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Emad Alchikh Saleh and Hussam Abuhajjaj

First refugees join Brighton scholarship programme

Two refugees, one from war-torn Aleppo, have become the first to study at Uni of Brighton under its new scholarship programme

Posted by Hannah Oakman | October 27, 2016 | International

The Global Opportunities Scholarship Programme, providing grants of up to £15,000 for postgraduate education, was set up in response to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

The University's Interim Registrar, Dean Pateman, said: "These scholarships allow us to open our doors to students facing the most extreme circumstances, offering them a sense of belonging and an opportunity to fulfil their potential."

The programme provides a long-term package of educational and vocational support to people who are seeking asylum, or have been given leave to remain in the UK under humanitarian protection by the Home Office.

Mr Pateman said: "These are people who otherwise would have no access to any form of higher education financial aid and without these scholarships they would be unable to continue their studies and flourish as positive and influential members of society."

To be chosen as a Global Opportunities scholar means the world to me. I have a chance now, a chance to continue my studies, to help my family and I hope to help with my application for asylum

Emad Alchikh Saleh, studying for an MSc in Marketing, and Hussam Abuhajjaj, studying for a PGDip in Computer Science, have each received grants to continue their academic studies after being forced to flee their homes.

Emad left Aleppo shortly after the bombing of the Syrian city began in 2012: "Like many others, my family and I left with very few belongings and little money. We thought we would be returning home in three months; we thought the conflict would be over quickly. We managed to get over the border to Turkey and I have not been able to return home since." 

Emad had completed his bachelor degree at the University of Aleppo and was working as an assistant lecturer: "I really wanted to continue my studies at masters level whilst working at the university; I had plans to do my PhD and become a lecturer but now I do not know if that will happen.

"I came to England in the hope of getting a student visa, but, being an asylum seeker this is very hard. I was very lucky to be given accommodation by the Home Office while my application for asylum is processed, but I am not allowed to work and have been given just £30 each week for my food. The asylum application can take up to three years and it can be a very difficult time. 

"My parents and sisters are still in Turkey in a United Nations refugee programme and I will not be able to see them until I know my application outcome. I cannot return to Syria, my city is destroyed and if I return I will be arrested for desertion because I worked for the university and left without permission. 

"To be chosen as a Global Opportunities scholar means the world to me. I have a chance now, a chance to continue my studies, to help my family and I hope to help with my application for asylum. If I can get that, after my studies I will be able to work.

"I can only say thank you to everybody that gave to the scholarship fund and I will be working my hardest this year to get a good result."

I did not believe it. I looked at the letter for the word 'unfortunately' but it wasn't there. I was so happy. I now have this great opportunity to study

Having been denied permission to return to his homeland, Palestine, Hussam came to the UK from Libya when conflict broke out three years ago: "I had been a student in Libya and completed my bachelor degree in computer science there. After my student visa ran out I was denied permission to go back to Palestine and became effectively stateless."

Hussam fled to the UK and applied for asylum: "I was lucky enough to get accommodation and some financial support; I completed four levels of English at college to help me with getting back into university education, but I quickly found there are no scholarship programmes for asylum seekers.

"I was not allowed to work and so I could not continue my studies and I had no home to go to. It is very stressful, but I tried to be positive - then I saw the Global Opportunities Scholarship and decided to apply." 

Hussam was overjoyed when he was accepted: "I did not believe it. I looked at the letter for the word 'unfortunately' but it wasn't there. I was so happy. I now have this great opportunity to study. I have chosen my modules and as part of my projects I will be designing a new customer management system which is very exciting.

"The people who have supported the fund with donations do not know me, I am not their family, but they have given such a great thing to me by donating and I hope to be a very successful student as my way of saying thank you to them for this opportunity."

It is really important that these scholarships continue. We are one of the few higher education providers in the country offering scholarships to the asylum seeker community and we know how crucial it is to support people who have had to flee their homes

For individuals seeking asylum or who have been given leave to remain in the UK under humanitarian protection, there is no access to any form of higher education financial aid and without these scholarships they would be unable to continue their studies and flourish as positive and influential members of society.

Emma Williams from Student Action for Refugees (STAR), said: "By creating these scholarships, the University of Brighton is sending a powerful message of welcome to people who have been forced to seek safety in Britain." 

The impact of the programme is expected to benefit not just scholars but also their families and communities. 

Stephen Silverwood from Refugee Radio, supporting refugees locally, said: "The Global Opportunities Scholarships are a great example of two-way integration. Many refugees who were students or professionals in their own countries find themselves driving taxis or cooking kebabs because their qualifications are not recognised in the UK. This is a great opportunity for the whole community to benefit from their skills and knowledge."

The scholarship programme has been made possible with over £20,000 raised in donations from University of Brighton graduates, friends and university staff. 

Nikki Mason, the university's Head of Fundraising, said: "It is really important that these scholarships continue. We are one of the few higher education providers in the country offering scholarships to the asylum seeker community and we know how crucial it is to support people who have had to flee their homes.

"Next year the aim is to offer up to five students this life-changing opportunity. But to do this we need help from our community." 

One hundred per cent of the donations given will go to the global opportunities fund. To donate or for further information visit https://www.brighton.ac.uk/alumni/give/global-opportunities.aspx 

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