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Amid Afghanistan crisis, 2,200 students in India stare at an uncertain future

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), a nodal agency for international students that promotes cultural exchange with other countries by formulating and implementing policies and programmes, will take care of the Afghan students “as usual”, its top official told Hindustan Times on Monday.
Students of Afghan-origin in Pune on Monday. (Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
Published on Aug 17, 2021 12:18 AM IST
ByPriyanka Sahoo and Shreya Bhandary, Mumbai

Over 2,200 students of Afghan-origin studying in India on scholarship stare at an uncertain future with the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan that has forced thousands to either flee or seek evacuation from the country.

The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), a nodal agency for international students that promotes cultural exchange with other countries by formulating and implementing policies and programmes, will take care of the Afghan students “as usual”, its top official told Hindustan Times on Monday.

“The students who are currently in India on ICCR scholarship will be taken care of by ICCR as usual. They will receive their stipends on time and can reside in the hostels in their universities,” said Dinesh Patnaik, director general, ICCR.

However, for those students whose scholarship is coming to an end with the close of the academic year, the ICCR did not have the mandate to help them extend their stay, Patnaik said. The ICCR has also been receiving requests from students in Afghanistan for expediting their visas to permit entry into India.

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“For students, whose scholarships will come to an end soon and wish to stay in India after finishing their course, the ICCR doesn’t have the mandate to decide on whether they can be allowed. Only upon direction from higher authorities can we process such requests for extension of student visa,” he said.

“The scholarship offered to foreign students is made to the country they belong to. Now that the government has changed, we don’t know if the new administration will accept the offer. So the visas of students can’t be processed until there’s clarity from the new Afghanistan administration,” Patnaik added.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Monday that there were a number of Afghans who have been India’s partners in the promotion of mutual developmental, educational and people-to-people endeavours and India will stand by them. The MEA has not issued any statement pertaining to students or visas as yet.

Visas remain one of the biggest concerns of Afghan students in India, said Nasir Khuehami, the national spokesperson of the Jammu & Kashmir Students’ Association, who launched a helpline for distressed Afghan students in India.

“The major problems that students are facing are related to hostel accommodation and visa because their visa tenure is about to expire in the coming months,” said Khuehami, who has been fielding hundreds of calls from students across India in the past week.

A 27-year-old Afghan student pursuing his Masters in Public Administration in Chandigarh stayed back in India even as his friends left for Afghanistan earlier this year. “I completed my course a couple of months ago but decided to stay back for my results and degree. I was lucky,” said the student who hasn’t been able to contact his family in Kabul for a week.

“The last time I spoke to my family, they were terrified. They said I should stay back in India for as long as possible,” said the student whose visa expires in January 2022.

The ICCR, an autonomous agency under the Central government keeps details of students who are on scholarship in the country. “We are in the process of getting details of self-finance students from [various] universities. Our first priority is to take care of the students who are here in India already,” said Patnaik.

“Ever since we’ve heard of the upheaval in Afghanistan, we have been trying to connect with our students who have been attending classes online. Sadly we only have their Indian phone numbers and with internet connection down in Afghanistan at present, there’s no way of contacting them,” said Sunil Patil, director of Student’s Welfare, University of Mumbai.

According to information shared by the varsity, 42 students from Afghanistan had confirmed admissions in MU in 2019-20. However not a single student from the country has confirmed their admission in this academic session.

“There are more than 2,000 students from Afghanistan in India and nearly 50% of them went back home once lockdown was implemented in India last year. Those still in India, are worried because many have not managed to reach out to their respective families. Even our student representative for students from Afghanistan is stuck in Kabul and we have no way of reaching out to him. Students are fearing for their own lives and the lives of their near and dear ones,” said Sanjay Nahar, founder of Sarhad, a Pune-based non-government organisation working with international students.

In a stunning rout, the Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces. Just days earlier, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under insurgent pressure.

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