10 January 2022

A UEL student who fled Afghanistan with her family has spoken about the many challenges she faces as she awaits the decision on her asylum seeker application.

Tamana Safi arrived in the UK with her family three years ago, and has been waiting for a decision on her asylum seeker status ever since. 

In September 2020 Tamana managed to get a Sanctuary Scholarship to study an MSc in NGO and Development Management at UEL.

Because asylum seekers are not able to access public funds, this was an extremely challenging process.  Tamana faces daily challenges, including living on just £5 a day, the amount allocated by the Home Office to cover food, travel and living costs other than accommodation.

Tamana, 30, volunteers with UK national charity STAR (Student Action for Refugees) to campaign for equal access to higher education for asylum seekers and refugees without restrictions. She also volunteers with London-based charity Connected Routes  that is on a mission to empower women from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds to get into higher education or enter the UK job market.

She said,


My education at UEL has been extremely enriching and the university and my lecturers have been really supportive. My opinions and ideas are considered regardless of my immigration status. It is very interesting to understand global challenges and crises, the theories and the actors behind these crises and engage in different debates. "

"I always reflect back on my own experiences of being born, raised and educated in a conflict area. I have had a lot of stories to tell about the livelihoods that we have left. 

"I want to support other asylum seekers in the system and help them to thrive in the community regardless of their status. I want asylum seekers and refugees to have the right to access higher education without any restrictions. We have already suffered a lot and are vulnerable.  We should be given this opportunity to explore the UK education system."

Tamana graduated from a private university in Afghanistan in 2014 and became a primary school teacher. In 2017, she took a job in Afghanistan's presidential palace with the senior advisor of former President of Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani. That job put her in a very vulnerable situation as a woman and so Tamana and her mother, father and sister fled Afghanistan, arriving in the UK in December 2018.

The family stayed in a hotel for the first nine months. Being unable to work under the strict restrictions imposed on asylum seekers, Tamana was determined to access education, and after exhaustive research, applied to different universities.

Not every university in the UK provides scholarships for asylum seekers and refugees, and so choices were limited. Many challenges around paperwork followed, but eventually Tamana started studying thanks to the UEL scholarship in September 2020.

After starting the postgraduate course, Tamana and her family were moved out of greater London to north-east Essex, making travel to the campus impossible while living on £5 a day to cover all expenses including food, so Tamana studies almost exclusively online. 

She added, "I have received my right to work now, but unfortunately it is restricted under a list which is known as shortage occupation list, so it is very difficult. And once some employers find out you are an asylum seeker, they withdraw their offer.

"Although my life is very restricted here due to my immigration status, I really feel at home in the UK. I have made a lot of friends, and my mother, father and sister are also at home here. We feel really good here because my mother and father have this relief and satisfaction in their heart that their daughters can plan their future regardless of their gender. They will not be discriminated because they are girls. My dad has been really, really supportive throughout my journey. 

"We are desperate for news of our refugee claims and the waiting in limbo is so frustrating. Our eyes have been on the postbox for the last three years whenever the postman is in the area. 

"I really feel that this is now my home and the place where I think about our future in a community. I feel a sense of optimism that I'm here permanently because of the current significant humanitarian crisis that is happening in Afghanistan. We have nowhere to go. And I really hope I can use my education and experiences in the future to help others like me, particularly vulnerable women and girls," Tamana added.

UEL offers free courses for asylum seekers and refugees. There are opportunities to start studying in January.

Read more about our scholarships Sign up for our course for refugees and asylum seekers

Related topics