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Education has helped Salma overcome the hurdles she faced and to succeed and lead at university

My name is Salma Majeed. I came from Afghanistan along with my family and arrived in the UK in June 2014.

We claimed asylum and we waited for our case decision for about five years. Luckily, I got my refugee status last year in 2019 but my family is still waiting for a decision. Relocating from Afghanistan has been a huge challenge for me.

My immigration status has forced me to change schools and accommodation over the past five years. This disruption has also had a significant impact on my health and social life. For example, since living in the UK, I have attended three different schools and colleges, and have lived in five different houses in various parts of London. Coming to a new country with a different language and culture was really hard for us. I was very afraid of how people would react to me. What if they laugh at my English?

The first three years of my life in London was like a nightmare, everywhere I faced a lot of struggles such as financial difficulties, no social life and problems finding help in our asylum case.

Despite this, I have overcome these obstacles and have achieved very high grades in my Level 3 Diploma and I am currently studying Biomedical Science at Brunel University. This shows that I always strive to work hard and do my best despite my circumstances. Education has been a great source of hope for me during these years, and studying at university will enable me to achieve my future goals. As an asylum seeker it was not possible for me to attend university as I was not eligible for student finance and I could not get a work permit. At the beginning people were laughing at me that I can’t study university here, because being an asylum seeker it’s almost impossible. All these matters were a burden on my shoulders and I went into depression. I was being treated with cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) as my mental health and physical health was affected a lot.

When everything was hard, I found and approached Refugee Education UK (REUK). During my journey from college to university, REUK had a significant role in my success because without their help I would have not been able to reach my goals. During my college time, I was provided with a mentor to help me with my studies by REUK. That helped me a lot at the beginning because it was like a boost up for me, learning new things and getting help at the same time while I needed it the most during my exams. My educational support worker was Dan, who helped me to apply to universities and sanctuary scholarships. By giving one-to-one support he really helped me to see whether I was going in the right direction, whether I was moving forward, or not.

REUK supported me by checking my applications and statements to make sure if I am doing everything right. Due to my circumstances, I was not able to go to university after college so I went for an extra one year foundation course to do because I didn’t want to waste my time all at home.

Thus, I decided to do an access course and REUK helped me more by applying to educational grants for the course fee. Because of my asylum status, I was not categorised as a home student so I had to pay for my course fee. Then I applied for three different charities to help with my course fee and I was successful and awarded their grants. Moreover, during my hard time, REUK helped me when I had nothing in my pocket, including by securing a laptop which made it easy for me to complete my educational tasks and assignments in my own space and time.

Now, I am more confident than ever this is all because of the REUK team support and the most credit goes to Dan who supported me throughout all my further education and particularly with my scholarship applications which I don't think I'd have been able to do on my own.

Dan never made me feel low and he was always there for me whenever I needed help with my applications. At the end of July I was about to give up my hope on getting into university but Dan motivated me a lot and showed me that I can do this and achieve my objectives

Furthermore, Dan helped me with my UCAS application and university sanctuary scholarships. I applied for five scholarships and I was rejected from all five. That was the moment when I gave up on everything and I lost all my hopes. Then with the help of Dan and the REUK team I was supported emotionally and mentally to not give up and to keep on working hard. I still remember the time when I was speaking to the Brunel University scholarship team to give me one more chance. They needed me to make some changes in my UCAS application. Dan helped me to do that in the way that he'd helped me in so many other ways such as by calling universityies or emailing to education grants on my behalf to help me get funding.

When I heard back from Brunel University that I was awarded a scholarship, that was my happiest day. I cannot express my feelings how excited and happy I was. I felt very close to my dreams on that day.

Challenges didn't stop when I got to university. I struggled for my travel cost and living expenses because my university is two hours and 20 minutes away from me so I needed a monthly package on my Oyster Card to travel. Again I went through and I am still going through these struggles to apply every year to different charities hoping to get educational grants to help me continue my education. It’s really easy to write everything down but the feelings and the sufferings one goes though can only really feel how hard it is. Recently, I have got a university scholarship which covers my university fee and I have attended a summer internship from which I am saving to help myself in coming year of my university. Alongside this I have applied to a few charities for educational grants and again I am hoping to be successful to keep on moving one step more closer to my dreams.

Every individual at REUK do a great work which is like a bright side of a person's life from a very dark side. I am also grateful to all sanctuary scholarship providers who help with asylum seekers and refugees as it is really appreciated and it is really amazing work they do. It gives a new life to a lost young person. I hope many other charities will do the same and facilitate those who are in special need. To approach and to be in contact with REUK was the best decision that I have ever made." In 2021, following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, Salma led the way in upskilling education professionals who are supporting Afghan refugee students in schools. You can listen to her reflections, which formed part of the training, by clicking here.


I would like to say a big thank you to the REUK team for running higher education and mentoring programmes which help and support students like me with lots of barriers. REUK not only helped me with my education they also helped me mentally by giving me all sorts of support which were like a therapy for me.

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