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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

No School, No Healthcare, No Prospects. Misery for BC teachers stuck in limbo in hotels in Pakistan:

I remember meeting Samim in 2018, when he first joined the British Council’s ‘English for Afghans’ team. We employed him as a teacher & master trainer on the ‘English for Civil Servants’ programme. He was recruited to teach Afghan government staff in the Ministry of Counter Narcotics.

With opiates being a major source of revenue for the Taliban, and corruption rife at all levels of Afghan society, any involvement with the Ministry of Counter Narcotics was risky. It was a sensitive role, but the Ministry of Counter Narcotics had been specifically selected by the FCDO as a key ministry for our education programmes. As the FCDO were funding the ‘English for Civil Servants’ programme, we had to agree to their requests, and so our teachers had to accept the challenges that came with the role.


As well as teaching English, Samim also had to deliver content focusing on 'UK values', including equality, diversity & inclusion (EDI). While these concepts are standard components of many British Council programmes worldwide, in Afghanistan such issues are highly sensitive.


With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Samim found himself in great danger. Like many of the British Council teachers left in Afghanistan, he had delivered controversial content on government education programmes. He was recognizable and at serious risk, and so had no choice but to go into hiding with his young family.


He had heard that some of his former colleagues, such as the British Council managers and office staff, had been relocated to the UK under the ARAP scheme. He knew that according to the ARAP criteria he too was eligible for that scheme, but he had not been informed about it by the British Council, or supported in his application. Although he did submit an application for the ARAP scheme, he never even got a response from the ARAP team. He was disappointed by this, but not surprised, as almost all of the other British Council teachers had also either received rejections, or no response.


Stuck in Afghanistan, he knew he had to lie low and wait until the UK Government woke up to their responsibilities. Eventually, this appeared to be happening, as over a year later, in October 2022, Samim received approval to relocate to the UK under the ACRS scheme. He managed to get the necessary travel documents, and was advised to travel to Pakistan earlier this year. He made the risky journey to the border crossing, before connecting with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and being allocated a hotel in Islamabad.

Today, he feels safer in Pakistan, but a major concern for Samim is the education of his children. His older son is six and a half years old and has never received any schooling. Samim had hoped to put him into pre-school in Afghanistan from the age of five, but because he was living in hiding and unable to work, there was no way this was possible while in Afghanistan.


Once he got to Pakistan, he discovered there was no educational provision for those awaiting ACRS or ARAP relocation. This might not be an issue if Afghans were only staying in Pakistan for a short period, but many have been waiting in hotels for months on end. Recent messages from the UK Home Office imply Afghans in hotels in Pakistan may well be stuck there for much, much longer, as the UK is currently unable to accommodate their former allies. With this in mind, the lack of educational opportunities is clearly an urgent issue.


The housing shortage in the UK has been well documented lately, but the plight of those who supported the UK effort in Afghanistan seems to be becoming a distant memory. Of course suitable accommodation has to be found in the UK, but the government needs to accelerate the process, and make arrangements to support displaced Afghans in the interim. Samim’s story is just one example. The reality is that thousands of Afghan adults and hundreds of Afghan children are housed in hotels in Pakistan, waiting for ACRS or ARAP relocation. None of them want to be there, stuck in limbo. Some have only one room for their family. Most are in a situation where they cannot go out of the hotel grounds because their visas have expired, and they risk being deported back to Afghanistan – something they all dread.


For the teachers cooped up in hotels, it’s not just education that is an issue. Access to medicine and healthcare is highly problematic, and mental health is also in decline. Having lived in hiding in Afghanistan, they now find themselves in limbo in Pakistan, falling through the cracks in life.


One irony for the teachers is the fact that they were employed by the British Council to teach equality & inclusion, and then excluded from the ARAP scheme, which they were all eligible for. A more recent irony for them is that the plight they are in now is a direct result of the work they did providing education on behalf of the UK government, yet as a result of this work, their children are now unable to receive education. Both these ironies would be almost laughable, were they not so sad for the Afghans suffering the consequences.


It’s worth noting that if we don’t provide education for the Afghans we have so far failed to relocate, they will be so much less able to integrate into UK society when they do eventually get here. They are our responsibility and the UK Government knows it cannot leave them to rot in hotels forever. If we think ahead now and take a strategic approach to the future, we can ensure Afghans awaiting relocation to the UK get access to the learning, skills and qualifications they need to succeed when they get to the UK, so they can be active members of society.


The British Government must do more to support the people who supported them in Afghanistan. One obvious way they can help is by providing education to the Afghans stuck in hotels. The British Council are experts at providing on-line learning content, and making such a provision might go a small way to compensating for the fact they left their teachers behind – it would at the very least mean the British Council had to acknowledge their teachers are stuck there.


The British Council CEO Scott MacDonald recently visited Pakistan. Sadly, he was unable to take time out of his schedule to visit the teachers, listen to their problems, or provide encouragement and reassurance that the British Council still cared about them. This was yet another missed opportunity to engage with the teachers.


Hopefully the British Council will recognise the current opportunity to provide education to the Afghans stuck in hotels in Pakistan. The reputation of the organisation is currently at a low ebb, due to their failure to support or relocate their teachers. Providing education for the abandoned teachers, their families, and other Afghans waiting for ACRS and ARAP in Pakistan would allow the organisation to get some much needed positive headlines.





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