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Single mother to national-level athlete: Afghan students at Delhi’s South Asian University in limbo over visas

The MA students even wrote to officials requesting them to help “speed-up the process of acquiring a fast-track e-visa” for themselves and their immediate family, as well as “coordinate with relevant authorities with respect to flight arrangements”.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: August 21, 2021 8:19:20 am
The Taliban took over Kabul on August 15. (File Photo)

“I don’t know whether I will be able to complete my education with the Taliban back in power,” said 36-year-old Brishna Roufi, who was slated to join the South Asian University (SAU) in Delhi this year for her PhD programme.

A single mother of two, Roufi had completed her MBA from Osmania University in Hyderabad in 2019 and returned to her hometown Kabul to earn a living there and educate her children. She ran a small dry fruits business for a year before she decided to study again. Last year, she had applied and got through the PhD programme in Sociology at SAU, but the pandemic meant that she had to do the first year of her programme online from Afghanistan.

On July 30 this year, SAU finally issued a notice saying that all “non-Indian students” could come back to the campus. Excited, Roufi applied for a visa on August 3. Less than two weeks later, on August 15, as Kabul fell to the Taliban and political turmoil engulfed the country, Roufi said her passport was returned.

“It has been my dream to take up social issues and be involved in social work. I had even decided to do my PhD on child marriage in Afghanistan. But now I’m stuck here. I don’t know whether I will be able to complete my education with the Taliban back in power. I’m a single mother with school-going children, one of whom is a girl. Our future seems to be in the dark,” she told The Indian Express over the phone from Kabul.

However, there are many others who echo Roufi’s sentiments. As per estimates by the Afghan students at SAU, there are at least 26 MA students and 5-6 PhD students whose visas are either under process or could not apply as the Indian Embassy evacuated its officials from the city.

The MA students even wrote to officials at SAU on Wednesday requesting them to help “speed-up the process of acquiring a fast-track e-visa” for themselves and their immediate family, as well as “coordinate with relevant authorities with respect to flight arrangements”.

“With the fall of Afghanistan to a barbaric and unpredictable regime, we, current Afghan students of SAU, are desperate and are dealing with a life-threatening situation and an uncertain future. All of us are extremely disturbed and traumatised. At this time, we are on the edge of giving up on our lives and dreams. We, as students of your institution, believe you feel the pain we are going through. We are hopeful that the university will not turn its back on us and will consider our plight,” they wrote.

Unlike other universities in the capital, SAU was established through an inter-governmental agreement between SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries to provide education to students from all eight countries. The Afghanistan government, therefore, is involved in the running of the University.

With the Taliban in power now, several students said they are staring at uncertainty. Voicing her concerns was a postgraduate (MA) student studying Economics. Wanting to remain anonymous, the national-level athlete said she had plans to apply for a visa but could not do so in time.

“I’m a religious (Shia) and ethnic (Hazara) minority and have been involved in sports and NGO work — all of which make me extremely vulnerable given the situation here. In the last couple of days, I haven’t stepped out of my home and have just been busy hiding all my sports certificates so that I’m safe as there were searches in nearby houses. If we don’t get a visa, it’s not just a matter of our education but also of our survival,” she added.

MA student Pakiza Munir (23), who fled Herat with her family two weeks ago and came to Kabul, too, hoped that she would be able to apply for a visa soon. “Nobody had anticipated that Kabul would fall so soon. I had gone to the Indian Embassy on August 9, but there was some problem with the paperwork, so I was told to come later. A few days later, no embassy remains. We have contacted SAU officials who told us that it could take a month or so to resolve the issues. The situation here is so unpredictable. How do we wait for a month?” she asked.

There are also a few students who find themselves in an ambiguous situation as their passports were with the Indian Embassy. “I don’t know where my passport is, or whether my visa is being processed at all or not. We are worried because the situation here is getting worse day by day. I can hardly see any woman on the streets. People are locked in their homes,” said Habib Farzad, a PhD student.

There are also those who have to sit for the entrance exams scheduled on August 25-26. “I don’t know how or where I’m supposed to sit for the exam. The internet is patchy, and there are no test centres here. My passport has also expired. The question now is whether I will be issued another one, and whether the Indian government will recognise a Talibani passport,” said Aziz Khorshan, who has applied to get enrolled into the PhD in International Relations programme.

Reacting to the situation, the public relations officer of SAU, Aheibam Prahlad, said, “Some students have started coming back. As for the others, the Ministry of External Affairs has come out with an emergency e-visa. We will issue a notification soon to inform students as to how they can apply for it.”

When asked about the entrance test, he said that the examination would go ahead as per schedule as long as a majority of students are able to sit for it. Prahlad informed that there are around 1,000 applicants from Afghanistan this year for various courses.

MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, however, said that the issue did not pertain to his department: “If it is a question of getting a visa or entry into India, it’s an issue that the Home Ministry deals with. There is the provision of applying for an e-visa now. If they have any problem, they should contact the Special Afghanistan Cell.”

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