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AFGHANISTAN: Former Chevening scholars accuse UK of abandoning them

Diane Taylor

A GROUP of former Chevening scholars have accused the British government of abandoning them in Afghanistan, where they say their lives are at grave risk from the Taliban.

The UK government has prioritised the rescue of 35 current Chevening scholars who were due to embark on their studies in the UK before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, but an estimated 70 former scholars are also thought to still be in the country.

The Chevening scholarship programme, established in 1983, supports study at UK universities – mostly one-year master’s degrees – for students with demonstrable potential to become future leaders, decision-makers and opinion formers.l

Initial pledges to help the former scholars who returned to Afghanistan to help strengthen civil society, education and women’s rights in their home country after completing their studies in the UK are no longer visible on UK government webpages.

They say they are feeling increasingly hopeless about their prospects of being brought to safety. One, speaking from their hiding place in Afghanistan, told the Guardian: “It’s almost impossible to cross the border to Pakistan unless there is a special arrangement in place from the UK government. Even if we can cross that border there is no guarantee we’ll be evacuated because we have not been contacted for weeks nor have our emails been replied to by British government officials.”

They said only those with travel authorisation letters were allowed to cross the border into Pakistan by the Taliban.

“The former scholars are still at high risk,” some of the former scholars wrote in a recent open letter to the British government. The letter states that they warned officials at the British embassy in Kabul as early as July that the situation was deteriorating fast.

They say Chevening alumni had been targeted directly and some have had families interrogated and tortured by the Taliban.

One former Chevening scholar said: “Things are getting more and more dangerous for us and we feel helpless. We think it is only a matter of time before we get … persecuted. There have been reports of people like us who have had ties with the previous Afghan government and the west going missing.

“As for the eligibility criteria, the UK government has deleted the list of prioritised categories for resettlement from their websites, which included us. The UK government has been maintaining that the Afghan resettlement scheme is being worked on and the eligibility criteria will be announced soon. We are afraid we might not be included.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We have been assisting this year’s Afghan Chevening scholars to leave the country and they have begun arriving in the UK. We will continue to do all we can to secure safe passage and deliver on our obligation to get British nationals and eligible Afghans out of the country.”

Government sources said further details on eligibility for resettlement were being developed at pace and would be shared in due course.

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