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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

Can the British Council intervene to support its former teachers, or not?

In August 2021, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, over 100 former British Council teachers went into hiding across the country. Since that time a number of the teachers have been victims of the violence and persecution they feared. Some have escaped to Pakistan, where they lead wretched lives stuck in limbo in hotels in Islamabad, while others remain in hiding in Afghanistan.

For over 2 years now, the British Council have been claiming that they cannot do more to help their former teachers, stating that decisions around the teachers’ relocation are made by the FCDO. The teachers were excluded from the UK Government’s initial relocation scheme (ARAP) in 2021, even though they were all eligible. Since then they have suffered repeated threats and violence while waiting to get relocated under the Government's ACRS scheme.


Although they are former employees of the British Council, The BC say that they cannot intervene on the teachers' behalf, as the ACRS scheme is run by the FCDO. The standard statement which many teachers have received reads:


“The British Council is not involved in the management of ACRS or in any decisions that are made. Unfortunately, therefore, we cannot intervene on your behalf. If you have any specific questions about your ACRS application, we suggest that you contact ACRS directly”.


...the decision to pass all responsibility over to the FCDO is surprising, and begs the question, are the BC passing the buck?


The initial ARAP scheme which the teachers were rejected from clearly stated that: “Eligibility for the schemes is assessed by the employing Government department and not the Home Office”. We know the BC managers and other staff based in the Kabul office were recommended for the ARAP scheme, and all got relocated. We still wonder why the teachers were rejected from the ARAP scheme, and have spent the last 2 years in great danger as a result. The British Council continue to deny responsibility.


Regardless, in terms of the scheme they were later told to apply for, the 'ACRS scheme', the advice on the UK Government’s ACRS page states that:


“We will refer to the information you provided in your completed form when considering your expression of interest. We will also consider any relevant information provided by the British Council or GardaWorld relating to employment and role(s)”


In spite of this advice, the BC keep stating that they are not involved in decisions surrounding ACRS approval or relocation.

Shabana, a 32 year old woman based in Kabul, has repeatedly contacted the BC for advice on her ACRS application, which is still pending, 2 years

after the UK left Afghanistan. Every time she inquires, the BC eventually reply stating “the British council is not involved in the management of ACRS so I’m afraid we cannot help…”. This contrasts with the guidelines on the UK Government website (above). Stuck in hiding in Afghanistan, Shabana fears for the safety of her children. She meets the criteria for ACRS relocation, but still she hears nothing and still the BC say they can’t help in any way.


This was the same for Shabir, a former British Council teacher & ‘Learning Centre Manager’, who was employed on the 'English for Afghans' programme. He has been unfairly rejected from the ACRS scheme, even though he is eligible. He repeatedly contacted the BC to ask for support, but they said they could do nothing. A recent message stated:

“As the British Council are not involved in management of the ACRS scheme or any decisions that are made, unfortunately there isn’t anything we can do to help you…”


Recently Shabir has again contacted the BC, highlighting the fact that he was rejected specifically because he followed their advice when submitting his ACRS application. He had gone into hiding and fled Afghanistan in danger, hiding out first in Iran and then in Azerbaijan. He checked with the BC that it was OK to apply for ACRS from Azerbaijan, and they stated that it was absolutely fine, yet the FCDO rejected him from the scheme specifically because he applied from Azerbaijan. Shabir contacted the BC about this unfair treatment and they responded stating:


“We continue to have discussions with the FCDO about your case”


This response very much implies the BC are now advocating on his behalf after-all, when they previously claimed they couldn’t……So which is it British Council? – Which is true? Can you advocate for the abandoned teachers, or can’t you? Or can you only advocate for them when you have given the wrong advice, and they have been rejected from a scheme specifically because of that inaccurate advice?

The same difficulties are also being faced by Sadaf, a pregnant teacher stuck in a hotel in Islamabad. She is now 7-months pregnant and has repeatedly asked the BC to remind the FCDO about her situation. In light of their recent claim stating they "continue to to have discussions with the FCDO" regarding Shabir, it seems clear they could actually advocate on her behalf, if they wanted to.


The current British Council CEO, Scott MacDonald, tweets images that imply he has excellent connections with the Government and FCDO, whether they be images of him attending meetings at 10 Downing Street, or pictures with Lord Ahmed (Minister of State - Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and United Nations). If he is this well connected, surely he can request closer communication between the FCDO & BC on issues related to the teachers.


The issue of the abandoned BC teachers did not arise under the watch of the current CEO, rather, it was a problem he inherited. Whether the decisions and oversights which led to the teachers being left behind were the responsibility of the 'Acting CEO' who preceded him, or the previous permanent CEO remains to be seen, but during the 2 years the current CEO has been in office, only 5 former British Council teachers have been relocated to the UK under ACRS.


Over 30 teachers remain in hiding in Afghanistan and over 50 are stuck in cramped hotels in Pakistan. Wherever they are, they have all endured 2 years of suffering. During this period the abandoned teachers have been victims of violent attacks, threats, blackmail and attempts for forced marriage. If I were CEO of the British Council, I would have hoped to have achieved much more on behalf of a large and vulnerable cohort of teachers who my organisation had left behind, and who were at considerable risk as a direct result of their work for us.


I firmly believe the current CEO of the British Council can do much more to ensure the safety and well-being of the teachers we left behind, and I think he needs to act urgently to make that happen.



















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