Afghan athletes fleeing Taliban persecution granted visas in Ireland

The women are expected to arrive in 2 weeks and will settle in Galway and Dublin

Twenty refugee visas have been granted for a group of young female athletes from Afghanistan who are at risk of persecution by the Taliban, following a successful lobbying campaign by two Irish women.

Two weeks ago, Galway native Anne McNamara and Dublin-based solicitor, Andrea Martin began lobbying for the State to give safe haven and refugee visas to 20 women who are part of a group called Ascend Athletics.

The group has been developing Afghan girls’ physical fitness and community leadership training since 2014.

Participants on the programme set out to undertake two years of training intended to develop their physical strength, confidence, leadership skills and community engagement.


The women's achievements have been the subject of a documentary shown in Europe and they were vulnerable to Taliban persecution as a result, having "publicly demonstrated what women can achieve way beyond the norms of what is normally accepted in Afghan society".

Ms Martin and Ms McNamara were lobbying for Ireland to accept "as many of the young Afghan women as possible" but all 20 visas have now been granted.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Martin said “the support has been tremendous. I think the significance of what we have achieved is only just sinking in”.

Ms Martin said she was “so proud of Ireland” and the goodwill that they have experienced in their campaign to secure visas for the women, but it was “just the start of the journey”.

Ms Martin and Ms McNamara are now focusing their efforts on finding housing, arranging an orientation programme and putting together volunteer teams to help the women and their families settle in to Ireland.

Ten of the women will go to Galway, and ten will go to Dublin, upon their arrival to Ireland. The athletes and their dependents who have been granted visas are expected to arrive in Ireland in the next couple of weeks.

A fundraiser has been launched for financial donations as well as practical donations such as furniture, kitchen utensils, winter jackets and hiking boots for the women.

Already, Irish people have offered up everything from “temporary bedrooms, gym memberships and clothes” for the women, Ms Martin told the Irish Times.

Ms McNamara said this was a “testament to the generosity of Irish people”. She had “never been prouder to be Irish than today”.

Marina LeGree, founder of Ascend Athletics said she was “totally thrilled” that the women have secured visas.

“This has been such a difficult and long month. It was amazing when this turned from an idea to a reality - we were blown away,” she told The Irish Times.

“We can’t pull people out of Afghanistan if we have nowhere to put them. But now they have somewhere to go. There’s not a lot to be happy about these days but we are bubbling over with gratitude,” she said.

Other countries who have accepted participants from the group so far include Slovakia and Poland.