Afghan students in India face tense future as visas run out

The future of thousands of Afghanistan nationals who came to India for higher studies has become increasingly bleak since the Taliban captured their country in August last year.

According to the Indian Foreign Ministry, an estimated 14,000 Afghan students are pursuing higher education in India, mainly with the support of scholarships provided by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

In the wake of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban last year, the government permitted all Afghan students who recently finished their academic program in India to apply for a scholarship to fund further studies.

Many however have not been able to procure financial aid to pursue further studies.

"I cannot go back.There is no future in our country and I am banking on the Indian government to extend my scholarship," Zareen Khan, a computer programmer told RFI.

Returning home is not an option for the women students who are torn between fear of the Taliban and concern for their families in Afghanistan.

Many Afghan students enrolled in Indian schools are awaiting visas, while others who have finished their studies are dreading the prospect of returning to Afghanistan.

Hameed Khan, 21, who is pursuing a master’s program at Mumbai University, has yet to get a visa to come back to India with the university open.

"I am missing out on my studies and I am in the midst of postgraduate program. Many students have been sending numerous mails to the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi requesting for granting our visas.

"Unfortunately, there has been no response yet," Khan told RFI.

"I have already lost one semester of studies and I am apprehensive of what is going to happen."

Idris Hasan, another student, has finished his studies from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and and finds himself caught in a grey zone.

"My visa has expired though I have finished my postgraduate course. But I am trying to desperately look for other avenues and scholarships to stay on. But my savings are also slowly depleting," Hasan told RFI.

According to data provided by the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi, about 2,000 Afghan students had returned home for vacation before the Taliban took over their country.

They now want to come back to India to complete their studies but have not received any response from Indian authorities.

Farid Mamundzay, Afghanistan's ambassador to India, recently said he had asked the Home Affairs Ministry to speed up visas to students in Afghanistan.

"These students are missing out on their studies as they were in the midst of their degree programs. They have already lost one semester of studies," he told the press at a recent trade conference.

The Indian government introduced a new category of visa to fast-track the applications of Afghans who want to come to India to flee the humanitarian crisis.

It was announced that all Afghans, irrespective of their religion, could apply for the so-called e-Emergency X-Misc Visa online.

However, the announcement of the fast-tracked visas raised concerns over whether there would be religious discrimination in determining eligibility.

"We are looking at the applications and will decide soon," a senior home ministry official told RFI.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2019, there were approximately 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered in India, with Afghans representing the second-largest community, at 27 percent.