A month in the past, Sharif Safi’s dream of learning within the UK was on the verge of coming true.
He was one in all 35 younger Afghans chosen amongst 1000’s of candidates for the Chevening scholarship, a prestigious and extremely aggressive UK authorities grant which affords individuals from internationally the chance to review in Britain for one yr.
However final week, the group was advised by the British embassy in Kabul that it may not course of their visas, which meant they may not take up UK college locations they earned by a gruelling, year-long utility course of.
“I am nonetheless in shock,” mentioned Mr Safi. “I am devastated after the information. All my goals have vanished.”
He had sat by a five-hour-long obligatory English check at residence in Kabul whereas unwell with COVID-19, with excessive fever and physique aches that introduced tears to his eyes.
The embassy letter, dated 6 August and seen by Sky Information, mentioned that the “present circumstances” meant that the British embassy in Kabul was unable to manage the components of the programme that should be finished in Kabul in time for candidates to start their programs this yr.
It added: “The International, Commonwealth and Improvement Workplace is happy with the position Chevening has performed and can proceed to play in providing Afghan students the chance to review within the UK and we stay dedicated to reinstating the programme as quickly as doable.
“We might subsequently prefer to give you a deferral till the educational yr 2022-2023.”
However Mr Safi, who deliberate to pursue a masters in peace, battle and diplomacy at London Metropolitan College, mentioned that he and others had already deliberate their lives round their upcoming yr overseas.
“Personally in my case I handed over my job and all my duties in my organisation to another person,” he mentioned.
“I declined a job provide in an vital diplomatic mission and I rejected a number of different instructional alternatives simply because I opted for Chevening over every other alternatives.”
Mr Safi and a number of other different students advised Sky Information they met the UK deputy ambassador in Kabul final week and proposed to journey to British diplomatic missions in neighbouring Pakistan, India, or an alternate nation to have their visas processed, at their very own expense, however that was declined.
In addition they requested if they may begin their programs on-line from Afghanistan for so long as it took for his or her visas to be processed, however have been advised that was not doable.
Mr Safi mentioned: “Put your self in our place – you’ll be able to see different Chevening students from everywhere in the world travelling to the UK to begin their programs, however you, simply since you reside in Afghanistan, simply since you’re an Afghan you need to bear the sorrow, you need to bear the frustration.”
Afsana Hamidy was accepted to review for a masters in schooling at Roehampton College, specializing in particular instructional wants and incapacity, which might have made her the primary lady, and second ever individual, to concentrate on that subject in Afghanistan.
She mentioned that the preliminary elation of being accepted right into a prestigious programme made the shock of dropping it over an administrative problem, simply weeks earlier than she was as a result of begin, even worse.
“The Chevening is discriminating this yr,” she advised Sky Information, “as a result of they’re giving these alternatives to all different nations and they’re simply excluding Afghanistan”.
“I misplaced excellent alternatives right here as a result of I declined job affords.
“I deliberate every thing round learning within the UK.”
For Naimatullah Zafary, who utilized for the award for 4 years in a row till he was lastly profitable, the information was shattering.
He mentioned: “Think about – 4 years of dreaming that you’ll make it, and this yr – lastly within the fourth yr – you make it, and also you get such e-mail, such letter.
“It is method too tough to explain in phrases. I can’t sleep at evening.”
Mr Zafary, who at present works for the UN in Kabul and deliberate to review governance, improvement and public coverage on the College of Sussex, questioned why the British embassy couldn’t course of 35 easy visa purposes from people who’ve already been vetted by that very same embassy by an arduous, year-long scholarship utility course of.
“On July 15 I bought a remaining e-mail from my programme officer within the UK saying that my paperwork are cleared and I’m chosen,” he mentioned.
“So from July 15 onward you might be simply ready to get your remaining award letter and apply on your visa.
“You are preparing for departure. All of a sudden you get an e-mail that it is postponed.”
The choice by the International, Commonwealth and Improvement Workplace (FCDO) to pause the scholarships in Afghanistan has been known as a shame by former International Workplace minister and Tory management candidate Rory Stewart.
He tweeted: “Deeply disappointing to listen to – on high of every thing – that Afghans who obtained scholarships from the UK authorities to review within the UK this yr have now been advised they won’t be granted visas as a result of ‘administration points’. Absolutely somebody can kind this out?”
Former Conservative MP David Liddington mentioned in a tweet that these accepted on to the Chevening programme will probably be at explicit threat from the Taliban, and in a tweet known as the FCDO choice “each morally improper and in opposition to UK pursuits”.
He added that the students are “amongst [the] ‘brightest & greatest’ whom our authorities rightly needs to draw to [the] UK. Hope @BorisJohnson & @DominicRaab will evaluate urgently”.
Chevening scholarships are funded by the FCDO and companion organisations, and the FCDO says they provide “a singular alternative for future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers from everywhere in the world to develop professionally and academically”.
Alumni embody presidents, prime ministers and Booker Prize-winning authors.
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Students can’t apply to remain within the UK after they full their course, and should conform to return residence for 2 years on the finish of the scholarship.
For this yr’s cohort of Afghan college students, the chance of constant their schooling within the UK is diminishing.
However some, like Sharif Safi, are nonetheless hopeful that the choice could be reversed.
He advised Sky Information: “My humble request to the federal government of the UK is – please do not abandon us.”
An FCDO spokesperson mentioned: “The present circumstances in Afghanistan imply the embassy can’t administer the components of the programme which should be finished in Kabul.
“Now we have subsequently paused the Chevening programme there.
“All of this yr’s students will be capable to begin their programme subsequent yr.”