Afghan students who held Chevening Scholarships offered by the UK government have been told that they will not be able to take up their places this year.
Chevening Scholarships are offered to top students around the world who want to pursue a masters degree in the UK. However, this year, the Foreign Office has said that the political situation in Afghanistan has meant that they were unable to finish document preparations.
Speaking to BBC News, one of the scholarship holders, Naimatullah Zafary said: “When we really need it, you are taking it away”, explaining that some of the students had panic attacks when told by the British Embassy in Kabul that they would have to defer their places.
Mr Zafary added that it was hard for students to accept the decision, considering that visas are still being issued to diplomatic staff and others moving to the UK.
I’m at risk, everyone is at risk. We’re looking at the future of Afghanistan and the development of Afghanistan – and you have seen, they have targeted those who are looking at the future of the country.”
– Naimatullah Zafary
30 of the 35 students who were offered places have resigned from their jobs, and some have declined promotions to relocate to the UK this year.
Mr Zafary explained that many of the women students fear that as the Taliban return to power, their educational opportunities would soon disappear, adding that there is also a risk that Chevening students would become political targets.
He said: “I’m at risk, everyone is at risk. We’re looking at the future of Afghanistan and the development of Afghanistan – and you have seen, they have targeted those who are looking at the future of the country.”
Former international development secretary Rory Stewart tweeted that it was “deeply disappointing”, and former Cabinet minister David Lidington said it was “morally wrong and against UK interests”.
A Foreign Office spokesperson has said that all of this year’s scholars would be able to start their programme next year.