LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to help resettle Afghanistan’s junior women’s football team in Britain.
The 35-strong team plus 101 other associated people, including coaches and family members, are currently in Lahore where they have been granted temporary refuge until Oct. 12 after a personal intervention by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan helped get them out of Afghanistan after the country fell to the Taliban.
They are being supported by the Rokit Foundation, NGO Football for Peace, and the chairman of English Premier League side Leeds United, Andrea Radrizzani, who has offered to “give the girls a prosperous and peaceful future,” helping with housing, employment for relatives, education and training opportunities with the club’s youth teams.
The team only escaped Afghanistan after an initial attempt to fly them to Qatar was scuppered by the deterioration of security in Kabul, with many of the girls facing additional threats from the Taliban on account of coming from various ethnic and religious minorities.
Rokit CEO Siu-Anne Marie Gill said the team’s departure from Afghanistan had become high-profile following Khan’s intervention, and members would be at great risk were they to return to the country.
“There were photos of their faces on TV, they will be in even more danger now,” she told The Guardian. “They’re the girls that got out. They cannot go back to Afghanistan, we have got to make this happen.”
She said she had written to Johnson to ask the UK to add the team, some of whom are as young as 12, to the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, after Australia offered sanctuary to the senior women’s team.
She added that other football clubs and local authorities in the UK have also offered support for the team should they be added to the ACRS.
Kashif Siddiqi, a former Pakistan footballer and co-founder of Football for Peace, said: “The race is on to find them a permanent safe haven. These girls were on the path for development for the national football team. Now, the very thing that gave them hope has become a risk to their life.”
The UK government said it is “urgently” looking into the matter “as part of the wider resettlement scheme.”