Afghan student tells of dismay as Taliban bar travel to study in Dubai

Young women offered full scholarships in the emirate were turned away from Kabul airport

Afghan women hold placards reading in Dari 'A Muslim can't go against women's education and work', during a protest in Mazar-e-Sharif on 16 August 2023. EPA
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Afghan students have spoken of their dismay after the Taliban prevented them from boarding a flight to the UAE to attend university.

Women who were offered full scholarships in Dubai said that their chance at education had once again been denied by the hardline regime.

Sixty-three Afghans were turned away from Kabul airport by Taliban officials on Wednesday.

“We went to the check-in counters where we were stopped by the officials. When they saw our visa they said they couldn’t let us get on the flight,” Sara, who was hoping to pursue her master’s programme in Dubai, told The National. She asked that her surname not be used.

We will not have women doctors, or any female professionals who are needed to run a nation
Sara, Afghan student

“We were going to Dubai to continue our education, which is no longer possible in Afghanistan. But we were prevented from leaving by the authorities.”

Sara had just finished her bachelor's degree and was planning to start a master's when the Taliban banned women from attending university last year.

“This opportunity brought hope into my life,” she said.

“Many Afghan girls have been depressed since the ban.”

The group were due to study at University of Dubai in an arrangement sponsored by Emirati businessman Khalaf Al Habtoor.

Mr Al Habtoor, founder of the Al Habtoor Group conglomerate, pledged in December to help bring at least 100 female Afghan students to Dubai.

He described the situation as a “significant tragedy against humanity, against education, equality and justice”.

“I am unable to express the disappointment I feel now … the authorities in Afghanistan, without justification, prevented their departure, unjustly curtailing their freedom,” Mr Al Habtoor wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The girls had been issued student visas by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both Sara and Mr Al Habtoor confirmed.


Afghan women in their own words: photo project


“The Taliban government refused to allow the girls who were sponsored by me to come to study here. They refused to let them board the plane,” he said in a video attached to the post.

“We organised everything for them here, their accommodation, transportation, security, university.”

Since taking over Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on women’s education and employment, including closing high schools and universities for women.

Women are prevented from seeking employment across various sectors and their freedom of movement in public spaces has also been curtailed.

As a result of the mounting restrictions to their higher education, many are seeking opportunities abroad. Although limited, they allow many Afghan women to continue learning and skill development.

Sara was one student selected by the Habtoor Group to continue at the University of Dubai.

“I don’t come from a very strong economic background, so I cannot afford to enrol for education abroad, or get visas to other countries. But this opportunity brought hope into my life,” said Sara, who was hoping to pursue her master’s programme in Dubai.

“We were sad and scared at the same time,” she said. “We felt so hopeless that after everything we struggled for we can’t reach this opportunity to continue our education.”

Sara urged the authorities to allow women to study, in Afghanistan and abroad.

“This ban will have an awful impact on our society. We will not have women doctors, or any female professionals who are needed to run a nation,” she said. “Learning is not a sin,” she added.

A second student, in a voice note shared by Mr Al Habtoor, said: “They saw the student visa and the ticket, but they did not allow us.”

“I do not know what to do. Please help us. We are so concerned,” she added.

Mr Al Habtoor added: “They have the right to study, the right to do whatever the men can do, and there is no exception to that,” he said in his video, urging the Taliban and the international community to intervene to help the women study.

“This stands as a profound tragedy, a blow against the principles of humanity, education, equality and justice.”

Updated: August 24, 2023, 7:41 AM