Teachers who worked for the British in Afghanistan fear for lives

‘A’ is for Abandoned: English teachers who worked for the British in Afghanistan fear for their lives as they are left at mercy of the Taliban

  • The British Council has been accused of abandoning female Afghan teachers
  • One, in hiding, fears being whipped or executed for having worked for them
  • Another says she has burned her documents to hide her links to the British
  • Dozens of former British Council teachers who applied for relocation were denied or await a decision 

The British Council was accused of abandoning female Afghan teachers yesterday.

One who is hiding from the Taliban said she was terrified she would be whipped or even executed because she worked for the UK organisation.

Another said she was living in fear and had burned all her documents to hide her links to the British. ‘If the Taliban find we have worked with the British, they will kill us,’ she explained.

Dozens of former British Council teachers and workers who applied to the UK for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy have either been rejected or are still awaiting a decision. It is understood some have been granted sanctuary.

Duty: Sumaya, with arms crossed, at work teaching. All faces are obscured for the women’s safety

Around ten of those left behind to the Taliban are women, and they feel at particular risk. They taught English and also promoted western values, especially to girls and women.

Sumaya, not her real name, is hiding in a flat in the capital Kabul with her husband and her three-year-old daughter. She fears he too will be targeted.

‘I was the face of Britain,’ she told the Mail. ‘I promoted them in schools where many families saw. Everyone knew me.

‘I taught the language of their Christian enemy, their goodness and values.

‘That makes me and other teachers a target of the Taliban. I do not understand why I have been left behind, why I have heard nothing when the risk to me and my family is so great?’

The 29-year-old, who worked in the north of Afghanistan, said she applied together with colleagues three months ago to the ARAP scheme.

Dozens of former British Council teachers and workers who applied to the UK for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy have either been rejected or are still awaiting a decision. Pictured: Taliban fighters celebrate in Afghanistan on September 1, 2021, after the final US soldiers left the country

She received only two emails in reply. The most recent told her: ‘Stay in a safe place. We are concerned about you.’

She said: ‘What has happened with us is extremely cruel. We should have been eligible for relocation surely as women who were the voice of Britain.

‘But there has been nothing. If we had worked for the United States, then we would have been rescued and be safe by now. ARAP has done nothing for us. I have been waiting for three months and now I am forced to live in hiding, worrying that the Taliban will come to my door. It is very frightening because I am wondering why we have been left behind.

‘The Taliban do not want women to work or to teach the voice of their enemy. They will punish my husband because he allowed his wife to work and they will punish me.

‘Whipping me in front of the public could be the punishment. It is a crime to the Taliban for any woman to work in this way.’

Some Afghan teachers, trainers and managers who applied under ARAP say they were rejected because they were contracted staff and not directly employed by the national government.

They were, though, paid by the British Council. Sumaya said those abandoned were particularly resentful that some Council staff based in Kabul had been given refuge in the UK.

Another woman who worked on the English for Afghans scheme for two years said she was living in dread of a knock on the door from the Taliban. She and her mother, who also served the Council, are no longer able to leave home without a male escort. The woman said she feared she might be forced to marry a Taliban fighter. She said she would rather kill herself. ‘It would be better for me,’ she explained.

‘We are tired of being brave. We are tired of losing our dear ones. We are losing our friends, our colleagues, our family members. We should have a right to our lives.’

She is furious that the UK did not allow those who worked on the English for Afghans programme permission to join the ARAP evacuation scheme. ‘I don’t know why we have been left behind. We served them, they have left us,’ she said.

Sumaya, who worked for on the British Council programme for two years, said fears had grown after one of her colleagues had been followed home by members of the Taliban. 

Sumaya, not her real name, is hiding in a flat in the capital Kabul with her husband and her three-year-old daughter. She fears he too will be targeted. Pictured: Taliban fighters stand on an armoured vehicle before parading along a road in Kandahar on September 1, 2021

‘He escaped but thought they wanted to kill him,’ she said. And she pleaded: ‘Please British Council, please ARAP and the Foreign Office, give us hope. Do the correct thing and move quickly to approve our cases.

‘There are no flights and no safe passage at present but if we have the documents from Britain, then a third country is a good option for us – at least we would be safe.’

Concerned teachers and former Council staff contacted the Daily Mail appealing for their case to be highlighted as part of the Betrayal of the Brave campaign.

An online campaign set up under the headline: ‘Save British Council educators from the Taliban’ had attracted 135,000 signatures yesterday.

Dr Julia Cave Smith, an education consultant who worked with some of the teachers, described as ‘inhumane’ the treatment of one who had been branded a spy and feared beheading.

The Council said the Ministry of Defence had responsibility for deciding who was on the ARAP scheme.

A spokesman added: ‘We are not involved in the decision-making process although of course we are working very closely with the Foreign Office and MoD to do everything we possibly can to ensure that all applications of current and former British Council employees and contractors receive the fullest consideration possible.’

Fears are also growing for Afghan female MPs, whose plight was described as ‘terrifying’ by Home Office minister Victoria Atkins (pictured)

English for Afghans was a UK Government-funded English language teaching programme rolled out throughout Afghanistan from 2017 to 2020.

It was delivered across 15 provinces with 60,000 children reached as well as many civil servants and religious leaders.

A senior British Council member who oversaw their work said: ‘Now the Taliban are running amok across Afghanistan, they are particularly keen to persecute and kill those who have represented international organisations, especially those connected with the UK and the USA.

‘The English for Afghans teachers and master trainers were the British Council’s prize asset in delivering the UK Government English for Afghans programme, designed to assist in the education and stabilisation of the nation.

‘When we needed them to help us deliver this programme, we demanded commitment and professionalism from them, and praised them for the great work they were doing. Now they are highly visible – and likely to be captured and killed by a merciless and bloodthirsty Taliban.’

Fears are also growing for Afghan female MPs, whose plight was described as ‘terrifying’ by Home Office minister Victoria Atkins.

Additional reporting: RICHARD MARSDEN

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