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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

We knew it was dangerous while we were there, but we soon forgot about the dangers when we left.

All the while I was in Afghanistan (2016 - 2020), the British Council and UK Government were both acutely aware of the security risks faced by British Council employees. As you can

see from the photo I took from the helicopter, security was always the primary concern. Flying over Kabul was far safer than driving through it, so when I had to go somewhere, moves were often made in a chopper. A big gun ensured that if necessary, the soldier in the back of the chopper would be able to pick off any threats from the city below.

If for some reason we weren’t travelling by chopper, we’d be transported in a convoy of armoured vehicles. I wasn’t allowed to go out much, and any excursions I wanted to make away from our highly protected compound had to be signed off by several layers of security. I wasn’t allowed to go out for social reasons. I was only allowed out to check on our education programmes, or to meet government ministers and education leaders. Every time I did go out, I was accompanied by trained security personnel, who were all heavily armed. I always had to wear full body armour, and my outings were kept short to minimise the risk.

Why such strict precautions?

Aside from the general atmosphere of violence, hostility and terror which continues to pervade every aspect of life in Afghanistan, part of the reason for such tight security measures was the fact that the British Council in Afghanistan has been the victim of a number of violent attacks over the years. The most serious was the 2011 attack on the British Council compound, which sadly resulted in 17 fatalities. This was followed by the shooting of a BC employee in 2014, and the attack on a British Council study centre in Kandahar in 2015. The Taliban have always had a strong dislike for the British Council, and BC employees and premises have long been a target for the Taliban.

In my role, as a member of ‘UK staff’ working in Afghanistan, I was not allowed to travel outside of Kabul to visit our programmes in the provinces. This was deemed far too dangerous, with too much chance of being targeted, shot or kidnapped. Instead, the local teachers we employed to deliver our programmes were tasked with carrying out M&E and official visits to other provinces.

Travel is dangerous in Afghanistan, even for local Afghans. Visiting another province makes a traveler instantly conspicuous, and draws unwanted attention and suspicion. We deliberately decided not to issue our staff with British Council ID cards, because being in possession of a British Council ID card would only put them at further risk if searched or kidnapped. The letter below shared by a former teacher shows the British Council’s attitude toward security and their teachers prior to the Taliban takeover. Clearly, back then the BC were alert to the issues, and took BC teachers safety and well-being seriously.

Have we forgotten how dangerous it was?

In light of all the security concerns, it's really shocking that we left our teachers behind. The British Council & UK Government were clearly very aware of the hostility towards the British Council and its employees. It's really disappointing the British Council, an organisation which prides itself on its righteous values, appears to have looked the other way when it came to the plight of their former employees.

It's worth noting that for all the years I worked at BC Afghanistan (2016 - 2020), never once did we refer to our teachers as 'contractors'. We referred to them as teachers. The letter above shows that when we weren’t referring to them as 'teachers', we referred to them as 'staff'. But since Afghanistan was taken by the Taliban, and we left all our teachers behind, the organisation suddenly started to try to distance themselves from the teachers, referring to them instead as 'contractors'.

Regardless of how the British Council and the UK Government chooses to label them, they are former employees of the BC, who worked for us for many years, on full time contracts, renewed on an annual basis. Some of the teachers were employed by the BC for over 10 years! Yet while the BC ensured it got all the managers and office staff safely out of Afghanistan prior to Operation Pitting, the teachers were abandoned. They were not treated equally with other BC employees. Despite the fact they had been tasked with teaching ‘UK Values’ and EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion), they were excluded from the ARAP scheme. Since the Taliban took power, they have been living in hiding in Afghanistan, in great danger as a direct result of their work for us. A number have been victims of threats and actual violence at the hands of the Taliban.

The unacceptable treatment of the teachers is a shame on the British Council and UK Government, and both should be doing much more to support the teachers and working much harder to get them to safety.

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