News World Afghan athletes bound for Australia after extraordinary rescue

Afghan athletes bound for Australia after extraordinary rescue

afghan kabul athletes
Afghan refugees aboard a flight out of Kabul on Monday. Photo: Twitter/ADF
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Australia will resettle 50 Afghan athletes after human rights lawyers and former sports stars helped launch an extraordinary rescue mission.

But the Paralympic dreams of two of them remain up in the air.

Athletes in Afghanistan were left stranded and fearing for their lives after the Taliban swept through the country to retake control.

Human rights lawyer Nikki Dryden, an Olympian, former Socceroos star Craig Foster and Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley were part of the team that co-ordinated the cross-border lobbying effort to rescue as many Afghan athletes as they could.

The athletes and their families have made it to safety, but there are others who remain trapped in Afghanistan and are desperate to leave.

“We had lists of athletes, football players, referees, and there were [also] Paralympians on this list and their families,” Ms Dryden told the ABC.

“I have emails piling up of more, so there are still a lot of people we left behind. That will be hard, but we’ll see [what we can do].”

Two of the rescued athletes were due to compete at Tokyo Paralympics, with the opening ceremony on Tuesday night.

Their hopes of making it to the Games are hanging by a thread.

“That’s out of my hands,” said Ms Dryden, who swam for Canada at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.

“They have been through extraordinary trauma. They were in line for 48 hours.

“They’re Paralympians, they’re resilient, but there’s only so much the human spirit can take.

“They are two very shy people, and what they did was extraordinary. Whether they actually compete is so secondary to what we’re hoping to do.

“As an athlete, I was like, ‘yes I’ve got to get them there [to the Paralympics]’. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Ms Dryden described the dramatic scenes of trying to get the Afghan athletes safely out of the country.

“At the beginning, I was the most worried about getting them to the airport,” she said.

“We’d all had experiences working in developing countries, war zones, being in tragedies and natural disasters.

“We knew a lot of secrets and we were trying to talk the athletes through how to get through the Taliban checkpoints to get to the airport.

“That wasn’t the problem. They all arrived at the airport quicker than we thought. The real problem was getting them inside the airport.

“They spent the first 24 hours at the airport in lines, thousands of people, and nothing happened.

“A lot of women slept outside the first night. They were mugged, they were touched, they were exhausted. And that was not even halfway.”

Ms Dryden broke down in tears as she detailed the desperate pleas for help she and her team were receiving from the Afghan athletes in Kabul while they tried to enter the airport and secure a flight.

“The only thing we could keep telling them is, ‘push forward, stay in the line, don’t move’. And they did it,” she said.

“Every single one of them who is going to make it to Australia did it on their own.

“That is what is so extraordinary about the refugee story. Yes, we gave them a hand, but … I could not get them to the gate, I could not get anyone to save them, they saved themselves.”

Details of the athletes’ evacuation came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the most dangerous part of Australia’s rescue mission in Afghanistan lies ahead after another 650 people were flown out.

The five latest flights take the total of people airlifted from Kabul as part of Australia’s efforts to almost 1700 since the operation began last week.