ISLAMABAD: Turkish teachers of the Pak-Turk Schools stranded in Pakistan since November last year have gained the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but they have no chance of regaining their jobs, say their colleagues.

“I came to know that although the UNHCR would protect them, and their families, for some months for resettlement in a third country, the status of asylum seekers that the UNHCR granted them does not allow them gainful employment,” said Alamgir Khan, chairman of the Pak-Turk Education Foundation.

More than 100 Turkish teachers and their families were stranded when Pakistan, under pressure from Ankara, refused to renew their visas in the aftermath of a failed, bloody coup against President Recep Teyyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey in July last year.

None of the official stakeholders – the federal education ministry, the interior ministry, the foreign office, the Turkish Embassy in Islamabad and the UNHCR – are willing to speak on the issue.

Their colleagues and the administration of the Pak-Turk Schools network, though, said that only a few teachers who already had a visa stamped on their passport for another country met the deadline set for them to leave Pakistan.

However, the majority is staying until a third country takes them in, or until the UNHCR protection lasts, said the sources. They applied for UN protection, pleading that they would be subject to arrest, torture and coercion by the Erdogan government if deported to Turkey.

UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan would only say: “I’m neither denying nor confirming whether we have given protection to Turkish teachers and their families.”

However, she recalled that Pakistan was not a signatory to the 1951 Convention and that there is no proper policy in Pakistan regarding asylum status.

“Currently, the Government of Pakistan on the direction of the prime minister is working on a policy,” she said.

“Without the involvement of the Pakistani government, UNHCR could not take any step in this regard,” she said when asked if the protected teachers could continue in their jobs.

Though she didn’t divulge any information about their resettlement, close friends of the teachers claimed that the UNHCR had assured them to find a place for them in the coming months.

“We had no contact with the teachers and their families since visa renewal was denied to them, we hear they have been provided UN protection,” said Tahir Mahmood, manager operations at the Pak-Turk Higher Secondary School, Chak Shahzad, Islamabad.

A senior officer of the federal ministry of education told Dawn that the majority of the Turkish teachers are still in Pakistan and in UN protection but they cannot resume their job.

Meanwhile, many Pakistani students are missing their Turkish teachers.

“I miss my teachers, especially Sir Engin and Sardal Balik. The Turkish teachers taught us in a highly professional manner, they served a lot here in Pakistan,” said 10th grader Muhammad Uzair.

“What we did to them was horrible,” he said.

His friend Talha Tariq added that the Turkish teachers were highly respected. “Whoever is our teacher, the government should extend due respect to him or her,” he said.

Published in Dawn February 17th, 2017