Anger as Afghan students promised scholarships at UK universities have places withdrawn

Decision branded ‘morally wrong’, with warning that students will be Taliban targets

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 15 August 2021 15:35
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Afghan students promised scholarships at UK universities have had their places withdrawn, in a decision condemned by two former Conservative cabinet ministers.

The Foreign Office says the crisis in the country means the British Embassy is no longer able to process visas for the Chevening Scholarships programme.

Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary, called the decision “deeply disappointing”, while David Lidington, the former de-facto deputy prime minister, branded it “morally wrong”.

Mr Lidington called on Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, to intervene, warning the students would be “at particular risk from the Taliban”.

The decision comes as the Afghan capital Kabul is on edge, with the Taliban closing in, having captured the last major city in the north when Jalalabad fell without a struggle.

The US has begun evacuating staff from its embassy, and the UK government is reported to be about to withdraw its ambassador, ending its diplomatic presence.

A letter offers the scholars a deferral of their places until the autumn of 2022, insisting the Foreign Office is committed to “reinstating the programme as soon as possible”.

It reads: “Current circumstances mean that the British Embassy in Kabul is unable to administer the parts of the programme that must be done in Kabul in time for candidates to begin their courses this year.”

However, critics pointed out it was impossible to predict the situation in Afghanistan in one year’s time – and questioned why the paperwork could be completed in the UK.

The controversy comes as Afghans who worked for the British Council, or on British government projects, are in hiding and fearing for their lives, as those with Western links are targeted.

They say they have been excluded from the fast-track resettlement scheme for people who supported the UK mission in Afghanistan.

The government says there is no cap, and that it is open to Afghans who worked for the military or the embassy, but critics say the UK is lagging behind the US.

Mr Raab did agree earlier this month to include Afghans who worked for UK media outlets in the country, after fierce pressure.

One student on the prestigious Chevening programme told the BBC there are 35 Afghans affected and just under half are women.

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