Students from Afghanistan who the UK government offered scholarships to come to London to study next month were told that they would not be able now to accept their spots.
Chevening Scholarships enable promising students around the world to pursue a masters degree in the UK.
The Foreign Office stated that the Afghan situation meant that preparations for the British Embassy in Afghanistan would not be completed in the new year.
Two former Conservative cabinet ministers have criticised the decision.
Naimatullah Zfary, one of the scholarship students, said to the BBC that some students were crying and had panic attacks after meeting with UK Embassy staff to discuss deferral of their positions.
“I can’t sleep.” “When we truly need it, you take it away.”
The Foreign Office funds the Chevening Scholarships. They are highly competitive and prestigious.
However, Afghan students who were granted places in the coming academic year have been informed by the Kabul Embassy that they will not complete the paperwork.
Mr Zafary says that there are 35 Afghans who are affected, and only half of them are women.
It comes as the Taliban continues to seize territory in the country following the withdrawal of the US and other foreign troops after 20 years of military operations.
“Students were beggars – let us get the visa.”
Naimatullah Zfary, 35 years old, applied for four years consecutively before being accepted to the Chevening Scholarship program, which allows her to study governance and development at the University of Sussex.
While he lives in Kabul and works for the UN, he wanted to make a difference in Afghanistan’s government. But, he says:
“I’ve seen the gap between government and people. It was supposed to be a bridge, but it turned out that it was a concrete wall.”
Last week, he was informed that the visas could not be issued and that the place would have to be delayed until next year. He says that students at a meeting in the UK Embassy were “Yelling, beg, please, grant us visa”, some were crying, and others had panic attacks.
According to Mr Zafary, it is difficult for students to accept this decision when visas continue to be issued to diplomat staff and Afghans relocated to the UK.
“I didn’t believe what they said about it being paused for the following year. How can you make it next time if you can’t make it this year? According to Mr Zafary. “Every day, every second of this country is unpredictable.”
Over 30 per cent of the 35 students who were offered places this year have resigned or declined promotions.
Many women fear that the Taliban will expand its control and that their education opportunities will disappear. Mr Zafary adds that there is also the possibility that Chevening students could become targets.
“I am at risk; all are at risk. We are looking at Afghanistan’s future and its development. As you can see, they have targeted those who look at the country’s future.
The former Conservative cabinet minister David Lidington said on Twitter that the decision to withdraw the scholarships seemed both
“Morally wrong and against UK interests”.
He stated that those accepted onto #Chevening are at most significant risk from the Taliban and among the ‘brightest and best people our government wants to attract to the UK.
Lidington said that he hoped Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, and Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary, would “urgently” review the situation.
Former international development secretary Rory Stewart said it was
that visas could not be sorted out.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office stated that all scholars from this year would start their program next year.
The Taliban has seized what had been government-controlled territory with speed following the withdrawal of foreign troops.
The militant group now controls large parts of the country and moves closer to Kabul, the capital.
This week the UK government said it would send about 600 troops to assist British nationals in leaving.
Over a quarter-million people have been forced from their homes by violence. Many have fled Kabul to seek safety.
Gen Sir Richard Barrons, who was head of UK Joint Forces Command, previously warned that the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was a strategic mistake that risked a resurgence of terrorism.