Members of Afghanistan‘s national girls’ football team have fled across the border into Pakistan, officials said Wednesday, a month after the hardline Taliban swept back into power. The group of junior players and their coaches and families had tried to escape the country last month but a devastating bomb attack at Kabul airport left them stranded, someone close to the team told AFP.
“I received a request for their rescue from another England-based NGO, so I wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan who issued clearance for them to land in Pakistan,” said Sardar Naveed Haider, an ambassador for global development NGO Football for Peace, based in London.
More than 75 people crossed the northern border on Tuesday, before travelling south to the city of Lahore where they were greeted with flower garlands. About 30 more are still hoping to cross into Pakistan.
They will stay in Pakistan for a month before moving on to another country.
The girls, who played for the under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams, crossed the land border dressed in burqas, Haider said, before they later changed into headscarves.
The Taliban banned women from playing all sport during their first rule in the 1990s and have indicated women and girls will face restrictions in playing sport this time around.
A senior Taliban official has told Australian media it is “not necessary” for women to play.
But on Tuesday, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, Afghanistan’s new director general for sports, said top-level Taliban leaders were still deciding.
Pakistan’s federal minister for information Fawad Chaudhry welcomed the women players in a tweet early Wednesday morning.
“We welcome Afghanistan Women football team they arrived at Torkham Border from Afghanistan. The players were in possession of valid Afghanistan Passport, Pakistan visa,” Chaudhry tweeted.
Pakistan’s prime minister is a former international cricketing star and sports hero among Pakistanis.
Tens of thousands of Afghan nationals have fled their country since the Taliban seized power, fearing reprisal attacks or repression.
At least 75 members of the Afghan women’s national football team and their family members were evacuated to Australia last month, with more expected to follow.