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‘I am free but my spirit is not’: girls of Afghan junior football team fear for relatives in Afghanistan

The girls of the Afghan junior football team fear for the safety of loved ones they were forced to leave behind when they recently fled the Taliban in Afghanistan.

it comes after The independent revealed the inside story of the footballers’ flight from Afghanistan – with the girls giving exclusive interviews in early December about how they were beaten and threatened with death for playing football.

Recounting their long and arduous journey to safety in the UK, the Afghan national youth development team said they suffered months of suffering after the Taliban took control of their homeland, including beatings that left them let ‘howl’.

Talk to The independent in exclusive interviews the footballers, who have been in the UK since mid-november, said they had hope for their future in the UK but were consumed with terror about their relatives who remain trapped in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have launched a severe crackdown on women’s human rights since taking power in the Afghan capital of Kabul in mid-August, as US and British forces withdrew. The die-hard Islamist group has prevented women from working and accessing secondary education, as well as participating in all sports.

Sweeta Afghan, a 28-year-old footballer, said she misses her family and is petrified for their safety.

The athlete, who heads the women’s football commission in Balk province, added: “I have my sister and my brother back in Afghanistan where I am so worried about them. I cannot be happy and feel the freedom knowing that my brother and sister are living under threat from the Taliban.

“The Taliban are chasing my family in Afghanistan because of my active participation in football. Everyone in our region knew that I was a footballer.

Sweeta Afghan, a 28-year-old football player, at Elland Road, the home stadium of Leeds United

(Afghan Youth Development Team)

“Today I am free, but my mind and my brain are not free. I don’t feel free to know that my family is under threat from the Taliban.

Ms Afghan noted that her mother and father had been separated from the rest of the family and went to Albania where they are living in a refugee camp.

She explained that she had contributed to the development of women’s football in northern Afghanistan, adding that she had encouraged many Afghan women to play sports.

“Due to my activism through sport, I was able to involve over 300 people in sports in the region that repressed women,” she said. “I created my own association under the name of Afghan Fighter Girls. This association empowered women and girls.

19-year-old footballer Asma Hedayaty at Elland Road, the home stadium of Leeds United

(Afghan Youth Development Team)

Ms Afghan, who would persuade families to let their daughters play sports while in Afghanistan, said she much prefers the UK to her homeland seized by the Taliban because she has the freedom to play football and can pursue their “dreams and goals”.

She added: “We can play football and have an education. In Afghanistan, as a woman, we could not achieve our goals and dreams.

“In 2022, I hope to have a good year. A year of achievement, a year where I can learn English as early as possible so that I can study, work and develop my football skills and get my coaching license.

“I hope to find a way to bring my family to the UK as well.”

The independent revealed in early September that the youngsters of the football team were stranded in Afghanistan, and then later in the month that Pakistan would allow them to enter the country on temporary visas.

I miss my family members. My mother, my father, my sisters. I am depressed thinking of them. It makes me cry all the time.

Asma Hedayaty

A letter from the Embassy of Pakistan, previously seen by The independent, said he would grant temporary visas to girls stranded in the neighboring country.

Asma Hedayaty, a 19-year-old teammate of Ms Afghan, said she was sadly missed by her mother, father and sisters who are currently trapped in Afghanistan.

She said: “I miss my family members. My mother, my father, my sisters. I am depressed thinking of them. It makes me cry all the time. At night, I have nightmares that the Taliban found them, I wake up crying and scared.

“It’s sad not to feel free and happy to know that half of the family has returned home in the hands of the enemy. Hope to see my family here. To bring them here so that I can feel freedom and happiness.

Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghanistan women’s team, who was forced to flee Afghanistan in 2011 because helping to set up the national women’s football team had put her life in danger, played a key role in recently helping young female players escape the Taliban.

The football team, which already plays in the UK, is helped by Leeds United chairman Andrea Radrizzani and Kashif Siddiqi, a London-born footballer who played for the Pakistan international team.

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women were not allowed to work, girls were not allowed to go to school, and women had to be chaired by a male parent if they were wanted to leave the house.

Ms Hedayaty said she didn’t know much about Britain but loved the country “until now” but noted the weather was a bit “depressing”.

“I hope 2022 will be a year full of achievement and success, where I will learn the language, develop my football skills and complete my family papers so that I can bring them here,” she said. .

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