For me, education is freedom. It opens doors and clears your way. It’s like walking from darkness into light. When you are educated you get knowledge, wisdom, understanding and a future.”
Aarash (whose name we’ve changed to protect his identity) has just come to the end of his first year at university. In many ways, his highs and lows have been just like those experienced by all new students: the joy of learning more about a subject he loves, the fun of meeting new people and finding a sense of belonging in his university community, the challenges of a whole new level of academic work.
But, in others ways, Aarash’s experience has been completely different. He is an asylum seeker who fled escaped conflict in his home country and arrived in the UK alone as a teenager.
Like many young adults seeking safety in the UK, he’s faced the trauma of fleeing war, the loss of family and a familiar environment, and a very broken experience of education. He’s had to learn English, navigate life in the care system and deal with a complex asylum process which has not only left him “hurting mentally” but made him ineligible for student finance. The barriers are such that globally just 1% of refugees make it to university.
Since arriving in the UK, Aarash has studied hard and demonstrated a humbling resilience and commitment to education. My team and I were overjoyed when he secured the scholarship which finally made university possible and, just last week, when he let me know that he’d passed his first year exams.
“Sometimes I’m scared and ashamed to tell people that I’m an asylum seeker because they don’t really understand what that means and might think I’m a ‘criminal’,” Aarash told me. “I think universities could find more ways for students to understand the reality of situations like mine. The past year hasn’t always been easy, but my teachers and the scholarship team were so good. They were on my side and they stood with me through difficult times”.
Refugee Support Network wants to make sure that young asylum seekers and refugees like Aarash are able to build more hopeful futures for themselves through education. If that’s you too, we’d love to help. Click here to find out how we can give you the specific information and support you need to reach and succeed at university through:
- A national phone advice line for young people and those who support them
- A range of practical toolkits and resources
- Face-to-face advice sessions with our expert team
- Scholarships for those who can’t access student finance
- Training for university staff who want to grapple with the terminology, issues, eligibility and best practice in an engaging and informative way