The captain of Afghanistan’s wheelchair basketball team found a new home – and a new club – in Spain, after fleeing her homeland.
Nilofar Bayat, who escaped Taliban-run Afghanistan with help from the Spanish government, will be living and playing in the city of Bilbao,reported CTV News.
The Bidaideak Bilbao club said that Bayat and her husband, Ramish Naik Zai, who is also a player, will begin practicing with the team next month once their paperwork has been registered.
Bidaideak Bilbao is also trying to assist other wheelchair players who are still trying to leave Afghanistan, including Latifa Sakhizadeh, who contacted the club after hearing news that it had accepted Bayat. The club said Sakhizadeh is struggling to reach the Kabul airport.
Bayat was just a young girl when her home in Kabul was struck by a rocket during the Taliban regime, injuring her spinal cord and killing her brother. Bayat started playing wheelchair basketball and eventually made it to the Afghan national team. Since then, she has been an advocate for women’s rights and the rights of women with disabilities, which has heightened her fears of Taliban retaliation.
“The Taliban destroyed all the things that I worked hard (for) in these last years,” Bayat said in a news conference after arriving in Spain last week. “They destroyed just in one day all of my achievement, all of my hard work.”
The Taliban has promised they won’t seek revenge on those who stood in opposition to them or defended human rights in the past, however many Afghans don’t put much trust in their words.
Bayat and her husband were among the more than 800 Afghans that the Spanish government evacuated from Kabul since the Taliban gained control of the Afghanistan capital.
Bayat’s story drew global attention after she spoke about her fears to a Spanish journalist whom she had become acquaintances with several years ago. Antonio Pampliega posted her story on Twitter, prompting an outpouring of support from many around the world.
The Spanish government and the Spanish basketball federation stepped up and added the couple to the list of evacuees being helped by Spain.
Bayat was “happy to be alive” and so happy to be in a position “to start a new life” with her husband in Spain, but said she will never forget her country.
“I’m just one. The others are still there in the country,” she said.
“I want the United Nations, all the countries, to please help Afghanistan. Do not let them be alone, because the Taliban are the same as they were 20 years ago. Now they have all the control.”