A pathway has been created with up to 1,500 places available in the first year for eligible individuals and their families as part of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.
The Chevening scholarship is a government-funded program, run by the FCDO and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, that enables individuals from other countries with “demonstrable leadership potential” to undertake a master’s degree in the UK.
In January, it was reported that 23 Chevening alumni remained in Afghanistan, following the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
Campaigners argue that the alumni are at particular risk of being targeted by the Taliban due to their Western ties.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office will launch an online system on June 20 for Afghans to formally request resettlement.
The government has said that applications will be considered in the order they are received, with priority given to those viewed as “particularly at risk”.
In January 2022 it committed to resettling a total of 20,000 people through the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, but the scheme has been criticised for delays.
The latest pathway, which will also incorporate British Council contractors and GardaWorld contractors who worked at the British embassy, was originally set out in January but it has taken up until now to confirm the date that it will open.
The announcement was welcomed by the campaigners who have been lobbying the government to provide a safe passage to the UK for Chevening alumni.
“At times morale has been very hard to sustain”
“The opening of the third pathway of the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme to Chevening alumni is another vital step closer to safety for Cheveners at serious risk in Afghanistan,” said Ruth Arnold, senior advisor to Study Group and campaigner.
“I heard the news in a rare direct message from one of those alumni and it was a powerfully emotional moment – in the months since they first heard they were eligible for inclusion in the Resettlement Scheme, the alumni have been desperate for news and constantly fear of the consequences for them resulting from their association with the UK.
“At times morale has been very hard to sustain but their courage as they faced real danger has been inspiring,” she continued.
Naimat Zafary, a 2021 intake Chevening scholar who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took over last August, thanked campaigners for lobbying the government and said that the announcement is “great news indeed” for the remaining alumni.
“I am sure that by hearing this news, they have felt so proud and honoured being a Chevener and having studied in the UK,” Zafary said.
But Arnold also said that she will not “breathe easy until all the alumni are safely resettled.”
“The Afghan alumni were promised they would be ‘Scholars for a year, Cheveners for life’. The UK now needs to fully deliver on that commitment”, Arnold said.
The news coincides with the first planned flight under a government scheme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, which was cancelled at the last minute following a block from the European Court of Human Rights, after multiple legal challenges from UK campaigners failed.
Update June 22, 11:40 GMT: A previous version of this article stated that the Chevening program was run by the FCDO and the British Council. The Association of Commonwealth Universities has operated the program for the previous decade, prior to which the British Council ran the program with the FCDO.