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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

“What about my baby?” Pregnant Afghan British Council teachers stuck in Pakistan fear deportation.

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Over 60 Afghan British Council teachers are waiting in hotels in Islmabad. Among them are expectant mothers and new parents, who continue to wonder when the UK Government will make good on promises to resettle those who assisted the UK in Afghanistan.

Baby due

29-year old ‘Sadaf’ is expecting to give birth to her first child in the next 2 weeks. She used to work for the British Council in Afghanistan, but when the Taliban took power in August 2021 she was among over 100 British Council employees unfairly left behind. Aware of the danger she was in, she went into hiding, knowing full well the work she had done on behalf of the British Government put her at immediate risk of Taliban hostility.

She endured over a year living in hiding while she waited for the FCDO to confirm that she was eligible for relocation to the UK under the ACRS scheme. Eventually she was advised to flee to Pakistan, where she has been waiting for the last 8 months. With increased tension in Pakistan and the constant threat of deportation back to the Taliban, it has been an immensely stressful pregnancy for Sadaf.

She has been suffering from various health complications and has desperately needed medical support. She has managed to see the doctor on several occasions, but has missed a number of appointments due to fears of deportation. She is physically and emotionally depleted and nervous about the upcoming birth. While she hopes she will be able to have the baby in a hospital, she doesn’t yet know where the birth will take place. Understandably, she feels very alone, removed from her family and friends, living as a displaced person with minimal support.

Not the only one:

She’s not the only one in this situation. At least 5 other displaced Afghan British Council teachers or their wives are pregnant and expecting babies soon. One teacher, ‘Hassan’ is already heartbroken by the loss of a child. After the Taliban took power he was in a dangerous situation because of his work for the British Council. He had been in hiding and was unable to get his family to hospital due to repeated threats from the Taliban. Tragically his 10-month-old daughter died. Had he been able to access medical care, there is every possibility she would have survived.

Hassan was delighted when his wife became pregnant again this year, but the family now face further anxiety, as, 33 weeks into the pregnancy, scans reveal serious health concerns which had gone unnoticed by doctors in Pakistan. It’s impossible for Hassan not to feel, once again, that his baby would stand a far better chance, had he and his wife been relocated to the UK in 2021. Back then the Afghan British Council managers and office staff were all relocated to the UK under the ARAP scheme. Hassan, along with all the other teachers, should have been relocated then too, but was wrongly excluded from the scheme. Life might well have been very different for him and has family, had he been approved for ARAP and relocated.

Aside from the cases of ‘Sadaf’ & ‘Hassan’, a further 4 Afghan BC teachers (or their wives) are stuck in hotel rooms in the latter stages of pregnancy. None of them have any money, because they have been unable to work for over 2 years. When the Taliban took power they had to go into hiding. In all cases they sold the last of their possessions to raise money to get passports and Pakistani visas (the visas alone cost over $1000+ USD each). When they arrived in Islamabad they did not have work visas, and were not permitted to find employment. They imagined they would only be there for a month or two at most, but over 9 months later, they are still there - waiting.

Daily struggles:

The teachers now endure a bleak existence, unable to leave their hotels for fear of deportation, and unable to buy the essential things they need, like fresh fruit, vegetables and warm winter clothes, because they simply have no money.

The ‘At Risk Teachers’ campaign has recently written to the British Council to request financial support for their pregnant former employees. We have asked the British Council to allocate funds from their 'Benevolent Fund' to provide financial support for their former teachers, who will need to buy essentials for their new babies.

Parents of new-borns:

The hardship is not reserved for those who are pregnant. All the Afghans waiting in Pakistan are suffering, but another group who are finding it particularly hard are those who have recently given birth. As well as the 6 teachers who are currently pregnant, at least 4 other teachers have had babies since January of this year, and in each case their new-borns have spent their entire lives living in small hotel rooms, invariably sharing a double bed with their parents and siblings.

'Nazila' had her baby in January, and says she almost never takes him outside, as the fear of deportation, arrest or police harassment is simply too real and present to make going out worthwhile.

She occasionally takes her baby into the hotel courtyard to get some daylight and fresh air, but for the most part mother and child remain confined to their small hotel room, where they have lived for the last 9 months.

3 other couples are in similar situations, with new born young children, no space, no money, no freedom, no education, no access to healthcare and no idea if or when they may eventually be relocated, and leave this life of endless waiting behind.

Other children:

As well as this, there are many other teachers with older children, from 5 - 15. These children have all endured 2 years without any education. It has remained a surprise to all concerned that their former employer the British Council has not made any effort to provide education for these children.

The BC are well aware that since the teachers were left behind neither they nor their families have been able to access education. The BC have a sizable, well-resourced teaching centre in Islamabad, and they are also experts at digital education, yet they have made no effort to provide education for their former employees or their children.

Displaced but resourceful:

One saving grace is the competence, resilience and determination of the teachers. Stuck in hotels with limited space and nothing to do, they have put on classes for their

children, and the children of other Afghans stuck in limbo in the hotels and guesthouses around the city. Hotel bedrooms, hallways and lobbies have all been turned into makeshift classrooms to allow for some education to take place.

The teachers delivering these classes are surely among the bravest and most resilient teachers out there, and their commitment and determination should serve as an example to all teachers, as well as to their former employer, the British Council.

Hopes for the future:

The teachers continue to hope the FCDO will relocate them to the UK as soon as possible. This has been the promise for over 2 years now, but the urgency is obvious for all to see. They also continue to hope for more consistent communication and support from their former employer, the British Council.

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