Members of an all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan arrived in Mexico along with dozens of other refugees who fled from the Taliban-conquered country.
The high-tech team members, who had to travel through six countries to reach Mexico, arrived in Mexico City early Wednesday aboard a Qatar Emiri Air Force flight.
“They have not only saved our lives, but they have also saved our dreams,” one of the young women said of host Mexico, where they were greeted by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.
“Our stories will not sadly end because of the Taliban,” the girl, who was wearing a mask, added through a translator. “Under this regime, we women will face difficulties…that is why we are grateful to be here.”
Mexico has granted the girls humanitarian visas valid for up to 180 days with the right to later renew or apply for a change of status.
“We want to tell them from the bottom of our hearts that they are home,” Ebrard said.
Part of a larger group of high-achieving high school students known as “Afghan Dreamers,” the robotics team comprises about 20 members, most of whom are still in their teens.
In 2017, the girls made headlines when they were 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 pandemic.
The Taliban’s seizure of power has triggered a chaotic mass exodus as many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal interpretation of Islamic law implemented during the militants’ previous rule, when girls were excluded from school, women were confined to their homes, and offenses were punishable by stonings and executions.
Many Afghans are skeptical of Taliban promises of a softer, more inclusive regime this time around.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday said she had received credible reports that the Taliban were already restricting women, and warned them not to cross that “red line,” AFP reported.
In total, about 130 refugees arrived in Mexico on Wednesday, including journalists.
“It’s about those who are risking their lives to report, to communicate, who are committed to freedom of expression,” Ebrard said as he received the journalists at the airport later in the day.
The Foreign Relations Department said the Afghans had worked for “various media outlets” and had requested humanitarian visas because of the Taliban’s hostility toward journalists.