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She joined the women’s protests against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now she’s wants the UK to take her in.

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Two days later, Behishta joined the resistance movement against them.

A television journalist for the Afghan broadcaster Noor TV, she has made a career outspoken for women’s rights and her views have been criticized.

There was a time in 2018 when she decided to launch a virginity test program, a barbaric practice in which women are subjected to an artificial medical procedure to determine their virginity. Her critics called and complained that such a topic was being discussed in an Islamic country.

Or the time she ran a civic institute in Panjshir, a province in northeastern Afghanistan, where young people got together to discuss the books they were reading. Her critics have denounced her as fueling secularism in the region.

The time when she stood in the way of the local Taliban when he wanted to force a young girl to marry. The girl fled Afghanistan and Behishta was brought to justice.

And there was a time when a conservative scholar objected to her reporting, telling her that he “wouldn’t get my hands dirty in your blood” but would rather have his fanatical students kill her instead.

Behishta at a protest in Kabul in 2021


When the Taliban came to power, men who once only threatened now had guns in their hands and militants under their control.

“On August 15, the Taliban came to power, and on the 17th, the women decided to do something,” she said. Independent through a translator.

“All of us, gathered together, were human rights defenders or civil activists who wanted to fight for women’s rights. We went out in colorful clothes to the city. We wanted to show that we were not women of 20 years ago. We wanted people to accept us for who we are.

“The third of September, Friday, was the first day I went out to protest. Then I went out on 4, 5 and 7 [September]”.

Afghan women hold banners during a demonstration demanding better women’s rights in front of the former Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul.

(AFP via Getty Images)

Photos of about a hundred women carrying banners and chanting slogans in Kabul went around the world. “We want the Taliban to know that they cannot exclude us from society,” said one young woman, Areso, at the time.

But despite worldwide surveillance, the authorities reacted violently, stopping women and beating at least 10 of them during one protest. Since then, the situation of women in Afghanistan has become much worse. Women are prohibited from attending universities, most teenage girls cannot complete a secondary education, and the Taliban have banned female humanitarian workers.

“There are a lot of brilliant young minds in Afghanistan,” Behishta said. “The way the world looks at Afghanistan at the moment is due to a historical confluence of circumstances. If the time came, you would see what young minds we have in Afghanistan.”

Women banned from universities in Afghanistan

(AFP via Getty Images)

After the first few weeks of protest, a Taliban member Behishta knew told her that she would have to stop. Fearing for her life, she knew that she would have to flee the country. As soon as she managed to get a physical passport in February 2022, she went to Pakistan. She stayed there for nine months before, in October 2022, she managed to get a visa to travel to one of the European countries where she now lives in a government camp.

She hopes to build a life in the UK one day, but she has little chance of making it here.

The government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Program (ACRS), launched in August 2021, says priority will be given to “those who have helped the UK’s efforts in Afghanistan and championed values ​​such as democracy, women’s rights, free speech and the rule of law.” He also promised to involve “vulnerable people, including at-risk women and girls.”

But the reality is that Afghan women’s rights activists have no legal route to the UK. According to this scheme, since the fall of Kabul, only 4 people have been delivered to the UK.

We wanted to show that we were not women of 20 years ago. We wanted people to accept us for who we are.

Afghan refugees cannot apply directly to the UK government for resettlement, instead they must go to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which can then send them anywhere. The UNHCR has said that they will primarily assist refugees in countries neighboring Afghanistan and will prioritize those at risk.

Former government officials have pushed for the Home Office to expand the eligibility criteria for those who will be accepted into the third path of the ACRS program, which is currently only open to the British Council, GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni.

Applications for first places in the scheme are closed, but next year it will be extended, and campaigners hope that women activists will have priority.

Dr Neelam Raina of Middlesex University London said: “ACRS was originally designed to protect the most vulnerable members of society, including the media, the press and civil rights advocates. People who were public figures.

“So the first path was designed for the right people, but the reality is that it was filled in by people who were already in the UK.”

Last February, it was revealed that about a third of the seats available under the ACRS were made available to Afghans who had already been resettled in the UK during Operation Pitting, the UK’s evacuation following the Taliban takeover in 2021.

The British Armed Forces are working with the US military to evacuate eligible civilians and their families from the country in August 2021 in Kabul.

(Copyright to the US Department of Defense via Getty Im)

This was told by Sarah Hearn, a former government official who worked in Afghanistan. Independent: “For more than ten years, Behishta has been a successful television and radio journalist. She used her position to oppose the Taliban’s violence against women.

“She chaired a legal defense committee to protect women journalists and founded an NGO that helped journalists fight for human rights. Behishta defended Britain’s values ​​and goals in the world, but when the time came for her to flee to safety, the doors of Britain closed.”

Behistha is currently in a European country on a one-year visitor visa and three months have already passed. Speaking from her government dorm, she said she didn’t know what would happen to her next.

“The camp is intended for people arriving through Turkey or Serbia – for those who are smuggled. We are the only three women who have visas and a passport, and people know us now because we are staying here for a long time. Everyone else is quickly moving to other European countries,” she said.

“I used to travel a lot for work, but despite all the chances to go to another place, I always returned to my homeland. If I hadn’t been forced to leave, I would still be there. I just had to run out of necessity.”

A government spokesman said: “Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans who may be vulnerable and at risk remains a top priority. This difficult situation poses significant challenges for us, including ensuring that those who wish to leave and who are eligible to be resettled in the UK can leave the country safely.

“So far, we have brought almost 23,000 vulnerable people to safety, including thousands of people under our resettlement schemes in Afghanistan.”

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