Afghan Chevening scholars fear for families

Published 29/09/2021

Chevening scholars in the UK from Afghanistan fear family members remaining in the country are at risk from Taliban reprisals, while Chevening alumni say the UK government has stopped responding to their messages.

One scholar, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, said the Taliban think that if an individual has a link with the international community, they are conspiring against Islamic and cultural values of Afghanistan.

“I receive WhatsApp calls telling me that I was evacuated by the British army because I was their agent, and that my father had been too. These messages have continued.

“They tell me that they cannot do any harm to me, but that my family will pay the consequences for my actions”

“They tell me that they cannot do any harm to me, but that my family will pay the consequences for my actions, and the actions of my late father.”

The scholar’s sister – who is under 13 – has been told she is old enough to be married in accordance with Islam and that she should be married within one month.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but the Taliban will do anything to inflict revenge… They are terrorising the families of people who have simply been trying to good for our society.”

The Afghanistan Chevening Alumni Network has highlighted that, despite former scholars originally being classified as a “high-risk priority group” in the UK’s resettlement scheme, they no longer understand the status of resettlement of Afghan Cheveing alumni.

While current scholars were immediately evacuated, former scholars were left behind, they said. Speaking to The PIE, one scholar previously warned that Chevening alumni were still remaining in Kabul.

“After the evacuation operation ended on August 31, we reached out to the UK embassy in first week of September and we were told there was an exclusive mail box for Chevening alumni managed by a dedicated and larger team with ability to reply more efficiently,” A-CAN said.

“We start our communication… and we felt the flow of communication was back to normal. However, after few quick exchanges of emails, the flow returned to previous no-reply mode.”

The network estimates than fewer than 80 of the 250 Afghan Chevening alumni are seeking resettlement in the UK.

It called on the UK government to restore the alumni as a priority group. Clarification is needed on their status, they added.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, has been in touch with the UK foreign office on behalf of some of the scholars.

“[The Foreign Office] has been telling me essentially that they are, to some extent, constrained by Home Office rules. I have no doubt that they are doing their best, but clearly Home Office rules have very strict eligibility over who is regarded as immediate family,” she said.

For family members that are not spouses or children under the age of 18, it is “an awful lot harder to get them out of the country”, Lucas continued.

Family reunion rules should be extended to allow Chevening Scholars to bring dependent siblings and parents with them, she said, as currently only in exceptional circumstances would those family members be eligible to come to the UK.

“Families need the necessary visas and paperwork so that they can leave now”

“They are at risk, precisely because of the identification of scholars with this scheme, and their families need the necessary visas and paperwork so that they can leave now.”

Former scholars are also at great risk, she said. “We need the government to step up, they keep telling us to wait for the opening of the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme – that was promised on August 18, that is six weeks ago. It is completely unacceptable that it has taken so long to get that scheme up and running. Everyday is a matter of life and death.”

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