02/02/2023, 09.04
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Oppressed at home, Afghan girls study in Central Asia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Accepted in universities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan thanks to EU-funded scholarships. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed bans and restrictions on students. Once they have completed their studies abroad they can return to their country: however, many do not want to do so.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Several Central Asian countries have welcomed a group of Afghan girls to study at local universities with scholarships offered by the European Union-a way around the ban imposed at home by the Taliban.

The project had been activated back in 2019 to attract hundreds of young people from Afghanistan to study across the border, and return home with specialized degrees. With the revolution following the withdrawal of Western troops in summer 2021, and restrictions on Covid-19, the project had remained very limited until now.

A few dozen girls are now distributed among Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan; according to organizers, more than 100 have already begun their studies, half of whom have already received the full scholarship to graduate by 2025.

These are those already selected before the Taliban arrived in Kabul, and who by overcoming numerous difficulties have managed to dodge bans and punishments.

The Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs played a decisive role in negotiations with all the parties involved, managing to protect the girls and activate the project.

The U.N. Development Fund's representation in Kazakhstan, which is in charge of directing the project, reported that local universities have accepted 50 female students. Another 30 are studying in Uzbekistan and 25 in Kyrgyzstan, with a curriculum through 2027.

The EU has earmarked about .5 million for the first and second phases of the academic plan, and it is hoped to activate subsequent phases as well. Asked by reporters, U.N. officials explained that "key decisions, including the decision to expand the project, are the subject of intensive consultations with donors."

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid made it known that he was not aware of any agreement between officials in Kabul and the girls' host states, or other parties involved in the program. The matter will be discussed at the governmental level for the entire training sector, and with the security organs.

If all goes well, the 155 Afghan girls will specialize in various fields, from agriculture to finance, materials extraction and engineering, marketing and information technology.

The project envisioned the return of the female students with qualifications to Afghanistan to activate themselves in public works. Now employment and career prospects for women under the Taliban appear rather hazy, and it is not known how many girls studying in Central Asia will want or be able to return home.

Those in charge of the initiative assure that "the final decision about returning to Afghanistan remains the prerogative of the girls themselves."

Efforts will be made to help and encourage female graduates to return, but "without any obligation," UN members assure. One girl from Afghanistan's Balkh province, 25-year-old Barna Kargar, had completed her studies at Almaty Energy University in 2021, the same month as the Taliban's return, and has so far remained in Kazakhstan.

She applied for political asylum, but was refused, and she has no right to work in the host country. Now she says she is "too afraid to return," and is trying to appeal against the denial of asylum.

The host country governments themselves are considering the status to be given to the female students, who are nonetheless trying hard to go and study.

As 23-year-old Rakhila Jusafzaj from Kabul recounts, "many of us are looking on the Internet for all the possibilities and scholarships, after the Taliban forced interruption of our studies...we don't know what may happen in five or six years, in the meantime at least we will be ready to face life with an education, and a lot of desire to do something good."

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