British Council Teachers "Abandoned" In Afghanistan Warn They Are "At The Top Of The List" Of Taliban Targets
Two dozen teachers providing education in Afghanistan on behalf of the government have been "abandoned" by ministers and must be evacuated immediately to avoid the Taliban, campaigners have warned.
Twenty-four educators employed by the British Council, an international outreach organisation sponsored by the Foreign Office, are trapped in Afghanistan and at risk of being captured or worse by the Taliban as the Islamist military group takes control of the country, former British Council-worker Dr Julia Cave Smith and her son Victor Ponsford told PoliticsHome.
The pair are leading a campaign calling on the government to evacuate the two dozen teachers as part of its efforts to get British officials, passport holders, and Afghans who have helped the government during its 20-year operation there out of the country.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace this morning said the government hoped to carry out a full evacuation by the end of this month, but tearfully admitted that not everyone would "get back".
The two dozen Afghans are former college lecturers who are paid by the British Council, which was first set up in Afghanistan in 1964, to promote British values like democracy and the importance of sending children — especially girls — to school. They are based in provinces across the country.
With the Taliban rapidly seizing control of Afghanistan following the heavily-criticised US and UK withdrawal of troops, the British Council workers are "at the top of the list" of Taliban targets as it moves to impose its brutal rule, Cave Smith and Ponsford have warned.
They told PoliticsHome they have had lost contact with ten of the 24 educators since last week and that one was currently hiding in a hole in his home to avoid being captured by Taliban fighters.
However, the educators' recent applications for settlement in the UK were rejected by the government on the grounds that they didn't have "exposed meaningful roles," they said.
“These people are drawing salaries from the British Council and nobody from the British Council or wider British government has responded to their plight, their personal messages, or our campaign," Ponsford said on Monday.
"Every time we speak to a government department, we get pointed to another.
"We are just going around in circles. I just realty hope that on Wednesday at least one MPs asks a question for us in the debate.”
He added: “The greatest risk is that the Taliban will in the areas it controls outside of Kabul want to start sending messages about the new Afghanistan, and these people are probably at the top of their list.
"They are the face of the British Council, and therefore the risk of the British government, as far as the Taliban is concerned. The Taliban does not make a distinction between the two.
“A number of them have had their names read out by religious leaders during prayers, identifying them as traitors working with foreign infidels... One of the 24 is hiding in equivalent of a priest hole in their family home while the Taliban is calling his name from outside."
A government spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “British Council staff are eligible through our Afghan relocation scheme.
“Our officials are working as quickly as possible to bring more people to safety in the United Kingdom."
Downing Street confirmed over the weekend that Parliament would be recalled from summer recess two weeks early on Wednesday to debate the rapidly-detoriating situation in Afghanistan.
Thousands are currently trying to flee the country amid the prospect of Taliban rule, with footage showing crowds of panicked people trying to board planes at Kabul airport.
A Downing Street spokesperson today said Sir Laurie Bristow, the UK's ambassador to Afghanistan, had helped process visas for hundreds of people in the last 48 hours and "will continue to do so".
They added that Boris Johnson, who was set to chair a Cobra meeting on Monday, was "working with international partners to prevent any humanitarian crisis in the region".
The Prime Minister on Sunday said: "I think it is very important that the West should work collectively to get over to that new government — be it by the Taliban or anybody else — that nobody wants Afghanistan once again to be a breeding ground for terror and we don't think it is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan that it should lapse back into that pre-2001 status."
"What the UK will be doing is working with our partners in the UN Security, in NATO, to get that message over. We don't want anybody to bilaterally recognise the Taliban.
"We want a united position among all the like-minded, as far as we can get one, so that we do whatever we can to prevent Afghanistan lapsing back into a breeding ground for terror."
A spokesperson for the British Council said: “The safety of all those involved in our work is our utmost concern. We are deeply concerned by these reports and the welfare of current and former colleagues.
"We urge them to contact ATREU (the new Afghan Threat and Risk Evaluation Unit in the British Embassy Kabul) about their applications immediately. The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme is managed by the UK Ministry of Defence.
"It is devastating to see the situation unfolding in Afghanistan. We have deep concern not only for our colleagues and those we have worked with over the last twenty years, but for all the people of Afghanistan."
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