In a move that could affect hundreds of Afghans desperate to leave the country, India decided on Wednesday to “invalidate” or cancel all visas issued to Afghan nationals , including about 2,000 issued in the last few months as the Taliban began to make advances across the country.
The government announced that all Afghans must enter India now only on special e-visas applied online.
“Keeping in view some reports that certain passports of Afghan nationals have been misplaced, previously issued visas to all Afghan nationals, who are presently not in India, stand invalidated with immediate effect. Afghan nationals wishing to travel to India may apply for e-Visa at www.indianvisaonline.gov.in,” said a statement issued simultaneously by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The news has come as a blow for Indian national Ashiya Iqbal, who was married to an Afghan, and received visas for her husband and in-laws in the hours before the Taliban claimed Kabul on August 15. Ashiya was able to return on the evacuation flight operated by the government from Kabul, but not her family. With the new rule now announced, Ms. Iqbal says they would have to reapply for visas that they procured at considerable trouble and she doesn’t know when she might see her husband.
Govt’s concern over passports
When asked about the sudden announcement and rule change, officials told The Hindu that the government was concerned that passports deposited by Afghan nationals for visas, which were being stored at the Indian Embassy and the Indian visa centre Kabul, could get into the hands of anti-India terror groups. As a result, the MHA decided to cancel them, and make the e-visa application mandatory instead.
However, the processing of “e-Emergency X-Misc visas” also appears to be delayed at present, and sources said that “very few” e-visas have been issued more than a week after the launch. Only about 20 of those “closely associated” with India have been allowed to travel on evacuation flights, the sources said.
MEA officials manning the helplines say they have received thousands of requests from Afghans needing help with visas and to coordinate their exit from the country, including professionals, Army officials who trained in India, students, journalists, women activists and members of ethnic minorities who fear they are under threat.
Some of those who applied showed emails from the MEA promising a response within three days, but have received none even eight days later.
On Tuesday, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Majid announced at a press conference that the road to the airport would now be “closed to Afghan nationals” and that women must not step out for work, making their situation more desperate.
The delay is beginning to take its toll on Shazia Mazari, who belongs to the Hazara community and her sister, brother and parents, all of whom applied for the Indian e-visas more than a week ago, and felt some comfort in the announcement made by the government after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook to help Afghans in dire need to relocate to India with the launch of the special visas for a period of six months.
Plea for help
“India has been Afghanistan’s friend for years, and made visas available to us. We feel we are close neighbours because of India’s generosity,” Mazari said in a message she recorded for an Indian youth digital magazine called The Bastion . “We are not safe here. Don’t leave us helpless, we count on you. As much as India can support, especially women, we hope you can help so that they have some choice. Please help us,” she stated in her appeal to the government. Today, however, Ms. Mazari said she was losing hope of hearing back at all, and options to leave her home in Afghanistan are dwindling.
Mohammad Farhan, one of four PhD students who were studying in Delhi until the pandemic shut down their university, has still not heard about how he could return, and has not heard about his e-visa application either. Their passports are amongst hundreds that were lying at the embassy when the government decided to pull out the entire diplomatic staff. Wednesday’s decision means that even if Mr. Farhan receives his passport back now, his visa would not help him return to India to complete his studies.
( Names changed to protect identities )