An Emirati philanthropist spoke of his dismay after the Taliban barred dozens of Afghan women from boarding a flight to Dubai to attend university.
Khalaf Al Habtoor said officials turned away 63 students from Kabul airport on Wednesday.
The group were due to study at University of Dubai, after the Taliban last year barred women from higher education.
Mr Al Habtoor, founder of the Al Habtoor Group conglomerate, pledged in December to help bring at least 100 female Afghan students to the emirate.
Speaking on Wednesday, he called the move a “significant tragedy against humanity, against education, equality, and justice”.
“I'm unable to express the disappointment I feel now as the Afghan female students, whom I had provided an educational scholarship were unfortunately unable to reach Dubai Airport this morning to continue their study due to Taliban's interference,” Mr Al Habtoor said on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Around 8am we received the uncomfortable news that the 100 Afghan women can't come to Dubai,” Mr Al Habtoor said.
“I was shocked, and this has left me lost for words to describe the disappointment I feel now. I was eagerly awaiting their arrival after months of continuous work to ensure the provision of the scholarships from prominent universities in the UAE,” he said.
'Please help us'
One of the Afghan students sent a voice message to Mr Al Habtoor saying they had not been allowed to board the flight at the airport.
“Right now, we are in the airport but unfortunately the government did not allow us to fly to Dubai,” the student said in the voice message.
“They saw the student visa and the ticket, but they did not allow us.”
Some were barred from travelling despite being accompanied by a male guardian, or mahram, the student said.
“I do not know what to do. Please help us. We are so concerned,” she added.
Mr Al Habtoor said his team had already secured university admissions, accommodation, transport and insurance for the group.
“The authorities in Afghanistan without justification, prevented their departure, unjustly curtailing their freedom. This is a significant tragedy against humanity, against education, equality, and justice,” Mr Al Habtoor said.
“I request all involved parties to quickly step in and help rescue and assist these struggling students. All humans have the right to receive education. It is important that the Taliban free them. I hope they will allow them to come to Dubai as soon as possible.”
Dr Eesa Bastaki, president of the University of Dubai, was preparing to travel to Dubai International Airport to greet the students when he received the news.
Eighty-one were to study initially at the University of Dubai, with the remainder to be allocated places in subsequent phases of the plan, Al Habtoor Group said.
Afghan women living under Taliban rule – in pictures
“This was done in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with the support from Dubai Airport, Dubai Police, and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. These measures aimed to ensure a smooth arrival and reception by providing the necessary facilities,” the group said.
Al Habtoor Group is one of the largest conglomerates in Dubai with interests in hospitality, automotive, real estate, education and publishing sectors.
Mr Al Habtoor also funds charity and welfare activities through his Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor Foundation that was launched in 2013.
The ban on university education for women was the latest among increasing restrictions on women's rights since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, after the US-led international withdrawal in 2021.
In November 2022, UN experts said that the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan may amount to crimes against humanity and should be investigated and prosecuted under international law.
They said the Taliban actions against females deepened existing rights offences – already the “most draconian globally” – and may constitute gender persecution.