UEA student who fled Afghanistan backs city sanctuary network for refugees

UEA master's degree student Rohullah Hakimi, 32, who escaped Afghanistan in 2021

UEA master's degree student Rohullah Hakimi, 32, who escaped Afghanistan in 2021 - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

An advocate for girls education in Afghanistan who had to flee the country has spoken of the importance of a Norwich project which helps refugees integrate.

Rohullah Hakimi, 32, is coming to the end of a year-long masters in education and international development at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Mr Hakimi had to escape Kabul last August with his wife and their daughter, who is now four, in a British military plane after the collapse of the Afghan government.

He said: "We have to go back sometime to Afghanistan but for now there is no possibility to go there. We plan to stay here, integrate and make a new life from scratch."

The student was already enrolled on to his master's degree through a scholarship with Chevening  - the UK government’s international awards programme - but he received support from the UEA's University of Sanctuary network.

University of Sanctuary helps people fleeing war-torn countries including Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan get scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

Refugees fleeing conflict from neighboring Ukraine arrive in Hungary

Refugees fleeing from Ukraine into Hungary - Credit: PA

It also supports people seeking sanctuary through laptop donations as well as financial and peer support. 

Most Read

Mr Hakimi said: "Sanctuary is important. There are people suffering financially. The project is inclusive. We connected with lots of people at the UEA. Norwich is very nice."

He and his family were provided with a safe place to live through the Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme, organised by Norfolk County Council.

Mr Hakimi helped develop girls' education in Afghanistan six years before leaving the country and his wife is setting up a charity to build an online learning programme to help girls in Afghanistan unable to access education.

Rohullah Hakimi, 32, with Dr Sophie North, academic lead for the UEA's University of Sanctuary project

UEA master's degree student Rohullah Hakimi, 32, with Dr Sophie North, academic lead for the UEA's University of Sanctuary project - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

Dr Sophie North, academic lead for the UEA's University of Sanctuary project, said: "Since we became part of the national University of Sanctuary scheme in 2018 we have grown immensely. We see the importance of this initiative with the current global context. Almost all the students we work with have had to seek sanctuary from conflict or persecution."

The network will be marking national Refugee Week from June 20-26 and Dr North added: "It is important to celebrate this community as the resilience of the students is immense. It is important to provide a welcoming culture."