THE BBC has been criticised for its “ignorant and insensitive” response following a complaint about an article on the high-profile evacuation of Afghan female footballers.

Last month, the corporation reported on a Newsnight investigation that found some of the footballers – who were flown to the UK from Pakistan in November 2021 - were not “top tier players” as it was claimed, with the article calling them “false”.

Female soccer players were perceived to be at risk from the Taliban, and there were concerns that they might face consequences for taking part in a sport that the new regime considered to be contrary to Islamic principles.

Some of the players involved came out in force to condemn the “shocking” article, saying it had impacted their mental health and potentially endangered the lives of their families’ back in Afghanistan.

READ MORE: 'We've got to keep the dial up': Brian Cox 'worried' about independence drive

Academic Dr Emma Briant - who wrote the book Bad News For Refugees on how refugees have been stigmatised by media coverage – formally complained to the BBC about the article saying it “demonised” refugee women and reinforced stereotypes that refugees are “faking it”.

The corporation – which took more than three weeks to respond – attempted to justify the article, saying one of the concerns raised by the team’s former coach was that there was resentment among “genuine” players now living under Taliban rule while others “appear to have got out with false credentials”.

Briant has now branded the response “appalling” and said the BBC had fallen into a “pattern of hostile coverage on immigration”.

She told The National: “The BBC’s comments embody the same insensitivity and ignorance to refugees as their reporting which created an artificial hierarchy of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ refugees.

The National: Dr Emma Briant said the BBC's response to her complaint was 'appalling'Dr Emma Briant said the BBC's response to her complaint was 'appalling' (Image: Emma Briant)

“The failure to use careful language and thoughtful analysis here is illustrative of a pattern of hostile coverage on immigration going back years, that ultimately helps normalise the far right.

“Their response was quite appalling. It betrays an ignorance about researching refugees. It shows a lack of understanding of the unique experiences of refugees and the fact different refugees who enter differently are equally valid.

“You either are a refugee or you aren’t.”

READ MORE: Michelle Thomson: SNP members 'shocked' by police investigation

Members of the football team spoke to The National about how upsetting the article was. Narges Mayeli, 20, was on the verge of tears as she said it was “very tough” for the team to see after they had come through “bullets, blood and explosive attacks”.

She said the coverage could endanger some of her teammates’ families.

The BBC said it had shared Briant’s concerns with senior editorial teams on the audience feedback report and this would help “inform their decisions on current and future output”.

It added it didn’t aim to take a view on asylum seekers or the team.

In an escalation of her complaint, Briant argued it was the BBC’s responsibility to take a view on asylum seekers and not “sit on the fence”.

Her escalated complaint said: “By not aiming to take a view on asylum seekers you created a tiered hierarchy of judgement on these women’s cases.

“The BBC sits on the fence of ‘providing information’ after calling women fleeing persecution ‘false’.

The National:

“In trying not to ‘take a view’, the rights and complex threats refugees face apparently became an afterthought you had not centralised. It was your responsibility to take a view and consider the consequences for all these women.

“You abrograted in your responsibility to centralise the human rights of those also fleeing persecution.

“Will you now acknowledge failures in this reporting and apologize as vocally to the women you have wronged?”

The BBC said in its response to the original March 17 complaint: “As the high-profile evacuation to the UK of Afghan female footballers fleeing the Taliban drew widespread interest, then this report was providing additional information. It wasn’t to take a view on asylum seekers or the team, but as concerns were raised that the team included a number of women who were not the top-tier players, then this was reported as well.

“One of the concerns raised by the team's former coach, Najibullah Nowroozi, was that there is resentment among genuine players now living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, that others appear to have got out with false credentials. As also reported, one who wished to remain anonymous, told Newsnight: ‘The Taliban have banned sports for women and girls... we are left behind in Afghanistan with no future. It just makes me feel very neglected and very sad because we are the real players and not some of those that got evacuated.’

“We have shared your concerns with senior editorial teams on the audience feedback report. This helps inform their decisions on current and future output.”

The BBC has been approached for further comment.