Kabul: As Afghan students protest visa denial, EAM Jaishankar cites security concerns, trust and efficiency of visa system
No one can doubt India’s “feelings” for Afghans, said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, facing a question on the cancellation of visas to Afghan students who were pursuing their studies in India, and have been unable to return since the Taliban takeover last August.
At the time, New Delhi had revoked all pre-existing visas issued to Afghan citizens, and announced a new “Emergency e-visa” (Em-X-Misc e-visa) process. However, officials say that of the tens of thousands of applications that were received last year, e-visas have only been issued to less than 300 Afghans, most of them Hindus and Sikhs fleeing the Taliban, while none of the 2,500 students remaining in Afghanistan have been issued any. The denial has prompted formal protests from the Afghan Ambassador in Delhi as well as a recent demonstration outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul that reopened in June.
“We had a situation where we had to pull out our embassy, we did not even have a presence on the ground to verify what is what. At that time there was lot of uncertainty about whose passport was whose, whose visa was whose…these are real issues out there,” said Mr. Jaishankar, speaking at a session in Vadodara on “Rising India and the World” in response to an Afghan student studying in Gujarat “on behalf” of the 2,500 stranded students, many of whom had gone to Afghanistan when their classes were cancelled due to Covid.
Facing pleas from the students both in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan students in India who can’t return home for fear they won’t be able to return to complete their education, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay says he has raised the issue on several occasions with officials in the Ministry of External Affairs. In addition, the Afghan embassy, which represents the previous Afghanistan Republic and not the Taliban regime, has also requested the MEA to issue visas at least for the female students amongst the applicants, as they especially face the brunt of the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s education.
“We have not received any convincing reason so far for why the visas to Afghan students, who were pursuing studies in India have not been given,” Mr. Mamundzay told members of the South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) grouping in Delhi.
When asked, MEA officials said the question of the Afghan Emergency X-Misc visas is handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and out of their purview.
Despite the logjam for new visas, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which comes under the MEA, has decided to continue its annual policy since 2005, and granted Afghan students in India 950 scholarships for the upcoming 2022-23 session.
Since the scholarships cannot be offered to Afghan nationals outside the country for the foreseeable future, the ICCR has given them to Afghan students already in India for studies, Afghan refugees from 1996-2001 as well as others who came to India before August 2021 and couldn’t return.