LONDON (AP) — Members of Afghanistan’s women’s youth development soccer team arrived in Britain early Thursday after being flown from Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, a U.K. soccer club and Kim Kardashian West.
The reality TV star chartered a plane and carried more than 30 teenager players with their families. It landed at Stansted Airport in London. Before starting their new lives in Britain, the Afghans will be quarantined for 10 days.
Leeds United, an English Premier League club, offered financial support.
Britain and other nations evacuated thousands from Afghanistan in an emergency airlift after Kabul was overthrown by Taliban militants. In the hope of reaching the West, many more have fled to neighboring countries.
Women playing sports was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban, and hundreds of female athletes have left Afghanistan since the group returned to power and began curbing women’s education and freedoms.
Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan’s national women’s team who has spearheaded evacuation efforts for female athletes, said she felt “so happy and so relieved” that the girls and women were out of danger.
“Many of those families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were burnt down,” Popal told the Associated Press. “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.”
Australia evacuated the members of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team, and the youth girls’ team was resettled in Portugal.
Members of the development team, many of whom come from poor families in the country’s provinces, managed to reach Pakistan and eventually to secure U.K. visas. The time limitation on their Pakistani visas meant that they could not fly out of Pakistani for several weeks, leaving them indefinitely.
The team got help from the Tzedek Association, a nonprofit U.S. group that previously helped the last known member of Kabul’s Jewish community leave Afghanistan.
The group’s founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, has worked with reality TV star Kardashian West on criminal justice reform in the U.S. She reached out to him to pay for the chartered flight 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,” Margaretten said.
Kardashian West’s spokeswoman confirmed that the star and her brand SKIMs had chartered the flight.