Pakistan allows Afghan girls on junior football team to cross border

Pakistan has said it will allow dozens of young female Afghan national football team players currently trapped in hiding in Afghanistan to enter the country, The independent can reveal.

A letter from the Embassy of Pakistan, seen by The independent, says it will grant temporary visas to the 32 girls stranded in the neighboring country.

The independent understands that the girls are part of a group of about 80 people in total, which also includes their relatives and football coaches.

Activists said it was not yet clear whether family members and football staff would also receive visas to enter Pakistan, but the girls are highly unlikely to gain access to the country without them.

it comes after The independent recently revealed that 32 girls were stranded in Afghanistan – after seeing a letter asking the Pakistani prime minister for urgent help.

The letter urged Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to give girls and their families temporary visas to allow them to enter Pakistan, warning that “time is running out” and girls risk “serious threats” from part of the Taliban and “disintegrate security”.

As the activists said The independent the young women, many of whom are teenagers, are hiding in places amid reports of the Taliban searching for hotels in an attempt to find them.

“These adolescent girls and young female athletes are at immediate risk due to their association with women’s football in Afghanistan and their participation in national public football tournaments,” said the letter, which was signed by Kashif Siddiqi, a born footballer. in London who played for Pakistan. international and who co-founded an NGO called Football for Peace.

Commenting on the news that the girls will be allowed into Pakistan, Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty UK, said The independent: “It’s a huge relief that these girls got sanctuary, but it’s absolutely appalling that they face such danger for doing something as simple as playing football.

“It is a stark reminder of the dark new world to which women and girls in Afghanistan have woken up in recent weeks.”

The last time the Taliban 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 male relative if they wanted. leave the house.

Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, said: “It is great news that Pakistan has agreed to allow entry to the Afghanistan women’s football team.

“Fears for the safety of team members will not have increased until after statements last week by a Taliban official suggesting women would no longer be allowed to play sports.”

Ms Barr, a former Afghan researcher at the leading human rights charity, argued that neighboring countries have a critical position to take in helping women and girls “at urgent risk” in Afghanistan to reach safety, given that air evacuations from Afghanistan have been “halted, unless temporarily”.

She added: “The international community should help Afghanistan’s neighbors provide this urgently needed assistance.

While Chris Thomas, the founder of Football for Humanity, condemned the fact that young girls “fear for their lives” just to play sports.

He said The independent: “That says a lot about the deadly culture the Taliban forged over all these years. Girls who have not given up on their dreams of being free, surviving and thriving bear witness to the power of sport to uplift the human spirit even in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

“They must be protected and nurtured as they will become symbols of hope, especially for the many young people who suffer in silence but whose spirits are also as indomitable as the athletes they admire.

“Today Pakistan supports them. Tomorrow, the whole world of sport must be in tune. We have to prove to the world that sport has the power to change the world. “

Afghan women journalists and health workers have been killed in attacks since the start of peace talks between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government last year. While the Taliban denies carrying out these attacks, government ministers hold them responsible.

Meanwhile, the United Nations recently warned that access to food aid and other essential services in Afghanistan will soon run out – also warning that 18 million people are currently facing a humanitarian disaster and that Another 18 million could quickly find itself in the same situation.

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