British Embassy BLOCKED visas of 35 Afghan students offered scholarships to study in UK as Taliban swept across their nation
- The Afghan students have had their ‘dreams shattered after they were told the British Embassy in Kabul could no longer process their visas
- The Afghans had been selected for the prestigious Chevening scholarship
- But they were told that the UK Foreign Office had decided with ‘deep regret’ to pause the scholarship in Afghanistan
- It comes as the Taliban continues to take control of large swaths of Afghanistan
The British Embassy in Kabul has blocked the visas of 35 Afghan students who were offered scholarships to study in the UK as the Taliban sweeps across their nation.
The students have had their ‘dreams shattered’ after they were told the embassy could no longer process their visas, meaning that they have lost the chance to attend universities in Britain.
The young Afghans had been selected among thousands of applicants for the prestigious Chevening scholarship, a UK grant which offers students from across the world the chance to study at UK universities.
But, after a year-long application process, the students were told that the UK Foreign Office had decided with ‘deep regret’ to pause this year’s Chevening scholarship in Afghanistan.
Sharif Safi, who was planning on studying a Masters in peace, conflict and diplomacy at London Metropolitan University, told Sky News: ‘I’m still in shock. I’m devastated after the news. All my dreams have vanished.’
It comes as the Taliban continues to take control of large swaths of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops after 20 years of military operations.
Sharif Safi, who was planning on studying a Masters in peace, conflict and diplomacy at London Metropolitan University, told Sky News : ‘I’m still in shock. I’m devastated after the news. All my dreams have vanished’
It comes as the Taliban continues to take control of large swaths of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops after 20 years of military operations
The embassy letter, which was shared by former UK politician Rory Stewart on Twitter, read: ‘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 course this year.’
The letter added: ‘The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is proud of the role Chevening has played and will continue to play in offering Afghan scholars the opportunity to study in the UK and we remain committed to reinstating the programme as soon as possible.
‘We would therefore like to offer you a deferral until the academic year 2022-2023.’
But Safi, who completed a five-hour-long English exam in Kabul while suffering from Covid-19 for the scholarship, told Sky News that he and the 34 other students like him had already made plans to study in the UK this year.
He said: ‘Personally in my case I handed over my job and all my responsibilities in my organisation to someone else.
‘I declined a job offer in an important diplomatic mission and I rejected several other educational opportunities just because I opted for Chevening over any other opportunities.’
The move has prompted outrage, with former Conservative cabinet ministers Rory Stewart and David Lidington calling on UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to intervene.
The move has prompted outrage, with former Conservative cabinet ministers Rory Stewart and David Lidington calling on UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to intervene
The embassy letter, which was shared by former UK politician Rory Stewart on Twitter, read: ‘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 course this year’
Stewart tweeted: ‘Deeply disappointing to hear – on top of everything – that Afghans who received Scholarships from the UK government to study in the UK this year have now been told they will not be granted visas due to ‘administration issues’. Surely someone can sort this out?’
Meanwhile, Lidington said: ‘This decision seems both morally wrong & against UK interests. Surely those accepted onto Chevening will be at particular risk from Taliban & among ‘brightest & best’ whom our government rightly wants to attract to UK.
‘Hope Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab will review urgently.’
Safi and other Afghans who were admitted onto the scholarship programme said they had met UK deputy ambassador in Kabul last week and proposed to travel to a different country to have their visas processed – at their own expense – but that proposition was declined.
The students had also asked if they could start the course online until their visas could be processed, but they were told it was not possible.
Safi said: ‘Put yourself in our place – you can see other Chevening scholars from all over the world travelling to the UK to start their courses, but you, just because you live in Afghanistan, just because you’re an Afghan you have to bear the sorrow, you have to bear the disappointment.’
Naimatullah Zafary, who works for the U.N. in Kabul, was planning to study governance, development and public policy at the University of Sussex, but now his hopes have been shattered.
Zafary, 35, who has applied for the scholarship for the past four years, said the news is ‘too difficult to describe’ after he was finally successful this time.
Naimatullah Zafary, who works for the U.N. in Kabul, was planning to study governance, development and public policy at the University of Sussex, but now his hopes have been shattered
‘Imagine – four years of dreaming that you will make it, and this year – finally in the fourth year – you make it, and you get such email, such letter,’ he told Sky News.
‘It’s way too difficult to describe in words. I cannot sleep at night.’
He added: ‘On July 15 I got a final email from my programme officer in the UK saying that my documents are cleared and I am selected,’ he said.
‘So from July 15 onward you are just waiting to get your final award letter and apply for your visa.
‘You’re getting ready for departure. Suddenly you get an email that it’s postponed.’
Zafary told the BBC that it is hard for the students to accept the decision when visas are being issues to diplomatic staff and Afghans relocating to the UK.
He said: ‘When they said it will be paused for the next year, I don’t believe it. If you cannot make it this year, how can you make it next year?’
