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Kim Kardashian helps Afghan junior women soccer players flee to the U.K.

Kim Kardashian helps Afghan junior women soccer players flee to the U.K.

'They've been through so much and managed to stay strong. Now they can start a new life and breathe freedom.'

Members of Afghanistan's women's youth development soccer team and their families arrived in Britain safely Thursday after being flown from Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, a U.K. soccer club, and Kim Kardashian West. According to the Associated Press, the reality television star and her brand SKIMS played a key role in helping the group reach safely by funding their travel. A plane chartered by New York-based Jewish aid organization, Tzedek Association, and fully funded by Kardashian West, carrying over 30 teenage players and their families, about 130 people in all, left Pakistan on Wednesday and landed at Stansted Airport near London on Thursday morning.



 

"Many of those families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were burnt down," revealed Khalida Popal, a former captain of the Afghan women's national soccer team who coordinated the rescue efforts from Denmark. "Some of their family members were killed or taken by Taliban. So the danger and the stress was very high, and that's why it was very important to move fast to get them outside Afghanistan." Speaking to BBC, she said: "It's Mission Accomplished. I'm so happy and so proud of these girls. They were traumatized. They've been through so much and managed to stay strong. Now they can start a new life and breathe freedom."



 

Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, President & Founder of the Tzedek Association, also expressed his relief as the players and their families finally found safety after more than four months since the Taliban seizing power. "As the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors, a time when righteous non-Jewish people stepped up to the plate to help save so many Jewish people, I know in my heart that we must be there for others in their time of need at a time when their very lives are at risk," he said.



 

 

The teenagers aged between 13 and 19 are mostly from the Afghan provinces and feared for their lives when the Taliban captured their cities. Popal revealed that some of their families had received death threats. "People were searching houses for them," she said. When the Taliban last controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, the group enforced severe laws preventing women from working, attending school or appearing in public without male chaperones. Women were also prohibited from playing sports during the last Taliban regime. However, under the Western-backed government, the Afghan women's national soccer team became a symbol of progress and feminism in the country.



 

"Afghan female football was built on activism – to use the power of our voices and the power of our sporting platform for women's empowerment and justice beyond sport," Popal said in a statement. "This team have been through a lot and have made many sacrifices on their journey to freedom. Since August, they have been displaced from their homes and have been desperately looking forward to the freedoms and basic human rights that we often take for granted." When the country fell to the Taliban earlier this year, the youth development team scrambled to Kabul and were due to be evacuated to the Gulf state of Qatar at the end of August.



 

They were almost within sight of the airport when they were pulled off their buses due to security warnings. Two hours later, the airport was struck by a suicide bomb which left more than 180 people dead. Terrified, the group went into hiding. Then came 10 days of intense lobbying on their behalf, following which they were given the personal permission of the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to cross the border on temporary visas. Thanks to the array of NGO workers, footballers, FIFA members, advisers, and lawyers working all avenues to secure a safe place for the team, the teens and their families managed to secure visas to the U.K. last month.



 

According to The Guardian, the group's escape from Kabul was sponsored by the ROKiT Foundation before Leeds United's chair, Andrea Radrizzani, and the NGO Football for Peace stepped up to support them. Kardashian West came into the picture when Popal reached out to the Tzedek Association "about a serious crisis." She informed the non-profit that "members of the youth development team "were stuck in Pakistan for many weeks after being rescued from Afghanistan" and that the players "faced the terrible and dangerous risk of being sent back to Afghanistan if we [didn't] get them out to another country soon."



 

Margaretten, who has previously worked with Kardashian West on criminal justice reform in the U.S., reached out to the reality TV star to help pay for a chartered plane to the U.K. "Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wants to fund the entire flight," he said. In a statement, Margaretten thanked Kardashian West and Popal for the roles they played in rescuing the teens. "Thank you Kim Kardashian West and SKIMS for your magnanimous assistance to fund this flight and make it a reality," he said. "And thank you Khalida Popal for giving us the opportunity to partner in this life-and-death effort and for all that you are doing."

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