Stranded Afghan students left in a lurch as wait for Indian student visas continues

Reports pointed out that although more than 13,000 Afghan students are enrolled in Indian institutions (according to the Afghan embassy) many of them returned home when schools closed down
Picture from a protest (Pic: Meena Nezami's Twitter handle)
Picture from a protest (Pic: Meena Nezami's Twitter handle)

Around 2,000 Afghan students, who are students in Indian universities, are stranded in the war-torn nation as they are awaiting Indian student visas.  Worried students have resorted to using social media platforms like Twitter to call attention to their issues. 

Meena Nazami, who is a former Afghan student of Delhi University in India, recalled that classes and exams resumed in the physical mode in India in February 2022. However, no Afghan student received their visa. “More than 2,000 students enrolled in Indian universities missed their classes and were forced to skip their exams, eventually resulting in dropping a semester,” she said. 

Capture and control

Taliban entered the capital city of Kabul on August 15, 2021, and took control of the country. This was followed by a closure of schools and the government had then cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for the same. Although the government has wanted to ensure schools for girls between 12 to 19 years of age, after segregation of classes so that they can operate according to Islamic principles, education for women continues to be restricted in the country, according to reports. 

In fact, a report by the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan describes the “staggering regression in women and girls’ enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.” It also pointed out that “in no other country have women and girls so rapidly disappeared from all spheres of public life.”

Reports also pointed out that although more than 13,000 Afghan students are enrolled in Indian institutions (according to the Afghan embassy) many of them returned home when schools closed down. Despite the waning of the pandemic, India had withdrawn its officials from the embassy after the Taliban took over which slowed down the process of issuing visas to Afghan students. 

Visa struggles 

Meena also informed that when the Taliban closed schools for girls, many girls turned to neighbouring countries for education and India was one of them. “It (India) offers affordable and good quality education. All other universities in Turkey, the US, and Europe got their student visas and they left. But till now, the Indian government hasn’t responded,” she said. 

Students said that while they were told to apply for the emergency e-visa, they haven’t received any positive response from officials in both countries. This e-Emergency X-Misc Visa is an electronic visa available only for Afghan citizens and valid for only six months, owing to the emergency in the country.

“The Indian Embassy opened in May 2022 and students went there for several consecutive days but there wasn’t any positive answer. They said they don’t have the authority to issue visas to students,” said Salim Ahmadzai, one of the stranded students in Afghanistan. He added that the reasons cited for the delay in issuing visas were “security threats.”

Difficulty with online classes

Some students also said that their respective universities in India did not offer the option of online classes to them. “Offline classes already started last March (2021) but my college said that I must be present physically in classes. They said they can’t offer us online classes and I have missed one academic year because of this,” said Noor Zahid Paiman, who is an Afghan student studying at Sharda University in Noida, India. 

On the other hand, some students had the option of attending online classes. However, they did not have the required study material to appear for the exams. “We still wrote the exams and passed some of them but we had to re-appear for most of them because we failed,” said Salim. 

Meanwhile, Meena also mentioned that she tried to request foreign students' cell in her university to request for the option of online exams. But they were met with a rude response from officials. “They started calling us terrorists and telling me that they are scared if we pursue studies in India, we will threaten the Indian people’s security and that we Afghans should care for them by staying where we are,” she alleged. 

Students have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #IssueVisaToAfghanStudentsIndia and tagging ministers in India and Afghanistan. Ambassador M Ashraf Haidari, who is the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, responded to one of the students’ tweets stating that, “I add my voice to that of all stranded Afghan students under oppressive Taliban, calling on the Honorable @narendramodi to help these students return to their universities across India. Education for democracy and prosperity remains the best gift from the Indian people,” in a tweet. 

They have been demanding that they be allowed to rejoin their universities as it is the last month of the academic year for some of them. “Owing to the long bilateral relationship between India and Afghanistan, we want to rejoin our university as this is the last month for us. Otherwise, our scholarship will be cancelled,” said Shams Ullah Danisha, an Afghan student studying at Goa University. 

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