In a nondescript white plastic bag, Ammar carried a clutch of papers that are among his most precious belongings right now.
It would’ve attracted too much attention for us to visit his home, so on his motorcycle, he’d come to meet us at a secure location, scared during the journey that he might get searched at a Taliban checkpoint and they might find the papers.
The documents included his contract as a teacher with the British Council for two years, and other evidence of his association with the UK, that he hopes will help get him and his family to safety. He fears for his life because of his work with the UK government.
“We taught the culture of the United Kingdom and their values in Afghanistan. In addition to the English language, we also taught about equality, diversity and inclusion. According to their [Taliban] beliefs, it is out of Islam, it is unlawful. That’s why they think we are criminals and we have to be punished. That is why we feel threatened,” he said.
He has previously been detained by the Taliban – and fears his work has put his family at risk too.
“They took me to the police station asking about whether I’d worked for a foreign government. Luckily they didn’t find any evidence in my home or on my phone.
Ammar is one of more than 100 teachers who worked with the British Council, in public-facing jobs, who have been left behind in Afghanistan. Many of them are women.
Nooria was also part of an English-teaching programme.
“It was challenging for us. Some people had extremist thoughts, and would often say what you are teaching is unacceptable to us. Everywhere we went, we were seen as representatives of the British government.
“Some thought of us as spies for the UK.” That, she says, puts her and her family at risk in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
While the group announced a general amnesty for everyone who worked for the previous regime and its allies, there is mounting evidence of reprisal killings. The UN has documented 160 cases.
Nooria has been in hiding since the Taliban seized power in August last year.
“It’s really stressful. It’s worse than a prisoner’s life. We cannot walk about freely. We try to change our appearance when we go outside. It’s affected me mentally. Sometimes I feel like it’s the end of the world,” she said.
She accuses the British Council of discriminating between its staff.
“They relocated those who worked in the office, but left us behind. They didn’t even tell us about the Afghan Relocation Assistance Policy (ARAP) when it came out.”
Nooria and the other teachers have now applied for relocation through another UK scheme called Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), but have so far only received reference numbers.
The British Council says that when the ARAP scheme first opened, the UK government only considered applications from employees which included their office staff but not the teachers and other contractors.
They also say they have been pushing for progress with the UK government.
The UK Foreign Office has said that British Council contractors are eligible for relocation under the ACRS scheme, and that it’s trying to process applications quickly but there’s no answer on how long that could take.
“It’s only if a contractor dies that I think they might take prompt action. And then they might feel that, yes, they are at risk. Now let’s do something. I think sooner or later, this is going to happen,” Ammar said.
Some of the teachers are from the Hazara ethnic minority, who have been persecuted by the Taliban, and have repeatedly been attacked by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group. There have been three explosions in Hazara-dominated areas of Kabul in just the past 10 days.
But the path to safety is even more uncertain for those who worked with the UK government in some other roles.
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