Thursday, August 25, 2016


Asylum Concerns Haunt Western Exchange Programs For Afghan Students

Afghan students take an entrance exam for a Laghman Province technical school. Access to higher education is extremely limited in Afghanistan.
Afghan students take an entrance exam for a Laghman Province technical school. Access to higher education is extremely limited in Afghanistan.
One of the projects that foreign governments have funded since the Taliban was ousted and a UN-backed government established in Kabul is an Afghan student exchange, with the aim of brightening that country's future and increasing cross-border understanding across borders.

But such exchanges have been troubled by concerns that too many of the visitors bother returning to help rebuild Afghan society.

The fact is that only a few Afghan universities provide master's-level studies -- and those are just in literature. So there is an acute need for a wider range of fields for higher studies for Afghan students to choose.

To fill the gap, many countries invite Afghan students to attend university in the West. The United States and Britain have some of the most prestigious scholarships -- Fulbright and Chevening, respectively. Apart from government-funded programs, private and nonprofit projects also provide Afghans with educational opportunities around the world.

Afghan students are provided scholarships and fellowships for their higher aptitude and capability in return for a promise that they will return to Afghanistan after their study programs are over to help rebuild their country. To ensure this -- taking Afghan family and social structure into account -- restrictions are imposed such as a ban on taking family members as dependents along during their studies. The rule doesn't apply to students from countries whose governments pay half of the scholarships provided by foreign programs.

But despite the rule, many Afghan students never come back; they vanish before or soon after the completion of their study-abroad programs. Perceptions of a deteriorating security situation, news of the looming exit of NATO troops, and the woeful state of the critical infrastructure mean Afghan young people might also lose hope for a better future in Afghanistan.

For some Afghans, becoming a scholarship grantee has been like getting a free ticket to jump from the United States to seek asylum in Canada. Harris Najib is a Fulbright alumnus who works as a case manager with a nonprofit in Calgary, Canada. He says he didn't return to Afghanistan because of political instability.

He says Afghan students abroad "have now had the experience of engaging in dialogue without the fear of being silenced, shunned, or ridiculed," adding candidly, "A grim political environment in Afghanistan and the possibility of a Taliban takeover diminish the appetite for returning and contributing to the process of rebuilding Afghanistan."

Some criticize the U.S. State Department for not following up with employment opportunities in Afghanistan so the students gain confidence through a financially secure future there.

Ateeq Nosher, a Harvard University alumnus who lives in Kabul and works as managing director at Apex-2 Consulting, says "the job opportunities for those who come from the U.S. and Canada or other Western countries are relatively higher than those for students produced locally or in neighboring countries."

Najib adds: "Many Afghan students who have come to study in the U.S. post-Taliban have a decent amount of professional experience working for the UN or other international agencies back home. They can therefore compete for jobs with their North American or European peers within certain sectors. And, if they can find a job in Europe or North America and are able to guarantee a better future for themselves and their families, some would rather not return to Afghanistan, and wait out the current political uncertainty."

Apart from concerns over security and employment opportunities, other issues face graduates returning from their Western studies on a daily basis in Afghanistan.

"The well-educated segment of the population gets disappointed when they see weak people leading them," Nosher says. "They feel they aren't contributing to policies because [at the] end of the day, those policies are influenced by political appointees."

Students seeking asylum obviously think of their individual benefits hindering the opportunities for the rest of the batches to come.

Although there are no numbers available on students not returning to Afghanistan after going to Western countries as exchange students, one program appears to have gotten fed up with such students using their scholarship programs to seek asylum. Last year, the United States suspended its highly regarded YES youth-exchange program. Begun in 2004, YES invited hundreds of Afghan students to the U.S., but around half those students fled to Canada to claim asylum. NPR recently quoted embassy officials saying they want to restart the YES program, but only if they can ensure that students won't jump the program for asylum purposes.

The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States -- part of the U.S.-Canada Smart Border Action Plan -- aims to prevent people from filing for asylum in a country other than the one they initially entered, potentially stemming the flow unless a family member there has agreed to sponsor them.

Apart from the no-dependents rule for students, mature applicants are considered more committed to the programs and thus reliable. Dr. Maria Beebe of Afghan eQuality Alliances at Washington State University told blogger Bob McCarty about having a more selective criteria to ensure the return of Afghan students:

"So, for example, we can say only directors and assistant director levels would be considered. At that level, we will also get the older (more mature) students who have children and will have more compelling reasons to go back to Afghanistan."

