Universities urged to go ‘beyond words’ and enrol refugees

Before fleeing Afghanistan as a refugee, Bilal Seddiqqi was in his final year of medicine, but now he is struggling to have his un-finished credentials recognised in order to continue his higher education in his new home, the United States.

“I was just months away from finishing my studies when the Taliban overran Kabul and I had to flee because of threats posed to our family due to affiliation with the government and civil society,” the young Afghan told University World News via phone from California.

Seddiqqi’s situation is shared by thousands of refugees from all over the world who are struggling with the uphill task of pursuing higher education in host countries, particularly in the West.

To find ways and means to resolve this and similar issues, the international Refugee and Migrant Education Network Conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, saw university administrators, faculty and education practitioners, as well as leaders of NGOs, international agencies and humanitarian organisations gather under the banner of “Initiatives in Refugee and Migrant Education – Moving forward, diving deeper, together”.

100 million refugees

No less than 100 million people have now been forced to flee their homes globally, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said last week, highlighting worldwide food insecurity, the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine and other emergencies as leading causes.

By the end of 2021, the number displaced by war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses stood at 89.3 million, according to the agency’s annual Global Trends report.

That figure was up 8% from 2020 and is “well over double the figure of 10 years ago”, the report’s authors said, attributing last year’s increase to numerous escalating conflicts “and new ones that flared”.

Among thousands of these refugees, many are Afghans who headed to places like the European Union, the US and Australia, where added woes such as cultural barriers, the high cost of living and bureaucratic hurdles awaited them.

Maryam Barek, a female Afghan refugee studying on a funded scholarship in Italy, told University World News that for many refugees learning a new language and earning a livelihood was proving difficult if there were no fee waivers or other means of financial support.

“The government and people are treating the refugees well, but many Afghan students are struggling because they need to earn [money] to support stranded families or extended families in Afghanistan,” she said.

Further exposing the issues faced by the refugees, Dr Abdul Sami, head of the Afghan Alumni Association in Australia, told University World News that the turmoil in Afghanistan hurt Afghan students in two ways: losing international scholarships for studies abroad and restrictions on education by the hardline regime within the country.

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