Abandoned in Afghanistan: An open letter to the British Council

The TEFL Workers’ Union was shocked to the learn that British Council teachers have been abandoned in Afghanistan. This is, in itself, a grave humanitarian injustice and the British Council ought to be held to account for such a preventable and tragic failure. But it also speaks to wider issues that are far more intrinsic to the roles of the British Council both in ELT and its role in the British military-industrial-colonial complex.

The British Council routinely refers the English language teaching industry – and, by extension, English language teachers – as part of the British “soft power” apparatus.  This is unsurprisingly from an institution that grew out of the British Empire and still exists today, to quote the British Council itself, to “support prosperity and security for the UK” and its economic and political interests globally.

In short, the British Council is an adjunct of the British state. To the extent this makes the British Council complicit in the UK’s often criminal foreign policy is a matter of debate. What is not a matter of the debate is the fact the British Council had the means and the tools to ensure its staff were safely evacuated from Afghanistan.

That the British Council failed to do so is a grievous and unconscionable dereliction of the duty of care you have towards your staff.

Your actions show just how deep the supposed humanitarian mission of British Council extends. Soft power in the pursuit of Anglo-American global interests has always been the true purpose of the British Council. Teachers, whether based in the UK or in war-torn regions that have long suffered at the hands of Western powers, are nothing more than a convenient prop for the exercise of empire.

Your failure to protect your own staff is not an anomaly or a failure of logistics. It is part and parcel of the callous disregard for human life that has always been part of the British colonial project.

You ought to be ashamed.

What is to be done?

First, the British Council needs to use all the power at its disposal to ensure safe passage for it remaining teachers – and all staff, not just teachers – in Afghanistan. If the British Council succeeds in this, it is not a matter for which they should be praised. They deserve only our condemnation for allowing this to happen in the first place.

Second, ELT workers – both in the UK and globally – need to critically re-assess our relationship to the British Council. Are we happy being used as “soft power” pawns? Are we willing to be inspected and certified by an organisation that has such disregard for their own employees who put their lives on the line to further the Council’s goals?


As a union, we’ve long said that the British Council has nothing to offer staff or students. We don’t doubt that after this incident, we will not be the only ones saying that.


TEFL Workers’ Union