The academic future of Afghan students in the U.K. is uncertain. Their scholarships are currently terminated because the Foreign Office can no longer administer their visas due to the crisis in the country.
According to the Guardian, the Foreign Office informed of the postponement this month via a letter from the British ambassador to Kabul, Sir Laurie Bristow.
The Independent reported that while the Foreign Office said it would try to reinstate the program as soon as possible, it would be halted for at least a year.
“After careful deliberation, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has with deep regret decided to pause the Chevening programme in Afghanistan for the academic year 2021-2022,” the letter said.
In September, at least 35 Afghan students were part of the Chevening Scholarships program, which grants them prestigious government-sponsored scholarships at British colleges.
“Current circumstances mean that the British embassy in Kabul is unable to administer the parts of the programme that must be done in Kabul in time for candidates to begin their courses this year,” it added. “We are very sorry, as we know this will be a huge disappointment to you.”
The students’ names in the program might make them a persecution target of the Taliban.
“These are extraordinary times and this is when officials need to find creative solutions,” said Dr. Nishank Motwani, the director of research and policy at ATR Consulting in Kabul, the Guardian noted.
“The Chevening programme advertises itself as developing leaders for the future,” he added. “They need to live up to their own mantra because in years to come when the west wakes up about Afghanistan and sees what has happened, who are they going to turn to?”
The Guardian said the scholars tried to negotiate alternatives with officials in the UK embassy in Kabul, such as having their visas handled in a third country, but such had been dismissed.
Motwani said there could be no promises about the students’ fate even after a year’s postponement. The situation was a “disgraceful moral failure given how many Afghans have stood shoulder to shoulder with the UK’s civilian and military forces over the past two decades.”
The doctor believed that if the students, unfortunately, fell into the Taliban’s hands during the wait time, their lives would be at significant risk.
“The danger is real because it assumes the students would survive one full year in what is increasingly looking like the return of Taliban rule,” he said. “The risk that comes with safeguarding their personal documentary evidence for the Chevening scholarship is lethal if the Taliban find them because anyone with foreign ties to them is a collaborator.”
“It is these people, the top minds in the country [who] need to be saved. Afghanistan will need them. And these countries that have invested so much in Afghanistan over 20 years will need them,” Motwani stressed.
The action has sparked fury, with former Conservative cabinet ministers David Lidington and Rory Stewart asking Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to fix the problem.
The Taliban have just overtaken Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and were arranging a peaceful transfer of power.