Government confirms that Chevening scholars and British Council workers considered for safe passage to UK
The UK Home Office has confirmed the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme will open in January, and that Chevening alumni will be considered for resettlement under the programme.
The government says that under the scheme, up to 20,000 Afghans considered to be most at risk will be granted a safe, legal route to UK residency. It describes it as “one of the most ambitious schemes of its kind in the world”.
Chevening is the UK government’s awards programme aimed at developing global leaders, the recipients of which are selected by British embassies and high commissions throughout the world.
The government has previously identified Chevening scholars and alumni as “at risk” amid concern that they and their families are under direct threat from the Taliban because of their high-profile work on issues such as gender equality, and their association with the UK.
On 23 December, the Home Office said that the resettlement scheme would prioritise people who “have assisted UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for our values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech and rule of law”; and “extremely vulnerable” people such as women and girls at risk and members of minority groups.
The government added that the UK would “also honour its commitments to those British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni who are at risk, and these groups will be considered for resettlement” under the scheme.
Research Professional News reported earlier this month that alumni of the UK’s Chevening Scholar programme who are stranded in Afghanistan are in fear for their futures as they await the launch of the scheme.
Of the 48 Chevening scholars seeking passage to the UK, it is thought that around 20 are still in Afghanistan, with more than 10 known to be elsewhere. The location of the remaining scholars is not known.
‘Long road ahead’
Ruth Arnold, a charity and higher education consultant who is in touch with Chevening alumni in Afghanistan, has been campaigning for their safe passage to the UK. “The fact that Chevening alumni were explicitly named in the announcement of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme offers a lifeline of hope,” she told Research Professional News.
“Speaking to people in hiding these past months has been desperate. It means everything to alumni in the most appalling and dangerous circumstances to know they have not been forgotten, that the motto ‘Scholar for a Year, Chevener for Life’ has meaning in times of dire risk.”
Arnold added that there was still a “long journey ahead” for each of the scholars and their families, but welcomed that there was now a promise from ministers that they are recognised as at risk.
“Those working on this behind the scenes recognise it as a vital milestone,” she added. “It’s our job to hold our nerve and continue to advocate for them until they are finally safe.”