A group of Afghan girls with promising football careers, who fled their country after the Taliban takeover, are set to be relocated to the UK in the next few weeks.
The 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 and another country had 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 on Monday.
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.
They were then “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 ROKiT Foundation, which supported their escape.
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.”
The foundation’s chairman, Jonathan Kendrick, said: “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.”
The 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”.