LONDON – Members of Afghanistan’s women’s youth development football team arrived in Britain early Thursday after being flown in from Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, a British football club and Kim Kardashian West.
A plane chartered by the reality star and with more than 30 teenage players and their families, about 130 people in total, landed at Stansted Airport near London. Afghans will spend 10 days in coronavirus quarantine before starting new life in Britain.
English Premier League club Leeds United have offered to support the players.
Britain and other countries evacuated thousands of Afghans in a hasty airlift when Kabul fell to Taliban militants in August. Many more people have since traveled overland to neighboring countries in hopes of traveling further to the West.
Women who played sports were seen as a political defiance against the Taliban, and hundreds of female athletes have left Afghanistan since the group returned to power and began slowing down women’s education and freedom.
Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan’s women’s national team who has spearheaded the evacuation efforts for women athletes, said she felt “so happy and so relieved” that the girls and women were out of danger.
“Many of these families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were burned down,” Popal told the Associated Press. “Some of their family members were killed or taken by the Taliban. So the danger and stress was very high and therefore it was very important to move quickly to get them outside Afghanistan.”
Australia evacuated the members of Afghanistan’s national women’s football team and the youth team was resettled in Portugal.
Members of the development team, many of whom come from poor families in the country’s provinces, managed to reach Pakistan and eventually secure British visas. But they were left in limbo for weeks without flying out of the country as the time limit for their Pakistani visas ticked down.
The team enlisted the help of the Tzedek Association, a nonprofit American group that previously helped the last known member of Kabul’s Jewish community leave Afghanistan.
The group’s founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, has worked with reality TV star Kardashian West on criminal law reform in the United States. He reached out to her to help pay for a chartered flight to Britain
“Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wants to fund the entire flight,” Margaretten said.
Kardashian West’s spokeswoman confirmed that the star and her brand SKIMs had chartered the flight.