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Latest update on abandoned Afghan British Council teachers

Where are they now? Joseph Seaton of At Risk Teachers gives an update on the teachers left behind in Afghanistan.

Back in the Summer of 2021, with the Taliban poised to take control of Afghanistan, the British Council ensured they got all their managers and office staff safely out of the country, knowing all too well they would be in serious danger if they were left behind.

Sadly, while the risk to managers and office staff was keenly recognised, the danger to British Council teachers was somehow overlooked. As a result, over 100 former BC teachers were left in a very perilous situation when the Taliban took power.

The teachers were rightly terrified, as the Taliban had mounted a number of complex attacks against British Council employees and premises over the years. What made the situation worse for the teachers was the fact they held public facing roles, and were highly recognisable within their communities. Further to this, they had been employed to teach English and ‘UK-values’ – including ‘Equality, Diversity & Inclusion’ (EDI) – values despised by the resurgent Taliban.

The BC had actively recruited the teachers to work on prestigious and sensitive UK Government-funded programmes, such as English for Afghans, English for Religious Leaders and English for Civil Servants. Some of the teachers had taught for the British Council for more than 10 years. They all worked directly for the BC and took great risks to do jobs they believed were important and meaningful.

Understandably, they were all shocked and devastated when they were left behind; shocked that they had not been treated with the values of equality and inclusion they had been employed to teach, and devastated because they knew how much danger they were in.

In the months that followed the Taliban takeover, a number of the teachers suffered greatly at the hands of the Taliban, with some being victims of physical violence, while many others suffered threats, intimidation, blackmail and requests for forced marriage. In almost all cases the hostility they suffered was because of their work for the Council.

Having been unfairly rejected from the UK Government’s ‘ARAP scheme’, the teachers all knew they had no choice but to go into hiding. In order to survive, they had to become invisible. They could not work or take their children to school. Many could not even go out, while others had to flee their hometowns and hide out with relatives in other provinces.

In 2022 the UK Government launched ‘ACRS’, a new scheme designed to relocate those who had served the UK in Afghanistan, and been left in danger. By late 2022, most of the teachers had received approval for the scheme and the FCDO instructed them to travel to Pakistan to await relocation to the UK.

What the teachers weren’t told was that they would have to wait for a further year in limbo in Pakistan. They waited, whole families stuck in single hotel rooms, unable to leaves the confines of their hotels, for fear of deportation back to Afghanistan, and back the Taliban regime they had fled.

Eventually, after repeated delays, in late 2023 the UK Government started to relocate the teachers. The relocation process continued into this year, and today, over 80 Afghan British Council teachers have at last been safely relocated to the UK, in recognition of their work for us, and the danger we left them in. They have suffered immensely over the last two and a half years, but remain optimistic and determined as they begin new lives in Britain. At least 15 still remain in hiding in Afghanistan, waiting for visas and passports, while others are still stuck in limbo in Pakistan, waiting for a date to be flown to the UK.

While the struggle and hardship is not yet over for all the teachers, it is promising that many have now been relocated. The UK Government and the British Council need to work together to ensure the teachers still stuck in Afghanistan or waiting in Pakistan are relocated to safety as soon as possible.

They also need to learn important lessons from this travesty, and ensure that teachers we employ are treated better in future. It is wholly unacceptable to recruit people to teach ‘UK-values’ in a country where those values are despised, then leave them to fend for themselves when we make a hasty exit.

Image courtesy of Library
Joseph Seaton
Joseph Seaton
Joseph Seaton has been a teacher, teacher trainer and programme manager for many years. From 2016-2020 he was English Manager & Deputy Director at British Council Afghanistan. Since the Taliban took power he has been running the At Risk Teachers campaign.
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