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‘Immediate action’ needed to protect Afghan scholars

European governments and EU institutions must take “immediate action” to protect the lives of Afghan students, a group of higher education associations, networks and scholar protection leaders have urged. 

Higher education stakeholders are urging EU governments to support Afghan scholars and students. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"The co-signers of the appeal noted that many of these people in Afghanistan have worked for or in partnership with EU institutions"

The Scholars at Risk Network recently published an appeal that said organisations supporting at-risk scholars are urgently trying to offer assistance to researchers, scholars and civil society actors in Afghanistan who are “desperately seeking ways to safety”.

“These are not the values of the Taliban, so their lives are now at risk”

Institutions and organisations that signed the appeal include the PAUSE program in France, the Philipp Schwartz Initiative of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Council for At-Risk Academics and the IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund.

We, the undersigned higher education associations, networks, and leaders in the field of scholar protection, urge European governments and EU institutions to take immediate action to secure the lives and careers of Afghanistan’s scholars, students, and civil society actors,” the appeal said. 

“For the better part of the past 20 years these scholars and civil society actors in Afghanistan have fought for a new, rights-respecting, forward-looking, knowledge-based Afghanistan,” it added. 

The co-signers of the appeal noted that many of these people in Afghanistan have worked for or in partnership with EU institutions, NATO partners, European governments and other international and civil society organisations. 

“Hundreds travelled to Europe to seek an education and returned to their homeland, dedicated to values of openness, tolerance and free expression. 

“These are not the values of the Taliban, so their lives are now at risk. Timely government action can still make an enormous difference. We implore you to act on their behalf now,” the appeal said. 

The appeal called on governments to continue evacuation flights for as “long as possible” so as to include scholars, students, and civil society actors who have supported the forward-looking, pluralist vision of Afghanistan that the EU, European governments, NATO partners and other international and civil society organisations embraced.

Co-signers asked governments not to end flights until all who wish to leave the country are safely out.

Other specific requests were for increased resettlement quotas and the creation of expedited complementary legal pathways for candidates who demonstrate an existing host institution, job, or sponsor, including for families, that would facilitate their arrival and earliest adjustment. 

“Many European higher education institutions are ready to host scholars in temporary positions; capture that opportunity by expediting the processing of individuals for whom they are ready to step forward, and providing logistical support,” the co-signers said. 

They also asked EU governments and institutions to waive any intent-to-return and home residency requirements that may apply to visa applications for Afghan scholars and researchers for the foreseeable future, and to establish both a dedicated EU fellowship scheme and a dedicated national fellowships for researchers and scholars at risk. 

“The window in which to take these steps, save lives, and redeem some measure of Europe’s investment in Afghanistan’s future is rapidly closing. Your urgent intervention is needed to mobilise the relevant departments and agencies,” the appeal said. 

“The eroding situation in Afghanistan poses a threat not only to the lives of our colleagues still in Afghanistan, but to the future of that country. 

“The European higher education community is ready to do its part, but we need your help. If we move quickly, we can go a long way towards mitigating the worst of the threats and demonstrate continuing commitment to the future of Afghanistan and its people,” it added. 

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