Mexico welcomes Afghan journalists, girls robotics team members

·2-min read

Mexico has welcomed around 130 refugees from Afghanistan, including members of a girls robotics team and journalists who fled the Taliban-controlled country fearing for their lives.

"It's about those who are risking their lives to report, to communicate, who are committed to freedom of expression," Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said as he received the media workers at Mexico City airport.

The journalists, including employees of The New York Times, landed in Mexico early Wednesday with their relatives via Doha in a Qatari military plane.

They arrived in a country that, like Afghanistan, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for news media to operate.

Hours earlier, several members of the robotics team, none of whom were identified for security reasons, were also received at the airport by Ebrard, and four of them gave a press conference.

"They have not only saved our lives, but they have also saved our dreams," one of the group said of host Mexico.

"Our stories will not sadly end because of the Taliban," she added through a translator, while her face was hidden by a Covid-19 mask.

"Under this regime, we women will face difficulties...that is why we are grateful to be here," she said.

- 'Afghan Dreamers' -

Mexico has granted the girls and one of their partners humanitarian visas valid for up to 180 days with the right to renew or apply for a change of status in the future.

"We want to tell them from the bottom of our hearts that they are home," said Ebrard.

Part of a larger group of high-achieving high school girls known "Afghan Dreamers," the robotics team consists of about 20 members, most of whom are still in their teens.

The girls made headlines in 2017 after being denied visas to take part in a robotics competition in Washington -- before then-president Donald Trump intervened and they were allowed to travel.

Last year, they worked to build a low-cost medical ventilator from car parts hoping to boost hospital equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Taliban's seizure of power a little over one week ago has fueled a chaotic mass exodus as many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal interpretation of Islamic law implemented during the militants' 1996-2001 rule.

During that earlier regime, girls were excluded from school, women confined to their homes and offenses punishable by public stonings and executions.

Though the Taliban have vowed a softer, more inclusive regime this time around, offering assurances of women's rights within what they consider Islamic bounds, many Afghans are skeptical.

The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday she had received credible reports that the Taliban were already restricting women, and warned them not to cross that "red line".

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