17 August 2022

Taekwondo Family Helped by AOC to Flee Afghanistan for a New Home in Australia

Five Afghan families with ties to the Olympic movement have been successfully relocated to Australia following a 12-month long project conducted by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) to bring them to safety.

Included in the group are dual Olympian track sprinter Kimia Yousofi, Afghanistan’s flag bearer at the Tokyo 2020 Games and Taekwondo Asian Games medallist Ahmad Abasy, who is also a campaigner for women’s sports rights - as well as two families with strong connections to Olympic volleyball.

In all, 31 family members have arrived in Australia - the first in early June and the most recent last week.

All families faced significant risk had they remained in Afghanistan as a consequence of their support for the participation of women in sport and education.

AOC Chief Executive Officer Matt Carroll says efforts to secure a safe passage from Afghanistan and ultimately into Australia involved many parties working cooperatively since August last year.

“For the families involved, the stress and uncertainty over this time has been enormous.

“These brave people have endured significant hardship and we are so pleased that our efforts have been successful. Many have spent time in locations outside Afghanistan and it’s wonderful to now have them on Australian soil. All arrived happy, if exhausted. 

“We have Olympic athletes in the group as well as sport administrators who particularly championed women’s sport through recruitment programs, coaching and officiating. It’s a proud moment for the Olympic movement in Australia that we have them here, safe and settling well.

“We enjoyed significant support from the federal government, current and previous, while our Olympic sports are mobilised to support those families involved in their respective sports. We are looking at employment and educational opportunities and of course each family is looking to integrate into the Australian community and find appropriate accommodation.

“Our sponsors have provided shopping vouchers and support packages of clothing and other items. While there have been some stressful and uncertain times over the last 12 months for the families, we never gave up and the result has been a happy outcome and a demonstration of Olympic Solidarity,” Mr Carroll said.

Tokyo 2020 flag bearer Kimia Yousofi says she still intends to compete and would love to go to her third Olympic Games.

“It’s been a journey for me but I am very happy to be here. I am essentially starting a new life here. I am going to be training very hard and it would be exciting to go to Paris – I am definitely going to be competing.

“Thank you to the government of Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee and everyone for helping to get my family here,” she said.

Over a 12 month process, the AOC was able to secure a safe exit from Afghanistan for all into a number of countries outside Afghanistan, often with family members travelling at different times.

The AOC liaised with the Department of Home Affairs to secure visas, as well as flights and transfers. As each waited for their humanitarian visas to be granted, the AOC and the IOC provided financial support and other resources they needed during their time in interim locations.

Each group was greeted on arrival in Australia and provided with assistance from AOC sponsors and other suppliers while they waited for long term accommodation and employment opportunities. 

Mr Khushal Malikzai, a prominent volleyball administrator and advocate for women’s rights in education and sport, expressed his relief at arriving in Australia.

“We feel like we have our freedom again. We have an opportunity to start a new life here we are so happy. I want to thank the AOC for supporting us to come to Australia and providing a humanitarian visa for my family. I’m so pleased and thankful to them, who supported us, now we feel very happy.”

Mr Ahmad Abasy is a longstanding member of the Afghan Taekwondo team while also coaching and promoting his sport, particularly for young women.

“Sport is the natural right of every human being, regardless of their gender. Unfortunately, now in Afghanistan, sports have a gender perspective and girls are denied the right to sports. This is a great loss for the sport of Afghanistan and the world. 

“Afghan girls have good talent in sports and have made significant achievements in the sports sector that should not be ignored.

“I believe that it is not enough for girls to participate in sports only in parks and sports clubs. Afghan girls should actively participate in international competitions, and we will witness one of the Afghan girls winning a world Olympic medal. I will fight for their rights,” he said. 

Matt Carroll acknowledged the contribution of many people who supported the AOC’s advocacy and commitment to the families.

“We owe many people our thanks. The President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach and his staff, my counterpart at the Pakistan Olympic Committee, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his staff, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne and her staff, former Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke and his staff, the current Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and the current Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles. In addition, I acknowledge the tremendous work put in by the AOC’s Government Advisor, John Lamont and the team at our security advisors, Intelligent Risk led by Neil Fergus,” Mr Carroll concluded.

Olympic sports in Australia have played a crucial role assisting the AOC in settling those connected with their respective sports into Australia.

Volleyball Australia President Craig Carracher says"I’m so proud to have been part of this. The international sporting community, and our own volleyball community, came together to support those impacted in Afghanistan and who were looking for refuge in Australia.  Working together with so many different groups including the Australian Olympic Committee, International Olympic Committee, the FIVB and many levels of Government, we were elated to welcome two Afghan Volleyball officials and their families to Australia. 

“Both had advocated for the rights of women and advancement of women's sport, and our volleyball community was eager to support them to ensure they were able to continue the great work they started at home.  Volleyball is a sport for all people, from all backgrounds and the volleyball community in Australia looks forward to having them join us."

Taekwondo Chief Executive Officer Heather Garrioch says the sport has a long history of supporting refugees seeking a safer life.

“We're really pleased to work with the AOC and help provide support to Ahmad Abasy and his family. Taekwondo pioneered the inclusion of refugees globally in sport.

“Last year, Australian Taekwondo, together with the Australian Government and Oceania Taekwondo, secured the safe transfer of eight female taekwondo athletes who fled Afghanistan. Through the support of our Taekwondo community, these girls are now well established in Victoria, and we'll continue this support to assist Ahmad and his family in integrating into life here in Australia especially with his passion for human rights,” she said.

Athletics Australia CEO Peter Bromley says it is important that sport stands up to change lives.

“Through the important work of the AOC, we have taken the opportunity to help support dual Olympic sprinter Kimia Yousofi as she and her family relocate to Australia.

“While there is a long road ahead as Kimia and her family adjust to life in Australia, we want to make sure she is well supported to continue her journey as an elite athlete and an advocate for women in sport.

“We welcome Kimia into our community with open arms and we look forward to seeing her thrive in her new home as she looks towards the Paris Olympic Games,” he said.  

Video of families arriving in Australia and short interviews with Kimia Yousofi and Khushal Malikzai can be found below.

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