A senior educator in the PakTurk chain of private schools has decried the impending deportation of its staff and their families from Pakistan, claiming the shutting down of the institution has left hundreds of people in limbo.
Teachers at the PakTurk International Schools and Colleges and their families -- around 450 people in all -- have been ordered by Pakistan to leave by the end of November. The Turkish government has accused the school network of links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for orchestrating a failed coup in July, a claim strongly rejected by the school administration.
Nurican Dundar, the vice principal of PakTurk International Schools and Colleges, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the staff and their families will not be returning to Turkey, where thousands of teachers have been fired and arrested in a wide-scale purge of alleged Gulen supporters.
"One of our biggest problems is that we cannot go back to Turkey," said Dundar, speaking from the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar. "In Turkey people from all institutions and our friends are in jail. They want to take us to Turkey to put us in jail."
Dundar, who has worked in Pakistan since 2010, said he and other PakTurk staff members were looking to be transferred to the 172 countries where the institution has schools. But he conceded he did not know if they would be successful.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry had originally ordered the staff and their families to leave by November 20, but the deadline was extended to the end of the month. The school has challenged the order in court but the petition was dismissed.
War On 'Gulenists'
Dundar said allegations of PakTurk's links to Gulen, whose religious and social movement operates around 2,000 educational institutions in about 160 countries, were completely false. "There is no...link," he said.
Ankara has asked Islamabad to close down any groups in the country that have links to Gulen. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Islamabad on November 16, praised Pakistan's actions against what his government calls the Gulenist "terrorist" organization, saying he was "very pleased."
Gulen, who is living in self-imposed exile in the United States, is accused by Ankara of ordering a July 15 attempted coup against Erdogan by purported followers within Turkey's military. Gulen has repeatedly denied the accusation, and U.S. officials have responded to complaints from Turkish officials by saying Ankara must present compelling evidence implicating Gulen in order to consider extradition.
Dundar said the biggest losers of the government crackdown against PakTurk were the more than 10,000 students enrolled at its 28 campuses in Pakistan, where a staggering 24 million children remain out of school.
"The most difficult thing is to leave the students and the parents," Dundar said. "We work for good, quality education. That's why the Pakistani people love us and support us."
Dozens of Pakistani parents demonstrated against the government order expelling the teachers on November 18. Other small demonstrations have been staged in other major cities since the order was announced on November 17.
Amnesty International said the move was "politically motivated" and one that "will only hurt Pakistan's children."
"What the country needs is more classrooms and more teachers, not a politically motivated decision to purge educators at the behest of the Turkish government," the rights group's South Asia director, Champa Patel, said on November 17.
PakTurk International Schools and Colleges was launched in 1995 under an international nongovernmental organization registered with the Turkish government.