Among all the chaos coming out of Afghanistan over the past couple of weeks, there’s one story that hits particularly hard: that of the all-female Afghan robotics team. They hit the headlines last week when they “begged” the Canadian government for sanctuary as their homeland fell to the Taliban, and within days news had broken that precisely half of the 20-woman team had made it out of Afghanistan to Qatar.
Now, five more team members have successfully escaped – this time to Mexico. Arriving late on Tuesday August 24, along with more than 100 journalists also fleeing the Taliban, they were greeted with “the warmest welcome” at Mexico City’s international airport by Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister Martha Delgado.
“They will be received with great affection by the people of Mexico,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference about the refugee roboticists. “They are bearers of a dream: to show that we can have an egalitarian, fraternal and gender-equal world.”
Although the Taliban have publicly pledged to prioritize women’s rights and girls’ education, their previous rule was marked by harsh oppression of women. Girls were banned from education, women from work, and both faced violent and often fatal punishments for pushing the Taliban’s extreme gender rules. Already, less than two weeks after the organization took control of the country, there are reports of girls’ schools being closed once again in Afghanistan. Working women have been ordered to stay home, and stories are being shared of girls as young as twelve being forced to marry Taliban fighters.
The roboticists’ arrival in Mexico was thanks to an “extensive international effort and coordination from a group of volunteers,” according to one volunteer who asked to remain anonymous to preserve the safety of families still under Taliban control. Tuesday’s arrival marked the first group to make it to Mexico, where last week Ebrard announced that the country was “processing of the first refugee applications of Afghan citizens, especially women and girls who have requested it.” A number of countries, the US included, have pledged to take in Afghan refugees, but the number seeking escape is phenomenal, and many nations have refused emergency entry.
At present some members of the robotics team are still in Afghanistan, according to team founder Roya Mahboob. While some in the country celebrated the women for their international recognition and innovation, others have accused them of dressing immodestly while abroad, and Mahboob says those who remain face a worrying future. Some of the team members are as young as 14.
“We are very happy to be here and it is an honor that the government of Mexico has… saved our lives,” team member Fatemah Qaderyan said upon arrival to her new home. “From now on forward we will have opportunities for many more achievements in our lives, and thus be part of the fight for a better life.”
“It makes us nervous that it is precisely [our] achievements that now put our families in danger,” she said.