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At present over 3000 Afghans are waiting in Islamabad, hoping to get confirmation that they are booked onto flights to the UK, and desperately hoping not to get sent back to Afghanistan.
These Afghans are all eligible for relocation to the UK under British Government schemes to relocate those who assisted the UK mission in Afghanistan. The Government now faces a race to get them safely out of Pakistan before they are deported back to Afghanistan, and back into the arms of the Taliban.
In late September the Pakistan Ministry of Interior announced plans to deport all Afghans present in the country without valid visas, starting from 1 November. This includes most of the Afghans waiting in Islamabad.
Among this cohort of displaced Afghans are more than 60 former British Council teachers. The teachers all taught English and ‘UK-values’ across Afghanistan, and have been the victims of Taliban persecution as a result. The British Council has long been a target of Taliban hostility, with multiple violent attacks on British Council staff and premises over the years. Since August 2021 the teachers have again been victims of Taliban threats and violence, and they have lived in fear of their lives since the new regime took power.
Although the teachers were unfairly excluded from the UK Government’s ARAP scheme back in 2021, they were eventually accepted into the ACRS scheme (Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme), and over 60 are now waiting in Islamabad. They were told to travel to Pakistan by the FCDO, where they were to await relocation to the UK. Most have now been waiting there in limbo for over 9 months. Part of the delay has been attributed to the lack of suitable accommodation for them in the UK, and they were recently advised to expect to continue waiting in Islamabad unless they could find their own accommodation in Britain.
The Government has recently reversed this decision, seemingly realising that the Pakistan Ministry of Interior’s plans to deport Afghans with expired visas were too serious and too consequential to ignore. Indeed, it would pile shame upon shame for the UK Government if allies we had already abandoned in 2021 were then sent back to the persecutors they had temporarily managed to escape.
From late last week, British Council teachers in Islamabad started to report being offered accommodation in the UK. This is a massive breakthrough, as they have been waiting over 2 years for this news. For the few who have received these encouraging updates, the news is still tinged with the fear that they could still be picked up and deported before being allocated a flight out.
For all the other teachers still waiting in Islamabad, the anxiety and uncertainty go on, as they continue to wonder if and when they will receive a call from the IOM (International Organisation for Migration), telling them that UK authorities have identified suitable accommodation for them, and they are scheduled to board a flight out of Pakistan imminently.
So far, although none of the British Council teachers have been deported back to Afghanistan, many have been questioned or harassed by local police. They have endured a challenging wait in limbo in a country they never expected to be stuck in for so long. Most of the teachers have been cooped up with their families in single hotel rooms with little furniture or space. Several have had new babies while waiting to be relocated, while others are currently pregnant. They have had no access to education or healthcare, and with expired visas, they have been confined to their rooms for months.
All those waiting in Pakistan are desperately hoping for an update on their situation, and confirmation of UK accommodation and a flight before next week’s deportation deadline. Meanwhile, more than 30 other British Council teachers remain in hiding in Afghanistan, still awaiting a response from the FCDO regarding their ACRS applications, or still waiting to get passports and visas so that they can flee to Pakistan and then the UK.
The travesty of the abandoned British Council teachers has been an embarrassment for the UK Government and the British Council for more than 2 years now. It is crucial they both learn the important lessons from this experience and ensure they do not leave their allies behind in future.
All the teachers did dangerous work at our request, and some had worked for the BC for over 10 years. They were all shocked when the managers and office staff from The British Council office in Kabul were included in the original ARAP scheme and relocated to the UK before or during Operation Pitting, while the teachers themselves were all left behind.
Hopefully, recent adjustments made by the UK Government will mean that the teachers now get the fair treatment they deserve. While it will have taken over 2 years for this injustice to be righted, as far as the teachers are concerned, the response is better late than never.
For now, all those in Pakistan continue to wait on tenterhooks, hoping the UK government can allocate accommodation and get them on flights before the Pakistan government starts to actively deport people.