‘Barely have money for food’: Visa worries, financial distress haunt Afghan students in Pune

150 students meet minister Uday Samant, are assured ‘they will face no injustice’

When Zabiullah Rahamani returned to Pune from his hometown Kabul in July, he had little idea that the fate of his country, Afghanistan, would change within a matter of few days.

With Taliban gaining almost full control of the South Central Asian nation, throwing it in a state of political uncertainty, Rahamani is facing a double whammy: worry for the validity of his student visa, and dwindling financial support from home.

“Recently, when I asked my brother to send some money, he told me that he could not send any immediately as he was himself in distress. Here, I barely have money for food, where will I pay my rent and support my further studies from?” said Rahamani, who completed his Master of Commerce from Abeda Inamdar Senior College for Arts, Science and Commerce this year and is planning to enroll for a PhD.

Like Rahamani, there are nearly 700 students from Afghanistan, who have recently graduated from universities in Pune and are awaiting immediate government intervention, including an extension to the validity of their student visa.

On Sunday, about 150 such students met with Uday Samant, Maharashtra’s minister for Higher and Technical Education, at an interaction organised at AISSMS College of Engineering where they shared their plight with the minister and urged the state government to extend all support needed to the 4,000-odd students studying in Maharashtra.

The students said they are in dire need of the local government’s support so that they can prolong their stay in India, legally.

“I have completed my MA in Political Science and Public Administration and now wish to pursue my PhD. But, my visa is due for expiry on August 31. I am unable to apply for visa renewal as I am yet to get a bonafide certificate issued from the university,” said Rasheda Shahabi, a student from Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), who was among the students who met Samant.

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An estimated 14,000 Afghan students are pursuing their education in India, mainly with the support of scholarships provided by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). With about 4,000 students, Maharashtra has the second largest student population from Afghanistan after New Delhi.

Pune is home to about 2,700 Afghan students. However, since the last year-and-a-half, since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and resultant lockdowns, only 700 such students are presently residing in Pune with the rest having returned home and attending their classes in a virtual manner. SPPU and its affiliated colleges have the highest number of Afghan students apart from those attached with the private universities in the city.

Assuring the students that the Maharashtra government will do everything possible to help the students, Samant said, “We empathise with the situation which the students are going through. A letter from my ministry and also from the Chief Minister’s office will be sent to the Central government regarding this matter soon. The issue pertaining to student visas, too, shall be taken up. I wish to assure the Afghan students that the Maharashtra government will remain compassionate as a parent and they will face no injustice.”

Among the demands put forth before the minister by the Afghan Student Association, Maharashtra, was bringing 541 Afghan students, who have got fresh admissions to SPPU, to India.

“We request the Indian government to process their visas on an urgent basis and evacuate these students from Afghanistan,” said Wali Rehman Rahmani, president of the student association and third year bachelor’s student at Fergusson College.

Among those affected, the hardest hit are students who are financing their education themselves — students like Rahamani – as against those who are here on scholarship.

“Many of the earning members in the family worked either as government servants or with the armed forces. They had been working without pay for nearly three months and many have now lost their jobs. We do not know how we will survive in India without support from the government here,” said Shahabi, who hails from Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

The minister, meanwhile, said that he will hold a meeting with the ministry’s officials within a week and devise a formula, wherein all the issues related to the Afghan students will be addressed.

“I will also instruct the Pune Municipal Commissioner and urge Pune District Guardian Minister to make necessary arrangements of food and other essentials for the Afghan students living in Pune city,” the minister said.
Last week, Pune-based NGO, Sarhad, which is working with the state government for the students, established a helpline number. It is also sheltering some Afghan students in the city.

Amid the uncertainty, the only ray of light for these students is being able to talk to their family members on a regular basis and knowing that they are safe.

Though the network is patchy, Shahabi said, that she contacts her family every day. Wali, too, said that his family in Kabul was safe.

 

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