Members of Afghanistan’s youth development football team arrived in the UK early Thursday after being flown out of Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, a British football club and Kim Kardashian West.
A plane chartered by the reality star and carrying more than 30 teenage players and their families, about 130 people in total, landed at Stansted Airport near London. The Afghans will spend 10 days in coronavirus quarantine before starting new lives in the UK.
English Premier League club Leeds United have offered to support the players. Andrea Radrizzani, the majority owner of Leeds United, posted a photo of Afghan team members arriving at the airport. “Proud to be part of the team to make this real,” Radrizzani tweeted.
Britain and other countries have evacuated thousands of Afghans on a fast airliftin August. Many more people have since left overland to neighboring countries in hopes of traveling to the West.
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 that led evacuation efforts for female athletes, said she felt “so happy and so reassured” that the girls and women were out of danger.
“Many of those families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were set on fire,” Popal told the Associated Press. “Some of their family members were killed or taken by the Taliban. So the danger and the stress were very high, and so it was very important to move quickly to get them out of Afghanistan.”
Australia evacuated the members of Afghanistan’s national women’s football team, and the youth team was relocated to Portugal.
Members of the development team, many of whom come from poor families in the country’s provinces, have managed to reach Pakistan and eventually secure UK visas. But they were left in limbo for weeks without a flight out of the country as the time limit of their Pakistani visas decreased.
The team received help from the Tzedek Association, a nonprofit U.S. group that had previously helped the last known member of Kabul’s Jewish community leave Afghanistan.
The group’s founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, worked with reality TV star Kardashian West on criminal justice reform in the United States. He contacted her to help pay for a charter plane to the UK.
“Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wants to fund the entire flight,” Margaretten said.
“I pray that others will learn from your generosity and help at-risk Afghans at risk,” Margaretten tweeted Thursday.
Kardashian West’s spokesperson confirmed that the star and her brand SKIMs had chartered the flight.