By Maria Tsvetkova
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Taliban’s takeover could stop hundreds of Afghans from taking up university places in Russia or continuing with classes that have moved online due to COVID-19 restrictions, students who fear disruption to their educations told Reuters on Friday.
After seizing control of Afghanistan last weekend, the Islamist militants promised peace and basic rights, including to study. But many – especially women, who were barred from education under their harsh rule 20 years ago – are sceptical. (https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/times-have-changed-some-afghan-women-defiant-taliban-return-2021-08-17)
“Now all of Afghanistan is under control of the Taliban. I don’t know what their plans are for education,” Eskandar Jamili, 26, who has been studying remotely with a Moscow university, said in English during a video chat from Kabul.
“I have problems with the Internet and electricity here. I think I can’t continue my lessons in this situation.”
During the 30-minute interview, the sound and video connection broke up several times.
A native Uzbek speaker, Jamili completed an online Russian language course – a requirement for admission to university – earlier this year and had hoped to travel to Moscow once pandemic restrictions on Afghan nationals are lifted.
He fled to Kabul three months ago when fighting broke out in his village near the town of Taluqan in northern Afghanistan.
Another student, 19-year-old Ahmad Musawer Popalzai, said he was meant to start an economics course in Moscow this term but was still in Kabul.
“We can’t study online from Afghanistan because the situation is too bad. Everyone thinks about his own safety,” he said in a video interview.
Most students in Kabul have stopped going to classes this week after the Taliban took control of the city, a university teacher in the Afghan capital who asked not to be named told Reuters in an online interview.
Russia has been closed to Afghan citizens since the pandemic began. They cannot get visas or enter via neighbours like Uzbekistan or Tajikistan that Russia has reopened travel to.
An official at Moscow State Regional University, where Jamili had planned to study for a Master’s degree in management, said she knew dozens of Afghan students in a similar situation.
Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov said he was aware of the issue and was in touch with students.
Education minister Valery Falkov told state TV channel Rossiya 24 on Friday that Russia would open its borders to all international students once a procedure had been decided, although he did not cite Afghanistan specifically.
The Russian state agency that oversees international student admissions said 365 college places were reserved for Afghan residents for the upcoming academic year. Some 1,500 Afghans are currently enrolled in Russian higher education programmes, Rossotrudnichestvo said, although it did not specify how many of them are currently in Afghanistan.
“If Afghan students address us, Rossotrudnichestvo … will request for an option to be considered for them to come to Russia to continue their education,” spokeswoman Nadana Fridrikhson said.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, additional reporting by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Catherine Evans)