Detractors might argue that such an approach contradicts the aim of providing an equal opportunity to all talented Afghans -- and particularly lets down Afghan young people, its potential future leaders -- in higher education. On the other hand, the no-dependents rule becomes irrelevant if mature single students enter into relationships with non-Afghans and decide to remain with their partners abroad.

-- Malali Bashir
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Comment Sorting
by: Good one
February 26, 2012 22:23
Can we say 'vietnam'? Whats next? civilian evac from Afghanistan?

by: PragueGuy from: Prague
February 28, 2012 15:53
This article describing the desparation and departure of decent Afghans supports Newt Gingrich's "Learn to live your miserable life" statement. Decent Afghans must take control and decide what kind of a government they want, then make it happen or they will have to settle for learning to live what will surely be "their miserable lives."
In Response

by: Afghan from: Afghanistan
March 11, 2012 08:12
The claims made in the article especially those about Fulbright scholars not willing to return back to Afghanistan would have been more convincing if supported by accurate and authentic statistics. I personally believe that many young Afgha...ns applying for scholarship programs like Fulbright are very well-settled in Afghanistan. Almost all of them work on high ranking positions here. Some of them, as far as I know, are doing jobs with UN, USAID, NATO and other national and international organizations and are running their own businesses at the same time. Fulbright scholars are mature enough and understand the consequences of not returning back to Afghanistan after completing a program as prestigious as Fulbright. Let's think about the kind of career an Afghan, who leaves an excellent opportunity like Fulbright in the middle and escapes to Canada, will build. I don't think it would be wise for a prestigious scholarship grantee either to leave his/her program in the middle and escape to another country or decide to not return back to Afghanistan. I have a firm belief that all mature Afghans are patriotic and understand that they owe so much to this troubled nation.

by: Akmal Samsor from: Baltimore
March 11, 2012 06:30
Well I think the arguments are not back by enough data that is why we can not draw correct conclusions from and generalizing something about all Afghan Fulbrighters based data of one person who is in Canada is also not fair. As far as I know the % of Fulbrighters that are returning back to Afghanistan is far greater as compared to Fulbrighter from India, Pakistan and some other countries because large number of opportunities that are present graduate students in Afghanistan (as there is large capacity gaps) and because of the passion that Afghans have to build their country.
Coming to States for studies is not an easy decision for many of the candidates including myself. I have had a well paid job, was working with one the best health organization and was working on my research project so taking a break from all this was not an easy decision. However I am happy that my program is ending in two months and I will be back in Afghanistan and will be working on research project once again.

Many of the Fulbrighters that I know are working in very influential position within the government of Afghanistan to a name a few one Fulbrighter is the deputy minister for ministry of mines, another one that I know is the ambassador in Australia, some other are working as directors in different ministries.

by: Nash from: Kabul
March 11, 2012 09:39
Maria Bebe's criteria is funny... Well, I am one of the returnees. We are not missing people like Harris Najib as we have millions around here. I love US, and I am thankful to them for that great opportunity but I am an Afghan and shall live and die as an Afghan. Those who believe in decency and aspire for a decent work will return no matter what the situation is here but those who love a sedentary life supported by a social security system of host countries would love to remain. God Bless them, but I hate them when they come back with dual nationalities claiming to be serving for their mother land where they are solely for money making...

by: Fawad from: Afghanistan
March 13, 2012 08:05
It was really interesting for me to read all your wise comments. First of all I am agree with most of you who have pointed out the lack of accurate statistics in this regard. In addition to that, it is not fair to claim that Student Exchange Programs (like Fulbright) are means for those who are not returning back becuase we should analyze the Asylum concerns from a broader prospective due to the fact that going and settling in Western countries has been an old practice among Afghan people considering the political, social and economical problems of Afghanistan. I can argue that such educational programs do not create the idea of Asylum for students but instead people with exisiting ideas are mis-using this golden opportunity. From my experience, I can say that this educational programs are even increasing the willingness of people to return back becuase they will come to know that it is realy not very easy to live in western countries (previously West looked like Paradise to them) and secondly they will be highly educated who will have better job opportunities and better life standards upon their return to Afghanistan. I recommend that a research should be conducted to present realistic facts, figures and root causes. Then a comparison of life in US or Canada with Afghanistan should be presented in which an Afghan Master degree holder's prestige, job opportunities, status among people, contribution to needy people and other aspects to be taken into consideration. I am sure this research will help to change the mentality of most students.

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