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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

Ongoing visa crisis for Afghan teachers

Two years since the Taliban took power, the British Council have at last agreed to provide assistance for former employees still in hiding in Afghanistan, by helping them get visas to get out.

This is massive news for the teachers still stuck in Afghanistan. It is recognition from the British Council that they feel some responsibility to the teachers they left behind two years ago. Better late than never. It is also recognition that they should never have been abandoned, and that they urgently need support. Those still in Afghanistan are in serious danger, and they need to get out of there as soon as possible.

Why it has taken the British Council 2 years to provide support for travel documents is a mystery. Back in May this year the BC applied to the FCDO to request permission to use BC money to assist with visas. Why they waited until May 2023 to make this request is unknown. This should have been put in place much, much sooner. Lives could have been lost as a result of this delay. The FCDO gave the British Council permission to use their funds to assist with visas in June of 2023, but the BC did not act. Teachers were asking me all summer if I knew if the BC could help them, but the BC kept saying they could not, even though they had been given permission. Eventually on September 11 2023, 3 months after they got the go ahead from the FCDO to support their teachers, and over 2 years after they left them behind, they finally stated that they could support them in getting visas. Great – at last!

Now those teachers still stuck in hiding in Afghanistan will have a much better chance of making it out and getting to safety. Let’s just hope the financial support promised is provided more rapidly than the decision to provide it, otherwise they could be stuck in Afghanistan for a whole lot longer.

Once the teachers in Afghanistan have secured their visas, they will be contacted by the 'International Organisation for Migration' (IOM) to travel to a ‘3rd country’ to await relocation to the UK. The 3rd country for the teachers is Pakistan in almost all cases, and there are already over 50 British Council teachers staying in hotels in Islamabad. They are all waiting to be relocated to the UK. The sad thing is that most of them have been waiting there for 8 months now, stuck in their hotels. They can’t go out because their Pakistan visas have expired, so they are stuck in their hotel rooms. This begs the questions ‘When will they be moved to the UK?’, and ‘Will the BC support them in getting their visas renewed in Pakistan (so that they can at least go outside their hotels without being deported)?’.

The Pakistani media is increasing reporting stories related to the deportation of illegal Afghans, and specifically Afghans present in Pakistan without the correct paperwork. With this in mind the teachers are right to be fearful of imminent deportation. The fact is, they should never have ended up cooped up in hotels in Pakistan in the first place. Their British Council colleagues who worked in the British Council office on the British Embassy compound in Kabul were all safely relocated to the UK back in 2021 under the ARAP scheme. And rightly so, as they all qualified for the scheme. However, all the teachers also qualified for the scheme, but they were unfairly excluded. Had they been relocated back in 2021 when their colleagues were, they wouldn’t have suffered violence at the hands of the Taliban, or 2 years living in hiding, or being stuck in cramped hotels in Islamabad.

Evidently, there are two significant visa-related issues the British Council urgently need to focus on. Firstly, they need to assist those teachers still in hiding in Afghanistan in obtaining travel visas and other necessary documentation, so that they can get out. Secondly, they need to address the issue of expired visas faced by the teachers waiting in Islamabad hotels, who are unable to leave their hotels for fear of deportation back to Afghanistan.

It's actually possible to imagine a scenario where a British Council teacher who has been living in hiding in Afghanistan for 2 years gets his visa and makes his way to the border. As he is crossing the border, he sees a former colleague, who managed to escape to safety before him, now being deported back into the country he fled from months earlier. The reality is that those currently waiting in Pakistan dread deportation as much as those still stuck in Afghanistan dream of escape and safety. Hopefully the British Council will prioritise this issue in the coming days and weeks, and strive to find ways to provide better support for this endangered and traumatised cohort of at risk teachers.

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