Photo: The i

British Council employee in Afghanistan ‘a prisoner at home’ after two years of UK government limbo

A former British Council teacher in Afghanistan, who is among over 100 teachers stranded in the country despite being eligible to relocate to the UK under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), has spoken out about her plight.

Speaking to the British I newspaper, Zuhra, not her real name, has been in hiding since the fall of Kabul in August 2021 and feels like “a prisoner at home” while fearing attack by the Taliban. She and other teachers say they weren’t informed by the British Council about their eligibility under an earlier evacuation scheme, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), until just days before the end of Operation Pitting, by which time it was too late to be approved by the scheme or flown to safety.

Zuhra’s work as an English language and values teacher, regarded as “very controversial” by Afghan extremists who are “completely against the progress of women”, saw her appear in educational videos circulated widely on social media, with her high-profile online presence increasing the risk to her. She said: “I feel scared. I have to keep a very low profile for the sake of my family’s safety. Since the takeover, we have been in hiding… In such conditions, you cannot freely apply for jobs and stuff. There is no opportunity now in Afghanistan.”

A whistleblower working for the British Council at the time of the Taliban takeover said that office staff in the Kabul office feared there was not enough space on the ARAP scheme for everyone to be evacuated, with their own places potentially at risk, which is why the teachers were not informed. Zuhra was rejected under ARAP after being told she was ineligible as she wasn’t a permanent member of staff, and applied for her and her family to come to the UK under ACRS in August 2022, but is still waiting for their security checks to be completed.

The ACRS scheme prioritises people who assisted British efforts in Afghanistan by standing up for values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law. Zuhra believes it could take another year for the Government to clear their applications to come to the UK and says the process is “very slow”, leaving them in constant fear of being uncovered by the Taliban.

A British Council spokesperson said: “We have done, and continue to do, everything in our power to get our former colleagues out of Afghanistan… The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme is run by the UK government. The British Council is not involved in the decision-making process in any way… We place the highest value on those who worked for us throughout the last 20 years in Afghanistan. Their commitment and dedication is never forgotten, and we will continue to do everything in our power to help them.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We continue to work hard to resettle people from Afghanistan… Since April 2021, around 24,500 people have been brought to safety, including thousands of Afghans who served the UK and others identified as at-risk, such as campaigners for women’s rights, human rights defenders and Chevening scholars.”