Afghans wait in hope

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - STEPHEN NAY­SMITH SO­CIAL AF­FAIRS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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.”

Pic­ture: Colin Mearns

Yes­ter­day’s Her­ald re­vealed the rules that barred fund­ing.

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