Afghans struggle to study over security concerns

Published 21/12/2021

Afghan students are struggling to reach campuses abroad where they have been invited to study due to security concerns and limited options for travel out of Afghanistan.

“It has been difficult to receive requests from individuals we cannot assist”

Scholars at Risk, a US-based network that defends the rights of scholars around the world, told The PIE that it has had responses from over 200 universities – with pledges to invite Afghan scholars and practitioners onto campuses.

However, there are significant challenges in getting these open offers to the vast majority of Afghan scholars in contact with them.

The situation in Afghanistan continues to have devastating consequences for both students and alumni of prestigious scholarship programs.

“Scholars at Risk’s immediate challenge in regards to Afghanistan has been the volume of requests, which has slowed our ability to respond with direct assistance,” a spokesperson for the organisation told The PIE News.

“SAR and our partner organisations who work with scholars are limited in our mandates, and it has been difficult to receive requests from individuals we cannot assist.

“We do refer those we cannot assist, such as students, to other resources as we can. Despite challenges, the response from universities — over 200 across our network — with pledges to invite scholars and practitioners to their campuses has been remarkable.”

The spokesperson told The PIE that universities have created visiting academic appointments for Afghan scholars across disciplines, as well as arranging flights, settling-in allowances, housing, schooling for children, language training, psychosocial supports, local transportation, networking opportunities for accompanying spouses, community integration programs, and more.

“A significant challenge has been getting these open offers to the vast majority of Afghan scholars in contact with SAR.

“Those still in Afghanistan are facing serious security concerns with limited options to travel within and out of the country. Visa options to transit countries are starting to open up, but are limited compared to the need,” they added.

According to Scholars at Risk, US and other embassies in the region are reportedly overwhelmed by applications, so the organisation is seeing very slow progress in the scheduling of visa interviews.

There are currently no guarantees that an applicant will ultimately be cleared for a visa. The spokesperson added that humanitarian corridors are opening in Europe, but again, at a limited pace.

Fulbright and Chevening

Issues have been reported with prestigious scholarship programs in both the US and the UK.

A report from ABC told of how there are roughly 100 Fulbright semi finalists in Afghanistan who have been left in limbo since the withdrawal of U.S. troops and unofficial pause of the program.

“Visa options to transit countries are starting to open up, but are limited compared to the need”

And in the UK, Research Professional News found that Alumni of the UK’s Chevening Scholar program, who are stranded in Afghanistan and awaiting resettlement in the UK, have been forced into hiding.

Ceri Oeppen, a senior lecturer in human geography at the University of Sussex, who has studied the Afghan refugees for more than 20 years, told Research Professional News that the mood among Chevening alumni seeking safe passage to the UK is becoming “increasingly desperate”.

“I think it’s really clear from the people who I am in touch with that their resources are dwindling,” Oeppen told Research Professional News.

“Because of that association with the UK, they are mostly in hiding, moving from place to place, and their financial and social resources are dwindling. It’s really becoming very urgent that they’re evacuated.”

The routes to resettlement in the UK are currently the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, for employees of the government and a few others who have worked with or alongside the government in exceptional circumstances, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) to help those who are vulnerable or at risk.

The UK government has said it will honour its commitments to resettle those British Council workers, GardaWorld employees and Chevening Alumni who are at risk.

“These groups will be considered for resettlement under the ACRS, the details of which will be announced soon,” a Home Office spokesperson told The PIE.

“The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme will soon open and is one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history. It will give up to 20,000 people at risk a new life in the UK,” the spokesperson said.

“We will honour commitments made to individuals and groups, including Chevening scholars,” they added.

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