Boris Johnson has promised to grant the awardees visas, but none have been contacted yetSohaib Ghyasi

Several postgraduate, including Gates Cambridge scholars urged the UK government to provide visas to Afghan Chevening Scholars in an open letter written by Cambridge alumnus and former Chevening Scholar, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, and former scholar Ronan McCrea. It was addressed to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Gallagher and McCrea’s open letter, supported by several Chevening programme alumni, argued that, “Given the current situation, the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] cannot possibly have confidence that scholars will be able to take up their deferred scholarships next year. Indeed, attempting to do so may well place the scholars, and particularly female scholars, in significant danger.”

In August this year, the FCDO suspended the Chevening programme in Afghanistan due to administrative difficulties resulting from the evacuation of the British Embassy in Kabul, deferring the scholarship by a year instead.

The Chevening scholarship is awarded to international students to pursue studies in the UK. The open letter states that the scholars’ “lives were transformed by the opportunities given to us by the Chevening Scholarship programme.”

The FCDO stated in a letter to the 35 awardees for 2021-22: “After careful deliberation, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has with deep regret decided to pause the Chevening programme in Afghanistan for the academic year 2021-2022.”

This action met with criticism from former Chevening scholars, UK postgraduates, and MPs, with Gallaghar terming it as an “unconscionable decision.”

Sharif Safi, a scholarship awardee for 2021-22, tweeted that it was “especially difficult for us now to accept this decision because almost all of us have already resigned from our jobs, dealt with lot of stress & opted for #Chevening over several other educational & career opportunities. #Justice4AfghanCheveners”.

The decision was subsequently reversed by Boris Johnson, who promised to help issue visas to the Afghan scholars. A spokesperson from the Foreign Office said it was contacting them today [15/08/21] to arrange their travel to the UK as soon as possible.”

However, awardees in Afghanistan claimed they were not contacted regarding their visas three days later, prompting UK scholars to further urge action from the government. Around 250 Gates Cambridge, Marshall, Rhodes and other postgraduate scholars stressed that: “For the incoming cohort of Afghani Chevening scholars – in light of the Taliban’s position towards education, particularly for girls and women – this scholarship could be life saving.”

Hameeda, a former refugee who arrived in the UK from Afghanistan at the age of 13 and graduated from Cambridge with a first class degree in Law said that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was “horrifying and devastating and really upsetting,” fearing how rights in the country would fare “if women were severely restricted in education, work and movement.”


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She said: “I think government and international community should work together to help people who are out there. They shouldn’t leave the country to Taliban [sic]”.

Two weeks after the US withdrew troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban took over the country’s capital, Kabul on 15 August, 2021. Thousands of Afghan residents attempted to flee the country in fear of the Taliban’s rule.

Dr Nishank Motwani, the director of research and policy at ATR Consulting in Kabul, stated that those, like Chevening scholar awardees, who have connections to the British government and “who have gone overseas and studied” “are the prime targets, because they are challenging the Taliban’s narrative.”

In response to the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, Dr Waheed Arian, a former refugee who came to the UK from Afghanistan on an illegal passport and went on to become a Cambridge graduate and NHS doctor, said that “There are many people in Afghanistan and in many other conflicts whose lives are at risk. They need to be given safety, they need to be shown compassion.”

Gallagher emphasised the need to take immediate action, saying that the government’s new decision to provide visas “is an empty promise without an accompanying evacuation plan from the UK government for the 35 Chevening scholars and speedy, practical action.”