Afghan students leaving country to study in Dubai
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The Taliban closed universities for women, so my only hope was to get a scholarship to study abroad,” says Natkai, a 20-year-old Afghan.

For her own safety, Natkai’s name has been changed.

Women who oppose the Taliban have been severely punished.

Despite the slim chances of attending university in her homeland, Natkai kept studying.

Sheikh Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, an Emirati billionaire businessman, awarded her a scholarship to study at the University of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

After the Taliban banned women from attending university, scholarships were announced for Afghan women in December 2022.

According to the, 100 Afghan women have been awarded these scholarships. Dubai has already been visited by some Afghan students living abroad. Natkai left for the airport on Wednesday 23 July after saying goodbye to her family.

Her hopes were soon dashed.

The Taliban officials said girls are not allowed to leave Afghanistan on student visas, Natkai tells me, her voice breaking. She is one of at least 60 girls who were turned away from the airport.

images show young girls wearing black hijabs or headscarves standing next to their luggage in shock and devastation.

For women, solo travel abroad is prohibited, and they must travel with their husbands or a mahram, a male companion such as a brother, uncle, or father.

Despite this, it wasn’t enough.

There were three girls inside the plane who had a mahram,” says Natkai. They were taken off the plane by officials from the Vice and Virtue ministry.”

The rest of the students were too scared to speak with the media. Our caller Shams Ahmad accompanied his sister to the airport and described the distress.

“The scholarship gave new hope to my sister after the universities were closed here. She left home with hope and returned in tears,” he says. “All her rights have been taken away.”

Mr Ahmad says some of the women even borrowed money to pay for a visa for a male companion to accompany them but were still stopped.

“Some of these girls are so helpless and poor. They don’t even have 400 Afghanis (£4, $5) for the document verification fee requested by the foreign affairs ministry.”