France on Monday was due to receive five Afghan women “threatened by the Taliban” after repeated requests it create a humanitarian corridor for women shut out of public life, an official said.
Since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban authorities have imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women bearing the brunt of laws the United Nations has labelled “gender apartheid”.
Women and girls have been banned from attending high school and university as well as barred from visiting parks, fairs and gymnasiums.
They have also mostly been blocked from working for UN agencies or NGOs, with thousands sacked from government jobs or paid to stay at home.
French immigration authority chief Didier Leschi told AFP that by presidential order, “special attention is being paid to women who are primarily threatened by the Taliban because they have held important positions in Afghan society… or have close contacts with Westerners.
“This is the case for five women who will arrive today,” Leschi said.
The women include a former university director, an ex-NGO consultant, a former television presenter, and a teacher at a secret school in Kabul.
One of the women was accompanied by three children.
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The women had been unable to leave Afghanistan on airlifts to Western countries when the Taliban returned to power in 2021.
They fled to neighbouring Pakistan where they sought temporary refuge. From there, the French authorities organised their evacuation, Leschi said.
Once they arrive in France, they will be registered as asylum seekers and given housing while their applications for refugee status are considered, Leschi said.
Leschi said that such evacuations were “likely to be repeated” for other Afghan women with a similar profile.
However, Delphine Rouilleault, the head of the France Terre D’Asile NGO working for refugees, said the evacuations were “not the fruit of a political decision” but gained “after a hard fight” to obtain visas for them.
The women will be initially housed in a centre run by her organisation, which has been rallying for months for the evacuation of more Afghan women facing a similar situation.
Rouilleault said “hundreds” of Afghan women were “hiding” in Pakistan.
In the middle of 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron had pledged that France would “be by the side of Afghans”. French authorities say nearly 16,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since then.
An NGO working for Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, Accueillir les Afghanes, in April deplored that Afghan women, especially those who were single, had been largely abandoned and asked Paris to put in place an “emergency” programme to take them in.