Afghans wait in hope
TWO Afghan interpreters who worked for the British Army have urged the Scottish Government to reverse its stance on providing funding for them to study at university or college.
Abdul Kohistani, left, and Ahmad Refa worked in Helmand Province and have settled in Scotland after being granted visas. Both hope to continue courses they had started in Afghanistan but have been told they cannot get financial help. The Scottish Government has said it will review its position.
AFGHAN interpreters who put their lives and families at risk working for the British Army may be given funding to study at university or college, after the Scottish Government confirmed it is to review its stance.
A group of the former interpreters have criticised rules barring them from the financial support to pursue further or higher education courses – despite the fact such help is on offer to refugees or those granted humanitarian protection.
They claim former colleagues allowed into the UK on special visas have been given support to study in England. A spokesman for the Scottish Government said officials were currently reviewing the policy, but denied claims the rules are applied differ- ently elsewhere in the UK. The spokesman added: “We recognise that for those seeking a better life, education has a vital role to play, giving them the skills, knowledge and confidence to rebuild their lives and make Scotland their home, and are considering whether we can do more in this area.”
The comments came as former interpreters granted special visas under the Home Office’s Afghanistan Locally Employed Staff Ex-Gratia Scheme spoke up about their frustration at being shut out of education opportunities.
They are not viewed as “settled” in the UK and do not benefit from exceptions that would normally apply to those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection.
Ahmad Refa, 30, who came to Scotland in 2015, said his family had faced threats and intimidation in his home country as a result of his three years of work for the British Army in Helmand Province. “People sympa- thetic to IS and the Taliban viewed me as a ‘spy’,” he said.
“I am qualified in IT and was taking an HND in it which was interrupted when I had to move my family here for their safety. I would like to continue with my higher education.”
Universities in Scotland had told him he must take access courses at college, he said, which he is willing to do.
He added: “But when I applied to the colleges, they said they couldn’t process my application because of the funding. I respect the rules but I only came here because I was worried about my security and that of my family. Had I stayed in my country I would have got a good job by now.”
Mr Refa, who is currently working as manager of a wholesaler, says there is no way he can afford the £9,500 annual fees he has been quoted to pursue his studies. “That is more than I earn in a year and I have a family to support,” said the father-of-two. Fellow interpreter Abdul Kohistani, 33, who worked alongside Mr Refa in Helmand, now also lives in Glasgow.
He said: “I was doing a bachelor of business administration back in my country. But now they say I cannot get funding because of the type of visa I have.
“I want to retrain in technical engineering, but without support I will not be able to.”
Mr Refa added: “Many interpreters are well educated people. If they fund us for this we can build our future. We can be good people for the country”
Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for Education, Iain Gray said: “These interpreters have risked their lives in the fight against terrorism alongside the British Army in Afghanistan and deserve the utmost respect and to receive any support that they need.”
Yesterday’s Herald revealed the rules that barred funding.