‘Every day, every second in this country is unpredictable.’
Afsana Hamidy, who was selected to study a masters in education at Roehampton University in London, has been left shocked at the decision to block their visas.
Hamidy, who would have been the first woman and second person to have specialised in special educational needs in Afghanisatan, told Sky News: ‘The Chevening is discriminating this year because they are giving these opportunities to all other countries and they are just excluding Afghanistan.’
She added: ‘I lost very good opportunities here because I declined job offers. I planned everything around studying in the UK.’
The Taliban were seen in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman hours after taking control of Jalalabad, the most recent major Afghan city to fall to the insurgents as they make huge gains across Afghanistan
The Chevening scholarships are funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and partner organisations, and the recipients are selected by British embassies and high commissions across the world.
The FCDO says the scholarships offer ‘a unique opportunity for future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers from all over the world to develop professionally and academically, network extensively, experience UK culture, and build lasting positive relationships with the UK’.
An FCDO spokesperson told Sky News: ‘The current circumstances in Afghanistan mean the embassy cannot administer the parts of the programme which must be done in Kabul.
‘We have therefore paused the Chevening programme there.
‘All of this year’s scholars will be able to start their programme next year.’
The Taliban on Sunday said they will declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the Presidential Palace in Kabul as militants posed in the office and the country’s president fled for Tajikistan, with thousands of Afghan nationals now racing to Pakistan to escape brutal Islamist rule.
Taliban fighters stormed the ancient palace on Sunday and demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ as Kabul descended into chaos, with US helicopters evacuating diplomats from the embassy in scenes reminiscent of the 1975 Fall of Saigon which followed the Vietnam War.
The country’s embattled president Ashraf Ghani fled the country while thousands of Afghan nationals rushed to the Pakistan border, in a move signalling the end of the 20-year Western intervention begun after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington DC.
The Taliban has said they will soon declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in Kabul as militants posed in the office
Taliban militants were pictured inside the Presidential Palace in Kabul after the Afghan president fled the country
Foreigners in Kabul were told to either leave or register their presence with Taliban administrators, while RAF planes were scrambled to evacuate 6,000 British diplomats, citizens and Afghan translators, and the British Ambassador was moved to a safe place.
Bagram air base, holding Islamic State and Taliban fighters, was also surrendered by Afghan troops on Sunday despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the United States and NATO over the past two decades to build up Afghanistan’s security forces. US military officials have said that Kabul airport is now closed to commercial flights as military evacuations continue.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan had ‘accelerated’ the current crisis and announced his government’s priority is to get UK nationals out ‘as fast as we can’ after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting in Downing Street. He also vowed that the Middle Eastern state must not become a ‘breeding ground for terror’ again.
Besides Kabul, just seven other provincial capitals out of the country’s 34 are yet to fall to the Taliban after the military, which had been trained by the US, failed to stave off their attacks. The Taliban are now closing in on the capital from all sides, controlling territories to the North, South, East and West and advancing to just seven miles south of the city.
As the Taliban advance accelerates, the US is scrambling to evacuate more than 10,000 American citizens from the capital, with officials said to be trying to strike a deal for Taliban fighters not to descend on Kabul until the US can pull everyone out.
President Joe Biden has vowed that any action that puts Americans at risk ‘will be met with a swift and strong US military response’.
He also blamed Donald Trump for the Taliban takeover of most of Afghanistan, claiming he left the group ‘in the strongest military position since 2001′.
An image appearing to show Taliban militants at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Sunday
Militants seized the ancient palace on Sunday and demanded a ‘peaceful transfer of power’
UK military personnel boarding an RAF Voyager aircraft at RAF Brize Norton on August 14, 2021 to travel to Afghanistan
Johnson was on Sunday to hold further crisis talks on Afghanistan, his office said, as he recalled parliament from its summer break.
A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson had called a meeting of the COBR emergencies committee to discuss the situation, which follows the withdrawal of US-led forces, the second such meeting in three days.
Parliament said it had approved Johnson’s request to call back MPs on Wednesday for urgent debate on what Britain, which lost 457 troops in the two-decade long war, should do next.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday he had talked to Pakistan counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, expressing his ‘deep concerns’ and agreeing it was ‘critical’ that the international community tell the Taliban that the violence must end and human rights be protected.
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, urged Johnson to ‘think again’ about stepping in.
‘We have an ever-shrinking window of opportunity to recognise where this country is going as a failed state,’ he told Times Radio.
‘Just because the Americans won’t, does not mean to say that we should be tied to the thinking, the political judgement – particularly when it is so wrong – of our closest security ally.
‘We could prevent this, otherwise history will judge us very, very harshly in not stepping in,’ he warned.
Ellwood said the government could deploy the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group to provide air support.
He called the crisis ‘the biggest single policy disaster since Suez’.
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