Zali

Statement from Zali Steggall MP on the rescue of female athletes from Afghanistan

11 September, 2021

Almost a month ago the Taliban swept through Kabul, leaving the country in turmoil and much of the international community in shock. So many of the gains, especially for women, were sadly highly likely to be lost and a generation of girls and women face the horrific prospect of losing the right to participate in public life, the right to education and the right to play sport.

On Thursday 19 August I was approached by former Socceroo and Social Justice advocate, Craig Foster, to lend my support to an international initiative to assist prominent female athletes in Afghanistan.

These athletes who were often at the forefront of the women’s rights movement in Afghanistan, and faced persecution and very real danger. They were desperately seeking international help to escape to safety.

Throughout their sporting journeys, these athletes have shown immense courage, strength and determination to play their sport and to raise the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan. As a former athlete I can relate to the determination and commitment they would have needed to excel in their sport. But more importantly, as a woman, I have incredible admiration for their courage and bravery in breaking the restraints their culture had imposed on women and embracing the freedoms that came when the Taliban was originally thrown out.

It was awful that the very traits that made these women so admired and so respected across the globe could now be their downfall – and put them in very real danger and fear for their life.

The fear and risk of persecution for having been prominent in advocating for women’s rights required swift action. I was incredibly grateful to be in a position to assist in bringing the urgency of the plight of these athletes and their families to the attention of Ministers Payne, Hawke and Colbeck. My team and I forwarded visa application material, compiled lists and provided letters of support for various applications.

I want to thank the Australian Government for their urgent attention to the plight of these athletes and for providing a professional and compassionate response in assisting with their rescue. To Ministers Payne and Hawke, to the staff in their departments and to the ADF personnel on the ground – a huge and genuine thank you.

I also want to express my admiration and respect for the athletes - these courageous women who in the face of real danger, stood up for what they believed in. They have now had to flee their homeland, leaving behind the country they so proudly represented.

I’d also like to thank the amazing, compassionate people that provided their professional skills and support for no other reason than it was the right thing to do – they stayed up through seemingly endless nights, making phone calls, drafting letters, providing comfort and support to those in Afghanistan as well as advice and expertise - to people like Craig Foster, to Nikki Dryden, a former Olympian and Human Rights Lawyer and her team at the Centre for Sport and Human Rights; and to Alison Battisson and her team at Human Rights For All (HR4A) who have been working tirelessly not just on this project but on supporting the stories and plights of hundreds of other refugees seeking compassion and liberty. 

This is but one story of a group of female athletes and their families who we were able to assist. The heartbreaking reality is that for hundreds of thousands of others, their homeland is in turmoil. They must not be forgotten and as a nation, we must do all that we can to assist them.

I recently spoke in Parliament about the Afghanistan crisis in general but due to the sensitivity of events on the ground, I chose not to speak directly about the efforts to rescue this particular group.

To view that speech visit:

https://www.zalisteggall.com.au/zali_steggall_mp_speaks_on_the_unfolding_crisis_in_afghanistan

Finally a thank you to my staff who have gone above and beyond in providing assistance to these athletes and others seeking assistance.

After seeing Afghan Paralympians Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouliget pursue their dreams of competing at the Tokyo Paralympics last month, it was also with great joy to see the National Women’s Football team of Afghanistan start to arrive safely in Australia.

My hope is also that our sporting and Football communities will now support the athletes as they start their new lives here.

The Australian Government says it has finished its evacuation flights out of Afghanistan but many still remain in need of assistance and protection. It is imperative that we continue our support for Afghans, especially those that assisted our armed forces and those at risk of persecution for campaigning for women’s rights and greater freedoms.

For anyone wanting to support ongoing efforts to help the Afghan people, please visit:

Human Rights For All: https://www.hr4a.com.au/

Craig Foster’s Addi Road project: https://addiroad.org.au/

UNHCR https://donate.unhcr.org/int/en/afghanistan-situation  

Red Cross https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/afghanistan-crisis-appeal

Save the Children https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/afghanistan

CARE Australia https://www.care.org.au/country/afghanistan/ 

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