Escape of Afghan women footballers helped by Albrighton firm

A group of young female Afghan footballers who fled their country after the Taliban takeover are set to be relocated to the UK - thanks to the efforts of a firm based in Albrighton.

Members of the Afghan National Women's Junior Football Team
Members of the Afghan National Women's Junior Football Team

The Afghanistan National Women’s Junior Football Team squad, who are mostly teenagers, have been in Pakistan on temporary 30-day visas since escaping from Afghanistan, but faced being sent back once their asylum period ran out had another country not accepted them.

"We are working to finalise visas to the Afghanistan women's football team and look forward to welcoming them to the UK shortly," a Government spokesman said.

The 35 young players and their families – a total of 130 people – just missed the airlift evacuations from Kabul after their country fell to the Taliban in August.

The ROKiT Foundation, which has offices in Albrighton and works across a number of sectors including mobile phones, Smart WiFi technologies, beverages, E-bikes, and payment cards, has supported the group in their bid to find safety.

Jonathan Kendrick, chairman of the ROKiT group of companies, said that they had felt a humanitarian imperative to help the group.

He said: "ROKiT were approached in September with a request to assist financially in the urgently required evacuation of the Afghan National Women’s Junior Football Team and their immediate families from Afghanistan and I decided we had to help immediately and at pace.

"From a humanitarian perspective, there was simply no option."

The group were "in a hugely dangerous, life-threatening position should they remain in Afghanistan", where the militant group has banned girls from playing football, according to the foundation.

They made the "perilous journey" in small family groups to Pakistan, from where they began the process of applying for UK visas.

The foundation said the next phase of their escape, "to come in the next couple of weeks, will be the relocation of the girls and their families to the UK".

ROKiT Foundation chief executive Siu-Anne Marie Gill said: "This has a been a team effort, like football itself, and these young players, with whom we are in regular contact via video calls, are absolutely thrilled and relieved to have been given the opportunities that will come available to them in their new lives in the UK."

Mr Kendrick, added: "We are deeply grateful for the personal involvement in this tremendous effort by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, the Pakistan Football Federation, Football for Peace, and the former captain of the Afghan national Women's football team, Khalida Popal."

A Government spokesman said: "The Government is committed to doing all it can to support those most in need, including vulnerable women and girls, and those at risk who have had to flee Afghanistan.

"The UK's evacuation operation helped over 15,000 people to safety, including British nationals, Afghan locally employed staff, and other vulnerable people."

Leeds United is among a number of organisations which had previously urged the Government to grant the girls asylum.

Last month, chairman Andrea Radrizzani offered to place all the players on the club's youth development teams and said it stood ready to "give the girls a prosperous and peaceful future".

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