Chevening scholars desperate to get families out of Afghanistan after deadly attacks

Students on scholarship programme rocked by events back home

Sharif Safi was one of 35 Afghans awarded a Chevening scholarship this year. He made it out of Afghanistan on a French evacuation flight but is deeply worried for his parents and siblings still in Kabul. Sharif Safi / Twitter
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Hours after expressing their delight at having made it out of Afghanistan safely, many of the Afghan Chevening scholars are now gripped by fear for the families they left behind following the deadly attacks in Kabul on Thursday.

“I am so devastated and hopeless,” Sharif Safi, one of 35 students awarded the prestigious Chevening scholarship this year, told The National the morning after the attacks that have left at least 90 people dead and hundreds injured.

“I have been in contact with my family but they are so panicked and terrified. They feel so disappointed and hopeless. They just want me to help them get evacuated. To get out of Afghanistan,” said Mr Safi.

Those on the Chevening scholarship programme, a funded, one-year master’s degree course in the UK, were allowed to bring ‘immediate family’ with them, however the scholars have been told this only applies to spouses and children, and not parents.

“I am single and have been living with my siblings and parents, those are my immediate family members and they refused to evacuate them,” said Mr Safi.

Mr Safi, who is quarantining in Paris after getting on a French evacuation flight from Kabul, told The National he had appealed to the Chevening programme and everyone he knew to help him get his parents to the UK with him but without success.

“It’s not only my concern but many other Cheveners whose request were refused by the FCDO to evacuate their families while some of us were lucky to get all their family members evacuated,” said Mr Safi, who plans to study for a masters in peace, conflict and diplomacy at London Metropolitan University.

Another Chevening scholar who recently arrived in the UK reached out asking for help to evacuate his parents from Afghanistan. “My family is still there and I am worried about them,” said the student who asked to remain anonymous.

Many of those on the scholarship programme, including Mr Safi, had only days earlier been standing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport's Abbey Gate, the site of one of two explosions. A second bomb went off at the nearby Baron Hotel. At least 72 Afghans and thirteen US service members are among those that were killed in the ISIS-claimed suicide attacks.

“I’m physically safe now, but not mentally. I’m mentally occupied, my mind is occupied. I’m concerned about the safety of my family,” said Mr Safi.

“Even in the past three days I cannot sleep, I cannot drink, I cannot eat.”

Fellow Chevening scholar Naimat Zafary, who arrived in the UK to take up his masters at Sussex University, chillingly described standing in the same spot as where the second bomb had gone off.

“Imagine, just 48 hours before the blast, We were there with our families and the 50 meter crossing line to abbey gate took me 3 hours and in each meter stop, I was asking families that how long it has been that they are here and everyone was saying 3-4 nights,” wrote Mr Zafary on Twitter.

According to PA news agency, a Foreign Office spokesperson said they had been assisting Chevening scholars to leave but did not clarify on whether that included their families.

“The scale of the Kabul evacuation effort is huge and we have now helped more than 12,200 people leave Afghanistan since August 14.

“We have been assisting this year’s Afghan Chevening scholars to leave the country and they have begun arriving in the UK.”

Updated: August 27, 2021, 12:50 PM