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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

Hotel Islamabad: hotel misery for 50 British Council teachers who managed to escape Afghanistan

As summer draws to a close in the UK, many will have fond memories of a week or two spent in a hotel during a family holiday, perhaps in Cornwall, or Spain or Greece. That’s mostly how I have viewed hotels in my life, as somewhere you might stay on holiday.

While I was working for the British Council I got used to occasional stays in hotels for work as well. We would sometimes get sent away for team meetings or training courses, and have to stay in hotels in Dubai or Colombo.

The hotels the abandoned British Council teachers now occupy in Pakistan are different. They are not luxury hotels. They don’t have swimming pools, gyms or saunas. Nor do they have bars or rooftop restaurants. They aren’t that sort of hotel, and Islamabad isn’t that sort of place. The hotels they have been allocated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) would at very best be described as basic and functional. They are protected from the weather, and they have privacy, but their rooms are cramped, sparse and in poor condition.

Sadly, as the teachers have been in the hotels for approaching 8 months now, they say their hotels have started to feel more like prisons. As all the teachers’ Pakistan-visas have expired, they cannot leave their hotels, for fear of being arrested by the Pakistani police for being illegally present in the country. If arrested, they would be deported back to Afghanistan, and straight back into the hands of the Taliban. Understandably, they all dread this. As a result, they have to stay in their hotels all the time. Going outside would be extremely foolish. It is simply too risky. So, it's understandable they feel like they are in prison.

As well as feeling trapped, the teachers also feel very constrained by how cramped their accommodation is. While some teachers are alone, many are with their families, all together in one small hotel room. Some have young babies, while others are pregnant. Regardless of their family situation, all have to make do with limited space and small rooms.

The hotels themselves are basic, some being classed as ‘guesthouses’. Many of the teachers’rooms have problems such as damp walls, leaking ceilings and stained floors. The teachers are resilient people (they’ve survived the Taliban takeover and they’ve managed to escape Afghanistan). They are not looking to complain about every little issue or problem that arises, but after occupying the same hotel room for 8 months, it’s understandable that issues with damp and hygiene start to bother them.

Another important issue is the endless uncertainty. The teachers don’t know how long they are going to live this half-life. They are stuck in limbo, betwixt and between, with no end in sight. No one has communicated any timescale with them. They have no idea how long they are going to continue to be stuck in these hotels. The endless waiting is painful, and the not-knowing is painful too. Their existence is characterised by uncertainty. They can’t move forward and they can’t get on with their lives. They feel they have no agency in their lives and that they are unable to try to improve the lives they or their children experience, they just have to wait for the outside powers who control their destiny to relocate them, so that they can start again somewhere safe.

It's important to note that the majority of the teachers love Afghanistan. They love their country and their culture and they miss it every day. For the most part, like many other displaced people, they would have liked to stay in their own country with their friends and family around them. Circumstances beyond their control meant they were in great danger in their own country, and had no choice but to leave for their own safety. Their work for the British council put them in at risk, and when they saw other British Council employees relocated to the safety of the UK under the UK Government’s ARAP scheme, they wondered why they had been excluded from this relocation programme.

Most of the teachers have at last been accepted onto the UK Government’s ACRS programme (Afghan Citizen’s Relocation Scheme). These teachers spent the last of their money obtaining visas and passports to get out of Afghanistan and get across the border to Pakistan. They were then placed in the 'holding-hotels' they now occupy. Fine for 2 weeks. Fine for a month perhaps. But 8 months, stuck with your family in a cramped hotel room is not OK – especially when you can’t even leave the hotel.

The teachers survive on the basic food provided by the IOM. They are reluctant to complain, for fear of sounding ungrateful, but most feel malnourished, and fear their children are not receiving essential nutrients and minerals.

It’s also important to understand that while Pakistan may be safer than Afghanistan, it is still not a safe place. With continuing political unrest, the country is prone to riots and public disorder. Security is always at the forefront of the teachers’ minds, as the threat of terror is high in Pakistan. Only last week 3 teachers were sitting talking in their hotel lobby when gun shots were fired into the hotel. Fortunately, none of the teachers were hurt in this incident, but it is a reminder of the dangers and hardship the teachers continue to face.

Having spent the last 8 months of their lives in limbo in cramped, basic hotels in Islamabad, the teachers really want to get on with their lives. When will the UK Government fulfil their promise to move them to safety?

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