Kim Kardashian Helped Afghan Girls Soccer Players Flee to U.K.: 'The Danger and the Stress Was Very High'

"Thank you Kim Kardashian West and SKIMS for your magnanimous assistance to fund this flight and make it a reality," one advocate said

Players of Afghanistan national women football team attend to a training session at Odivelas, outskirts of Lisbon on September 30, 2021. - Forced to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power, players of the women's national football team and their families were welcomed to Portugal where they were able to train again today in a suburban stadium of Lisbon. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty; Inset: Stefanie Keenan/Getty

Kim Kardashian West, together with her shapewear and loungewear company SKIMS, played a key role in helping a group of young Afghan refugees make their way out of the region this week.

As first reported by the Associated Press, Kardashian West and SKIMS "fully funded" a flight for members of the country's female youth development soccer team and their relatives to leave Pakistan for the U.K., a source tells PEOPLE.

The flight, carrying about 130 people, left Pakistan on Wednesday and landed in London on Thursday morning.

"Many of those families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were burnt down," Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghan women's soccer team, told the AP. "Some of their family members were killed or taken by Taliban. So the danger and the stress was very high, and that's why it was very important to move fast to get them outside Afghanistan."

The source close to the situation tells PEOPLE that it was Popal who managed to secure visas to the U.K. for the development team "but she needed funding to get them out."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Popal had been working with the Tzedek Association, a prominent New York-based nonprofit working on criminal justice and humanitarian issues, and the group's president, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten.

The source says that Popal reached out "a few weeks ago" to the nonprofit "about a serious crisis": Members of the youth development team "were stuck in Pakistan for many weeks after being rescued from Afghanistan."

According to the source, the players "faced the terrible and dangerous risk of being sent back to Afghanistan if we [didn't] get them out to another country soon."

The AP reports that after the development team's members made it to Pakistan, "they were left in limbo for weeks with no flight out of the country as the time limit on their Pakistani visas ticked down."

The Tzedek Association then reached out to Kardashian West, 41, with whom they have worked on criminal justice, the source tells PEOPLE. "They asked Kim if she would be willing to help and within an hour she confirmed she would pay for the flight," the source says.

<a href="https://people.com/tag/kim-kardashian/" data-inlink="true">kim kardashian</a>
Kim Kardashian West. Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

In a statement, Rabbi Margaretten said he was "so happy and excited" that the team members and their families "are finally now coming to a place of safety and security."

"As the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors, a time when righteous non-Jewish people stepped up to the plate to help save so many Jewish people, I know in my heart that we must be there for others in their time of need at a time when their very lives are at risk. Thank you Kim Kardashian West and SKIMS for your magnanimous assistance to fund this flight and make it a reality," Margaretten said. "And thank you Khalida Popal for giving us the opportunity to partner in this life-and-death effort and for all that you are doing."

The U.K. soccer team Leeds United also provided assistance, per the AP.

"This story truly shows that we are all God's creations and should unify together to make this world a better place," Margaretten said in his statement.

Since the Taliban took over much of Afghanistan this summer, at the end of the U.S. war, tens of thousands of people have fled the country.

In this photo provided to The Associated Press, members of the Afghanistan national girls soccer team are seen on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Lisbon, Portugal.
Members of the Afghanistan national girls soccer team are seen on Sept. 21, in Lisbon, Portugal. AP

Female athletes have been seen as particularly vulnerable, given the Taliban's history of repressing women and girls.

Members of the Afghan youth women's national soccer team previously escaped for Portugal and the senior team went to Australia.

Nic McKinley, a CIA and Air Force veteran who helped organize "Operation Soccer Balls" to assist the youth players in getting to Portugal, told PEOPLE their work was aided by a number of advocates around the world — as well as a mixture of tenacity and good fortune.

"I mean, you just can't make this stuff up," McKinley said, adding: "It was a lot of divine intervention and luck. But at the same time, luck is just when preparation meets opportunity. And we had done an incredible amount of preparation."

Related Articles