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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

Pregnant Afghan British Council teacher stuck in Islamabad hotel

Former British Council teacher Sadaf continues to wait in her hotel room, hoping for an update from the FCDO about her relocation to the UK. She has been waiting in her hotel in Islamabad for over 6 months now, but so far has not received her UK visa, or any indication of when she will be relocated.

The uncertainty and waiting are stressful for all the teachers who are temporarily staying in hotels in Pakistan, but the situation is particularly worrying for Sadaf, as she is heavily pregnant. She is expecting her baby to arrive in mid to late November, about 2 months from now, and desperately hopes everything will be OK. As she has previously suffered two miscarriages, she is understandably anxious about her current circumstances.

Sadaf was forced to flee her home country after a long period in hiding, as her previous work for the British Council had put her at risk of Taliban violence. She had been recruited by the British Council to teach on the UK Government-funded ‘English for Afghans’ programme, and had been our teacher and representative at the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul. Early this year she managed to escape to Pakistan, but life has been far from easy since she got out.

Over 100 British Council teachers were left behind when the UK quit Afghanistan in August 2021. While some of these teachers are still stuck in Afghanistan, more than 50 have now made it to Pakistan, where they are awaiting relocation to the UK on the Government’s ‘Afghan Citizens Relocation Scheme’ (ACRS). The FCDO specifically instructed the teachers to travel to Pakistan and wait for relocation to the UK, but that waiting has gone on for a very long time now.

For the teachers holed up in the hotels, the basic living conditions are tough. Some are alone, others are with their families and young children. Sadaf is with her husband. They were recently moved to a room with a window, after spending 4 months in a dark, windowless room. “The hotel where I am living doesn't have the facilities of living appropriately” she tells me. “For more than 4 months I lived in a small room where I did not have enough space and there weren't even any windows, which really affected my mental situation.”

Indeed, the endless waiting and uncertainty has had a significant impact on the mental well-being of all the teachers, who simply have no idea how long they will be stuck in this temporary situation. What makes it so much worse for them is that they can’t venture out of their hotels. As their visas have expired they all fear deportation back to Afghanistan and back to the Taliban if they go out in public. Repeated reports in the Pakistani media have stated that Afghans without the correct up-to-date documents are being deported back to Afghanistan. Former British Council teachers like Sadaf are terrified of being forcibly returned to the regime they fled in order to survive.

Sadaf is also concerned about the food she is eating, and how it is impacting the child growing inside her. She had been in hiding in Afghanistan for a year and a half leading up to the time she fled the country, and so had been unable to work or earn any money. She sold the last of her possessions and her wedding jewellery to raise the funds to get a visa for Pakistan, and so arrived in Islamabad with no money at all. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) provide food for her (and all the other teachers waiting in hotels), but the food is very basic, with minimal vegetables and no fruit. She really wishes she could buy fruit to help her body and her baby, but she simply has no money, and can’t leave her hotel to go food-shopping anyway.

Sadaf has repeatedly emailed the ACRS team at the FCDO but her last 3 emails have not received a response, and every day her due date is getting closer and closer. With very limited access to medical care or decent food in Pakistan, and no freedom to leave her hotel, she fears for the future of her baby. She desperately hopes the FCDO will respond to her emails and review her application and relocation date.

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