannot take our rights. We are against the ideology of the Taliban. We were at great risk not only for playing football, but also for activism, ”she said.



“It is quite sad and disappointing that only a handful of Afghan refugee girls from the national football team and their families have been helped, especially when they have just faced the darkest times of their lives.”

Founder of Football for Humanity

Heather Barr, of Human Rights Watch, said it was “wonderful” that the girls escaped and have to make it to the UK, but warned they needed support once they got there.

She added: “Women’s sport will not exist in Afghanistan in the months and years to come. It would be really important that Afghan women’s sports stay alive outside the country. They just don’t need a new home, but they do need a new home where they can continue to be a team.

“I hope there will be support for them wherever they go. We see more and more how much trauma they are going to have to carry with them. They will be wonderful members of the community they join.

The Taliban recently declared that Afghan women would be banned from playing all sports. While Ms Popal advised the players to burn their football gear and actively get rid of photos of them playing on social media to prevent them from being eventually punished by the authorities there.

The Taliban seized power in mid-August as US and British forces withdrew. The last time the die-hard Islamist group ruled the country, women were not allowed to work, girls were not allowed to go to school, and women had to be chaperoned by a parent masculine if they wanted to leave the house.

Chris Thomas, Founder of Football for Humanity, said The independent: “It is quite sad and disappointing that only a handful of Afghan refugee girls from the national football team and their families were helped, especially when they had just faced the darkest times of their lives.

“We do not hesitate to criticize the nations that have not gone beyond their limits to help these people, but it seems difficult to ask for ‘an extra effort’ even in our homeland. Perhaps this is a reflection of our lack of understanding of the Afghan situation, and it shows how difficult it is for us to sympathize with those who are helpless and suffering.

A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said: “It is wrong to suggest that the Afghanistan girls’ soccer team is facing homelessness. Like others we have brought to the UK from Afghanistan, they will receive a warm welcome, support and accommodation.

“The government is committed to doing everything in its power to help those who need it most, including vulnerable women and girls at risk who have had to flee Afghanistan.

It was not clear whether the girls were being resettled under the government’s Resettlement and Assistance Policy in Afghanistan (PFRA) program, and the Interior Ministry declined to say.


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