Captain Niloofar Rahmani, 25, has been a trailblazer in her native Afghanistan — she joined the air force at age 19 and by 2012 was the country’s first female fixed-wing air force pilot to complete a solo flight.
She had been in the United States on a training course and was supposed to fly home last weekend — instead she announced she is seeking asylum in America.
“Unfortunately while she has been celebrated in many circles she has also been demonised in other circles,” her US-based lawyer Kimberley Motley told the ABC.
As is often the case with women who break glass ceilings, Rahmani faced opposition almost immediately. Even though some in Afghanistan viewed Rahmani as a heroic example for women and girls, extremists like the Taliban, notorious for being anti-woman, took issue with her flying planes and ordered her to quit the job. And so did some distant relatives, who subscribe to antiquated gender stereotypes and accused her of bringing shame on the family.
“It’s like a witch hunt,” Kimberley Motley, Rahmani’s U.S. lawyer, said of the pilot’s time serving in the military and the decision to seek asylum. “The angry responses that she and her family have received in Afghanistan further confirms that her life would be in danger if she were to return.”
Ms Motley is urging US authorities to expedite her client’s claim amid fears it is less likely to be approved after Mr Trump assumes office on January 20 — Mr Trump has vowed to crack down on Muslim immigration and America’s refugee program.
“Unfortunately the US political environment is not great now when it comes to immigrants,” Ms Motley said.
“I hope President Obama, before he leaves office, approves her asylum application which he has the power to do and frankly I encourage people to contact his office so that he can consider her application very seriously,” she said.