Karachi, Female footballers of Afghanistan’s national junior girls team, who had been in hiding following threats from the Taliban, crossed the Torkham border along with their families to reach Pakistan on Tuesday night.

The footballers, who were facing threats from the Taliban due to their involvement in sports, escaped to Pakistan after Islamabad issued emergency humanitarian visas to evacuate them from their country following the Taliban takeover, Dawn News reported.

The footballers belonging to the national junior girls team were originally due to travel to Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but were left stranded after a bomb blast at the Kabul airport on August 26.

While most of the Afghanistan national women’s team had flown out in the last week of August after an arrangement with the Australian government, the youth team was unable to get flights because they lacked passports and other documentation. They had since been in hiding to evade the Taliban.

The move to bring the 32 footballers — a total of 115 people, including their families — to Pakistan was initiated by British-based NGO Football for Peace in cooperation with the Pakistan government and the Pakistan Football Federation of Ashfaq Hussain Shah, which isn’t recognised by FIFA.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino had visited the Afghan refugees during his trip to Doha last week, but the global football body has been criticised for its inaction in aiding the junior female footballers who were still in Afghanistan.

“We launched these efforts a few weeks ago and we’re extremely thankful to the government and PFF president Ashfaq Hussain Shah and vice president Aamir Dogar for facilitating us,” Pakistan ambassador of Football for Peace Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a former member of Ashfaq’s PFF, told Dawn on Tuesday night.The footballers will proceed from Peshawar to Lahore where they will be housed at the PFF headquarters.

“We are supporters of humanity,” Ashfaq told Dawn on Tuesday night. “When we learnt about this, we immediately acted and tried our best to help them reach Pakistan as quickly as possible.”

(EW correspondent)