Afghan scholars arrive in UK after government U-turn

Reprieve for Chevening scholarship students from Kabul to resume their studies in Britain

A group of Afghan scholars has arrived in the UK as part of British Foreign Office scheme for higher education after the government reversed its earlier decision to suspend their studies.

Some of those who arrived as part of the Chevening scholarship programme, a funded, one-year master's degree course, took to Twitter to express their excitement and gratitude at making it out of the increasingly volatile situation in their home country.

Karim Saroush, a lecturer at the Rabia Balkhi University in Afghanistan, who will now study energy and sustainability with Electrical power engineering at the University of Southampton, said his arrival at Heathrow Airport in London signalled a "new chapter" in his life.

“For me, Chevening is not a simple scholarship, this is my future, this is my dream,” posted Mr Saroush on Twitter.

The 35 Afghans awarded scholarships had been told the Chevening programme for 2021-2022 would be paused.

They were informed the UK embassy was “unable to administer the parts of the programme that must be done in Kabul in time for candidates to begin their courses this year”.

The move sparked anger among high-profile members of Britain's ruling Conservative party, including former MP and international development secretary Rory Stewart, who actively campaigned for the Afghan scholars to be brought over immediately.

Many of the new arrivals posted pictures of themselves wading through overcrowded and chaotic scenes at Kabul’s airport alongside bittersweet messages of gratitude and sadness at their departure.

“Bye bye my beloved Afghanistan. Will come back to serve you with honor and make you glory,” posted Naimat Zafary, a project co-ordinator with the United Nations Development Programme who will now be studying at the University of Sussex.

Speaking on BBC radio on Thursday, he described scenes at the airport as like something out of a “Hollywood movie” with the scholars forming human chains and taking hours to make it through the thousands of people thronging the airport.

”The moment we reached the gate we were warmly welcomed by British soldiers who escorted us through,” said Mr Zafary, who along with the rest of the students travelled to the UK via Dubai.

Psychologist Fakhria Naistani posted a tearful picture outside Kabul’s airport and said it was a struggle to plough through the crowd at the airport. “We finally made it!” she wrote next to the picture of her holding a paper with the Chevening and Foreign Office logo on it. “Screaming 'Chevening Scholarship' in Afghanistan airport crowd was a moment of pride and identity.”

Updated: August 26th 2021, 9:44 AM