At-risk Afghan teacher feels abandoned by UK
Just four of the 1,500 at-risk Afghan citizens who were eligible for resettlement following the Taliban takeover in 2021 have arrived in the UK. The BBC has spoken to Zuhra, who is just one of thousands who feel like they have been abandoned in Afghanistan.
"I'm sure I will be facing a death penalty because in such an extremist society, being a women with my character, my career, is not an easy thing," Zurha told the BBC's File on 4 programme.
Not long ago, Zuhra, not her real name, said she felt immense pride and happiness working for the British Council. For three years she taught the English language and British values to Afghan citizens and religious leaders.
Zuhra became widely recognised after starring in the British Council's promotional videos on Facebook and YouTube after being chosen as the face of its "English for Afghans" project.
"On the first day of my classes I did not have to introduce myself because when I was entering that class everybody knew who I was," she says.
Zuhra is one of more than 100 teachers who were left behind in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over in August 2021. Their work with the British means they are viewed as traitors and spies.
Her online fame has exposed her to extreme danger. She is living in hiding with her family, moving from place to place to avoid discovery, in fear for their lives.
"I cannot go freely outside, I have to change my appearance, and I have to wear a burkha," she explains. "One day a person may find me, and then I really don't know what will be the consequences, and what situation I will face."
The Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) was designed to offer a safe route to resettlement in the UK to Afghan citizens who worked alongside the British government during the 20 years it spent in the country.
One part of the first year of the ACRS scheme, called Pathway 3, offered 1,500 places to three specific groups including British Council teachers.
Despite the risks the teachers faced from the Taliban, the British Council did not encourage them to apply for evacuation until five days before the last flight left Kabul.
The British Council said: "In August 2021, the UK government extended the criteria of the scheme which meant our contractors became eligible for approval. We contacted our contractors at this point, including the teachers, and encouraged them to urgently apply if they had not already done so."
Labour MP, Dan Jarvis, is supporting the remaining Afghans.
He told the BBC: "These are people who stepped forward to serve at our invitation. I think it is a matter of of honour that we should be working across government day and night to get these people to a place of safety. Because if we don't, they will die."
Responsibility for the Afghan schemes is stretched across the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and Home Office.
A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has made one of the largest commitments to support Afghans of any country and, so far, we have brought almost 23,000 vulnerable people to safety, including thousands of people eligible for our Afghan relocation schemes.
"Supporting the resettlement of eligible Afghans remains a top priority and we continue to work with the UNHCR, likeminded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan to support their safe passage here."
Meanwhile, it has been two months since Zuhra last heard from the UK government about her application.
For her, any progress cannot happen soon enough. She says she is still feeling hopeful. "It will be a window of opportunity for me and also my family because I have put everybody in danger - my parents, my siblings are in danger because of me. It's my responsibility to take them to safety but I really don't know if ACRS will support my family members or not."
Listen to File on 4: 'Abandoned in Afghanistan'
- Climate protesters storm Ted Cruz interview on The View
- Crowds gather at Nepal plane crash site
- Protests in India over Delhi minister’s arrest
- Police targeted as Pakistan suicide bomb kills 59
- Classified documents found at former VP Mike Pence's home included briefing papers for foreign visits
- Fugitive 'cryptocrash' boss arrested in Montenegro
- World celebrates Lunar New Year
- Is Indian sport seeing its #MeToo moment?