'Sweet day' for Afghan sportswomen fleeing Taliban rule on latest flight

Kabul (AFP) – Dozens of Afghan women athletes expressed relief and optimism as they fled Taliban rule on the latest flight out of Kabul Wednesday, saying it is a "sweet day for all of us".

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The semi-regular flight to Doha, arranged by the Qatar government, has become a rare lifeline for Afghans with passports and visas since the Taliban seized power in August.

Wednesday's flight of women athletes included 28-year-old basketballer Tahera Yousofi from Herat, who is heading to Canada.

"Today is a very, very sweet day for all of us because after many, many weeks our trek starts and we are very, very happy," she told AFP.

She used to play and train regularly in Afghanistan and has competed internationally, but since the hardline Taliban returned this has proved impossible.

"The Taliban government don't let us play and don't let us get a job and we have to vacate this country, unfortunately," she said.

Sports were banned when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, and since their return women's freedoms have again been abruptly curtailed.

Flying alongside the athletes were expat Afghans who were visiting their homeland and were caught off guard by the speed of the Taliban victory.

Taliban 'broke her foot'

Sef and Zohra Amiri, 22 and 26, had planned a two-week-long visit from their home in Britain but ended up trapped for a fearful two-and-a-half months.

"Finally we got the phone call from the British Embassy to help us to get out of here. Now we can finally breathe and we can fly wherever we want to go and (do) whatever we want to do," said Zohra.

Since the Taliban took control of Kabul, the family has been trapped in their compound -- particularly the women.

"My auntie went outside and the Taliban broke her foot. So that was really scary for us, really sad for us. As a woman we want all freedoms for us, like boys," Zohra said.

The Qatari flights began on August 31 and leave around twice a week, carrying hundreds of passengers each time, including Afghans at-risk under the new regime.

The Taliban have complained that the ongoing departure of many educated middle-class citizens and employees of the former US-backed government is a brain drain undermining their effort to stabilise the country.

But they have promised the international community not to interfere with the departure of Afghans with legitimate papers, despite reports of intimidation, and have cooperated with the Qatar air bridge.

On arrival in Qatar, the passengers are taken to a compound where they have access to COVID-19 testing and can rest and prepare for onward travel to their final destination.

Qatar says it "will continue to work with international partners on efforts that ensure freedom of movement in Afghanistan, including through serving as an active mediator between various parties."