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5 Afghan scholars missing from U.S. university

Five Afghanistan scholars visiting the University of Washington have been reported missing.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Five Afghanistan scholars visiting the University of Washington to work on their master's theses were reported missing after failing to show up for a week of training sessions, university officials said Tuesday.

The five were among 38 mid-career government and nonprofit officials in Seattle for a three-month research and training program. They are working toward a master's degree in public policy and administration at Kabul University.

The program is in its second year through the Evans School of Public Affairs. It's also the second time Afghani scholars have gone missing.

"Afghanistan is a country in turmoil and parts of it are quite dangerous. I could speculate that they might have viewed this as an opportunity to disappear into the American fabric and become illegal immigrants," said university spokesman Norm Arkans.

Missing since Oct. 6
The five men, who are all 30 or younger, attended the first week of training workshops after arriving in late September but failed to show up for the second week of the program and have been missing since Oct. 6, Arkans said.

"They're not violating any laws; they're violating a condition of their visa," Arkans said. The scholars are in the United States on a J-1 visa, which allows extended stays for education or cultural exchange, according to the U.S. State Department.

The university has contacted the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, Arkans said, adding that there has been no indication that the men are a security risk.

Two other scholars who participated in the program in 2007 did not return to Kabul, he said.

"They didn't go missing early in the program. They stuck out the program and in the end did not return to Kabul," Arkans said. "We don't want this to happen. It's not around for people to come and use it as an opportunity to immigrate illegally into this country."

Essential to the future
University officials are concerned about the integrity of the program, as are the 33 scholars who continue to spend their days in University of Washington libraries.

Arkans said these scholars are essential to the future of Afghanistan, where people like them will build the infrastructure for the country's future. University officials are hoping the five men will return to the program.

The university has hosted international scholars and fellows for more than 20 years. Arkans said disappearances are highly unusual.

"I think people can understand the temptation to want to try to stay in the United States of America. But it's not the way to do it," he said.