Afghanistan’s two Paralympic athletes have about 24 hours to arrive in Tokyo if they are to realise their wishes to compete in the Games, but silence surrounds their whereabouts — somewhere in Paris.
After the traumatic experience of navigating their way to Kabul’s chaotic airport and fighting their way through sometimes violent scenes as Taliban operatives took to beating those outside security gates, Zakia Khudadadi and Hossein Rasouli were cleared by armed forces to enter the protected zone after showing their emergency visa documentation from Australia.
ABC Sport was told they would be on a flight from Kabul to Dubai, before flying to Paris en route to Tokyo.
Days later, the athletes have not been heard from and those closest to them have been unable to contact them.
There are fears the two young athletes travelling on humanitarian visas have become pawns in a political game where mileage can be made from their ordeal.
It is expected an announcement will be made soon by a coalition of institutions, including the International Paralympic Committee, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights and the French government.
In the meantime, there are concerns the real-life plight of the two young Afghans, whose life has been changed irrevocably, is now outside their control, with others advising them about what is best and removing their right to choose.
It is believed that “issues of security” and “the need for silence” are the critical factors that have kept the two hidden since they arrived in Paris.
It is hoped their silence, and that of others, has not been bought with the threat of ongoing statelessness should they dare to tell of their experiences.
While any discussion from Afghans about Afghanistan poses security threats, nobody is more aware of that than Afghans themselves, who have made the impossibly difficult decision to remain in a country where their lives are at risk, or flee and transfer that risk to their remaining family members.
Everyone involved is aware of such outcomes.
The Taliban are already doorknocking, searching for athletes and other outspoken rights activists, and neighbours are already reporting on those who may have gone into hiding.
Preventing two athletes from speaking to those who they are closest to, and who feel responsible for them, does not have their best interest at heart.
So, the question is: Whose best interest is being served in this “be patient” game where all will be revealed “when the time is right”?
Whose time? The bodies who need time to craft a press release and stage a press conference to take credit for what they say they achieved in saving the lives of two young Afghan athletes?
Or the athletes’ time, which is now — to allow them to speak to whom they want when they want as they deal with the trauma and magnitude of what has happened, allowing them to seek advice from those who speak their language and in whom they trust.
It is hoped their mobile phones have not been taken from them, and that they are not being prevented from speaking to their chef de mission, Arial Sidiqi, who first reached out for help to the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, and the International Paralympic Committee.
The unnamed officials who are now instructing the grave need for silence are the very bodies that would not have known what threat the two young Paralympians were under had they remained silent.
They are no doubt the same officials who will decide when the time for silence has ended and an orchestrated, sanitised version of events — that puts them at the centre of the story rather than the athletes themselves — is ready for distribution via their media lists.
This is the ugly reality, and an all too common story, of how stateless people are not treated with the same respect as others, the respect which asks, ‘How do you feel, what would you like, who do you want to talk to, and how can we facilitate what it is you need right now as we help you work through this process?’