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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

British Council teachers stuck in hotels in Islamabad:

Back in October last year, when Nazila arrived in Pakistan, she was hopeful and optimistic for the first time in a long time. She felt like she had done the hard part.

She had survived the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. She had survived a traumatic 14 months living in hiding, moving to different safe houses, in constant fear of Taliban brutality. She had eventually got confirmation from the UK government that she qualified for the ACRS scheme, and was approved to come to the UK. She had managed to get the necessary visas and travel documents.

She had survived the dangerous journey from Kabul to the border crossing at Torkham, while pregnant with her second child, and she had made it safely to Pakistan. After a long

period of uncertainty, living in constant fear, life was at last going to get better.

It was a relief to get safely across the border and into Pakistan. Shortly after arriving, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) allocated her and her young family with hotel accommodation, and took their passports. She gave birth to a daughter and waited patiently for updates on her relocation.

Now, 8 months later, she continues to live a life of waiting. While she may no longer be an immediate Taliban target, her existence and prospects are little better than they were in Afghanistan. Her visa has expired, so she must keep leaving the hotel to an absolute minimum. If she does venture out, she faces the very real risk of being picked up by the Pakistani police and deported back to Afghanistan, where she would be handed over to Taliban authorities.

There is no education for her children and no opportunities for her or her husband to work. They have used up almost all the money they managed to bring with them. They continue to live life in limbo and uncertainty, knowing there is no safe way back, and no certain way forward. They live an unreal, temporary existence in no man’s land.

The 4 family members share a single cramped hotel room. They struggle to get clean drinking water, and they have no option but to rely on the IOM to bring them food each day. The endless waiting, with no option to build a life or a future is impacting her family’s well-being, and is detrimental to her own mental health.

Nazila is not the only one. Approximately 40 of the former British Council teachers abandoned in Afghanistan have managed to make it safely to Pakistan. They were all instructed to go there by the UK Government, with the understanding that they would soon be relocated to the UK. But for all the government’s promises, almost all the teachers remain stuck there, enduring a hopeless life where they cannot build a future.

Why did they even need to leave Afghanistan?

As former British Council employees, the lives of the teachers were in immediate danger in Afghanistan. The Taliban had previously carried out attacks on British Council premises in Afghanistan, leading to multiple fatalities.

The British Council were well aware of the danger to their current and former employees, and so in April 2021 they had informed their managers and office staff that they could apply for the UK Government’s ARAP scheme, and be relocated to the UK. Sadly, The British Council failed to inform the teachers of this scheme, or support them in their applications. As a result, while the British Council managers and office staff were all relocated to the UK prior to Operation Pitting, all the teachers were unfairly left behind.

Since then, they have had no choice but to go into hiding, living invisible lives to avoid Taliban hostility. A number have been victims of threats and actual violence at the hands of the Taliban, because of their association with the British Council. Eventually, from September 2022 onwards, the teachers started to receive confirmation that they were eligible to be relocated to safety to the UK under the government’s ACRS scheme.

Gradually, they received instructions to obtain passports and visas and travel to Pakistan. It seemed that at last justice was being done, and the promises made by the UK Government were going to be fulfilled. Sadly, the reality has been that on arrival in Pakistan, life becomes a waiting game, as teachers and their families resign themselves to restricted lives cooped up in small hotel rooms, unable to develop meaningful existences.

Are the UK Government & British Council responsible for their plight?

The UK Government promised to “move heaven and earth” to ensure the safety of those who had helped the UK mission in Afghanistan. The British Council teachers were all employed directly by the British Council to deliver programmes funded by the FCDO.

The modules they delivered required them to teach ‘UK-values’, including ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ (EDI), which put them at great risk of Taliban reprisals. The British Council and UK Government were responsible for employing them to do this dangerous work, and promised to relocate allies who had assisted us.

While the British Council ensured their managers and office staff got out of Afghanistan, they failed their teachers. While the government promised to get everyone to safety in the UK, so far they have failed to do this. The UK Government and British Council are both responsible for the current situation the abandoned teachers now find themselves in.

What does the future look like for Nazila and her family?

The future does not look bright for Nazila or her family. Almost 2 years since the UK left Afghanistan, her life is still on pause. The UK government have recently contacted her, along with all the other teachers, to inform them that their relocation to the UK is further delayed. As accommodation in the UK is hard to find, she will have to continue to live out a basic existence with her family in a single hotel room in Islamabad.

She will continue to be unable to work or study, or go out and about safely. She will continue to struggle to get clean water to drink or medicine for when her family are sick. She will continue to wonder when her ‘on-pause life’ can re-start.

Of course, the British Council could do more to support her. They could communicate with her directly. They could provide educational materials for her and her family to study. They could provide financial support. But sadly, they seem so keen to distance themselves from their former teachers, and so reluctant to recognise their own role in this debacle, that so far, they have done very little.

Similarly, the UK government could do more. They could accelerate the relocation process. They could find temporary accommodation in the UK. But they too seem so reluctant to fulfill their responsibilities.

So, for Nazila and the other former BC teachers, the hopeless waiting and wondering goes on.

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