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  • Writer's picturejoeseaton2

When Scholarships go wrong:

Afghan British Council teacher 'Milad' is facing an impossible decision. He can either choose to live a very dangerous life in Afghanistan, with his family, or a safe life in the UK, alone.

When Milad was first awarded a Hornby Scholarship through the British Council he thought his dreams had finally come true. The chance to study on an MA programme at a UK university had been his ultimate goal for many years, but it had always seemed so out of reach - until the British Council awarded him a scholarship place in January 2020.

Sadly, Milad now looks back with regret, as the system which promised to enable him has ended up separating him from his family.

His story is yet another example of the deplorable treatment the Afghan British Council teachers have endured since the Taliban took power in 2021.

Employed on the UK Government’s English for Afghans programme:

Milad worked for the British Council for 3 Years on the UK Government-funded ‘English for Afghans’ programme. He was initially employed by the British Council in 2018 as an ‘English Learning Centre (ELC) Manager’ in the hard-line Taliban province of Kandahar.

The British Council have long been a target of Taliban animosity, and their teachers have been the victims of multiple violent attacks in recent years. Milad’s role managing the Learning Centre put his life at significant risk. He was public-facing, highly recognizable within his community and known to be working for an organisation the Taliban actively despised.

In spite of the risks, Milad excelled in his position as ELC Manager, and in time his professionalism and passion for education saw him progress to the role of ‘Master Trainer’. In this new role he was at even greater risk, as he was required to teach English and ‘UK-values’ throughout Kandahar province.

Dream comes true with scholarship offer

Milad’s period of employment made

him eligible for the British Council/ Hornby Scholarship

scheme, and he was delighted when, in January 2020, he was accepted on a Scholarship. However, a number of obstacles stood in his path. His enrollment on his Masters’ programme was initially delayed by the global pandemic. This was followed by the fall of Afghanistan, and in August 2021 he had to go into hiding, as the Taliban takeover put him in great danger. All the other British Council teachers in Afghanistan also went int hiding – fearing for their lives. All had been unfairly rejected from the UK Government’s ARAP* scheme, and all were suddenly at risk.

Eventually, a year later, Milad was granted a student visa and managed to get to the UK and start his MA. Meanwhile, all his teaching colleagues had started to get approved for relocation to the UK under the Government’s ACRS* programme. In late 2022 & early 2023 the vast majority of former English for Afghans teachers were advised by the FCDO to flee Afghanistan and travel to Pakistan to await relocation to the UK.

Safety at last, for many Afghan British Council teachers…

Today, the majority of Afghan British Council teachers have at last been safely relocated to the UK, along with their families, in recognition of the work they did for us and the danger we left them in as a result of that work.

Yet bizarrely, in Milad’s case, the FCDO have told him that because he was outside Afghanistan at the time he applied for the ACRS scheme, they will not approve him for ACRS relocation, even though they have declared him eligible. While most of his EfA colleagues and their families have been approved and relocated – the FCDO have said ‘No’ to him.

Milad was only outside Afghanistan because we had put him on a 1-year scholarship, and he would be just as unsafe in Afghanistan as all the other British Council teachers the UK Government eventually agreed to relocate, yet the FCDO insists they cannot grant him ACRS approval, and the British Council are providing no support for their former employee.

Because of the danger he was in in Afghanistan, Milad has remained in the UK on his student visa, while his wife and children remain stuck in hiding in Kandahar. He says he feels heartbroken living away from them, yet terrified of returning to where they are.

Requests for advocacy & support from the British Council

We have contacted the British Council about this case on numerous occasions, but they have repeatedly said there is “nothing they can do to help”. This is the same statement they have continually made since the teachers were left behind in August 2021.

The “Nothing we can do to help…” response is also the same answer they gave to a very similar case, where a teacher named Shabir had fled to Azerbaijan to get to safety. In this case too, the British Council said there was “nothing they could do to help” the teacher when the FCDO rejected his ACRS application. But this was not true then and it is not true now. The British Council have excellent connections with the FCDO, and can contact them at any time about any specific case.

Decision overturned:

Eventually, in the case of Shabir, prolonged pressure on the British Council prompted them to advocate on his behalf, and in the end he was relocated to the UK, after 2 years of being unfairly rejected from both the ARAP & ACRS scheme. Disappointingly, it was only after repeated media articles and an ongoing campaign highlighting the injustice that we were able to prompt the British Council to take responsibility and speak up for their former teacher.

It remains the case that since 2021 the British Council has repeatedly failed to advocate on behalf of their teachers, and once again we see this in the case of Milad.

Scholarships in disarray:

Milad’s story also echoes the recent account of Bassem Abudagga, a Palestinian lecturer who got a British Council scholarship but later regretted the impact this ‘opportunity’ had on his beleaguered family.

It seems the organisation is keen to offer scholarships, and share the good news of their benevolent endeavours, but when it comes to addressing the safety, well-being and fair treatment of scholarship recipients, the organisation has far to go.

Certainly, in Milad’s case, it is completely unfair that he is being treated differently to other English for Afghans teachers, and the British Council need to make a concerted effort to advocate on his behalf, and remind the FCDO of our responsibilities to him.

Action required by BC CEO:

All British Council CEO Scott MacDonald needs to do is pick up the phone, call the FCDO and tell them:

"Milad is eligible for relocation to the UK, with his family, because of his work on the British Council's English for Afghans programme. His attendance on a scholarship we put him on should not compromise his eligibility for a government scheme designed to ensure his safety".

Whether the BC CEO has the courage or conscience to do this remains to be seen.

*ARAP = Afghan Relocation & Assistance Programme (run by MoD)

*ACRS = Afghan Citizens Relocation Scheme (run by FCDO)

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