Skip to main content

Afghanistan: Taliban stops scores of female students from flying to Qatar

More than 60 young women studying at the American University of Afghanistan turned back at Kabul airport as they sought to continue their studies abroad
An image of a woman is painted on a wall at the American University of Afghanistan in 2018 (Reuters)
By Ali M Latifi in Kabul

Scores of female Afghan university students have been prevented from boarding a flight to Qatar by the Taliban, who were reportedly upset that the young women were not travelling with male guardians.

The news was first reported by local media on Thursday evening and then confirmed to Middle East Eye by sources in Kabul and the Gulf.

The Taliban’s foreign ministry has not yet responded to requests for comment.

'The Taliban locked us in the terminal for more than four hours. They insulted and humiliated us'

- Afghan student

MEE has reviewed an e-ticket, a Qatari visa issued to a female student sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, and print and email correspondences by a vice-president at the American University of Afghanistan, where the students were studying.

All suggest there were no irregularities with the documentation the students needed for travel.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Videos shared with MEE also show the young women waiting at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International airport.

One of the women, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, said 120 students arrived at the airport early Thursday morning. The 17-year-old confirmed that the group had passed through all five security checks at the airport and received exit stamps, but the girls in the group were ultimately not allowed to board the chartered Ariana Afghan Airlines flight.

“Then, suddenly we were near the airplane stairs when the Taliban stopped us from boarding. They locked us in the terminal for more than four hours. They insulted and humiliated us, they even took our videos and pictures,” she said.

In total, she said 62 female students were sent home by Taliban forces on Thursday.

“We took our bags and arrived home. It was a really disappointing and hard day for me,” said the student who was turned away.

Another source confirmed that a male student she knew was able to board the flight, which a Gulf source said ultimately landed at Doha’s Hamad International airport.

Earlier this month, the president of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), Ian Bickford, who is currently in Istanbul, confirmed to a US-based radio station that the college was looking to open a campus in Qatar.

“More will leave to join us in Qatar. We anticipate that once the campus in Qatar is operational, all of the women who were enrolled at AUAF last spring will have left Afghanistan and, very hopefully, most or all of the men as well,” Bickford told a public radio station in Texas.

The university declined to comment.

Afghanistan: Poverty replaces danger in battered provinces a year after Taliban takeover
Read More »

AUAF's Kabul campus has been empty for the last year. Hundreds of students were reportedly evacuated after the Taliban retook control of the nation last August, but hundreds more remain in the country.

Some of those students in Afghanistan have been able to continue their education online while awaiting a way out of the country.

The university was shut for eight months following an August 2016 attack that left at least 17 people dead and more than 50 others wounded. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the year since the Taliban returned to power, teenage girls have not been able to return to high school in 32 of the nation’s 34 provinces.

Also, only three government ministries have allowed women to return to work in the public sector, meaning tens of thousands of other female government workers are being told to stay at home.

Sources in the provinces of Kabul and Logar, including drivers, reported that in recent weeks the Taliban had seemingly loosened its rules on women travelling without male guardians, both on the roads and at airports.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.