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Afghanistan: Women cyclists fear being left behind with evacuation options dwindling

Afghanistan (Image credit: Getty Images)

Dozens of Afghan women cyclists fear being left behind following an international evacuation effort to bring the country’s nationals who face targeted gender violence by the Taliban to safety before the US military withdrawal deadline was reached on August 31. 

Cyclingnews understands that there were more than 200 women, and men who have assisted in their right-to-ride revolution in recent years, in need of evacuation. It has been confirmed that small groups of evacuees, of more than 50 vulnerable Afghans, have successfully relocated to locations across North America and Europe. These include members of the Afghanistan Cycling Federation and members first women’s national cycling team.

There were dozens of women cyclists, however, travelling long distances from rural locations, who were not able to reach the evacuation hub in time for the deadline, and the hub has now been closed. 

These women are now in danger of targeted gender violence and face new logistical difficulties in the process of relocating out of Afghanistan.

“There are 220 women riding bikes in the Federation, plus mountain bikers and BMX riders. Right now, there are approximately 70 athletes that I’m working to evacuate. There are also family members of the original national team cyclists that are living in Europe as refugees,” said Shannon Galpin, a human rights activist who has supported women and girls riding bikes in Afghanistan since 2013.

Galpin is working alongside the effort to add vulnerable Afghans to international evacuation lists and has created a fundraiser to help with the costs associated with the evacuation and resettlement of people who are fleeing Afghanistan.

“The closure of the airport didn’t change the evacuation pace, only the logistics. It is still 24/7 across multiple time zones and grabbing an hour or two asleep at night. It’s the 17th day and we have multiple groups that I am working to get out.”

A source close to the evacuation efforts told Cyclingnews that a group of female cyclists awaiting departure narrowly escaped the twin explosions outside of the airport in Kabul last Thursday, and that they are unharmed. The Islamic State suicide bombing killed more than 100 people including 90 Afghans and 13 US service members, as reported in the Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

Thousands were desperate to flee the Afghanistan before the US military withdrawal deadline of August 31 after the Taliban took control over large swathes of the country 18 days ago on in August 15. 

The Taliban also took control of all major airports during that time, with the exception of the airport in Kabul, but traveling to this hub was dangerous. In addition, the Taliban attempted to prevent the exodus by blocking its citizens from accessing the road to the airport. 

The airport in Kabul has now been closed and international efforts have continued to bring vulnerable Afghans to landlocked borders of Iran, Pakistan, and Asian states, according to a report published on Reuters Wednesday. 

The Taliban enforced extreme restrictions on women's freedoms when they last held majority control of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. Now that they have taken back control of large areas of the country and any progress that had been made toward gender equality and women's freedoms – such as rights to employment, education, and sports, including cycling – have been stopped.

An international effort formed to expedite the evacuation process for vulnerable Afghans including sportswomen, and cyclists, who have now become targets for violence by the Taliban. Sports bodies all over the world, including the UCI, have called on governments for the emergency evacuations of female athletes.

“If American passport holders struggled to get through the airport gate it was nearly impossible for Afghans. When they finally got confirmation that they won the lottery ticket of getting a seat on a plane, the majority were refused entry into the airport,” Galpin wrote in an update on Instagram.

“They were humiliated, they were abused, they were told willfully false information. Planes left half empty and it wasn’t just one or two. We cajoled and pleaded and jumped through endless hoops that changed hour by hour in order to shepherd individual Afghan families across the gauntlet of the airport gate. The rules changed and we adapted, they changed again we adapted again, but it was clear that the game was: keep Afghans from boarding the planes sent to evacuate them.

“I wanted to share that there are 12 members of the national team and another 40 young women of the Afghan cycling federation that got through the gauntlet. We have original leaders of the first generation of cycling safely out. We have families out who have been separated over the past several years.”

Cyclingnews understands that UCI President David Lappartient is working with the authorities to find the best solution to protect athletes and their families who are in danger in Afghanistan. In addition, the Italian Cycling Federation (FCI), CPA Women, ACCPI (Association of Professional Italian Cyclists) and president of ASD Road To Equality were involved in some of the evacuations.

There are also private efforts underway to help evacuate vulnerable Afghans out of Afghanistan.

“We can’t be completely happy yet,” said Alessandra Cappellotto, head of the CPA Women. “Of course we are happy for the women athletes we were able to rescue, but we are still extremely worried about those who are still there. We really hope that all the athletes will be brought to safety through the International channels.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit the Fundly fundraiser page Support evacuation and resettlement of Afghan cyclists.


To learn more about how you can help click on the link of resources that is being updated daily: Resources to Help Afghan Refugees

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.