Members of Afghanistan’s women’s youth development soccer team arrived in Britain early Thursday after being flown from Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, a UK soccer club and Kim Kardashian.
A plane carrying more than 30 teenage players and their families, about 130 people in all, landed at Stansted Airport near London. The Afghans will spend 10 days in coronavirus quarantine before starting new lives in Britain.
English Premier League club Leeds United has offered to support the players.
Britain and other countries evacuated thousands of Afghans in a rushed airlift as Kabul fell to Taliban militants in August. Many more people have since left overland for neighboring countries in hopes of traveling on to the West.
Women playing sports was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban, and hundreds of female athletes have left Afghanistan since the group returned to power and began curbing women’s education and freedoms.
“The Afghan female footballers are well-known figures in the country. Their lives were in great danger because of people in the country who opposed their activism and wanted to stop their sport and educational activities,” said Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan’s national women’s team who has spearheaded evacuation efforts for female athletes.
Australia evacuated the members of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team, and the youth girls’ 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 to secure UK visas. But they were left in limbo for weeks with no flight out of the country as the time limit on their Pakistani visas ticked down.
The team got help from the Tzedek Association, a nonprofit U.S. 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 Kim Kardashian on criminal justice reform in the U.S. He reached out to her to help pay for a chartered plane to the UK.
“Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wants to fund the entire flight,” Margaretten said.
Kardashian’s spokeswoman confirmed that the star and her brand SKIMS had made the donation.