Sisters from Afghanistan continuing their studies in the UK thanks to English UK members
16 March 2022

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Sameera and Tamana - sisters from Afghanistan continuing their studies in the UK thanks to English UK members

Sameera Safi was a fourth-year medical student when she and her family were forced to flee Afghanistan in late 2018. 

Thanks to English UK member centres and RefuAid, Sameera and her sister Tamana have managed to resume their education in the UK. 

Sameera, who now lives with her sister and their elderly parents on the Essex coast, said: "I studied medicine in my home country and was in my fourth year when this problem happened to us. It was not safe to work or to go out."

"We found ways to educate ourselves and our parents always supported us in education but we couldn't stay [in Afghanistan] because we were targeted specifically. I had to leave my university. I was very disappointed to leave my university because medicine was not easy and I only had one year left.

When I came here [to the UK] I found different rules and policies for education. I wanted to start my studies from the point I left them in Afghanistan but I did not have a certificate and was told I had to start at the beginning.

I missed my first year here because we were struggling then I went to RefuAid. They helped us a lot and said my English wasn't good enough. They gave me the opportunity to study English classes and said I needed to increase my level to go to university. They gave me IELTS classes, I found some friends there caught up with other students and me and my sister found our way to apply to UCAS. That was new and we were struggling."

Where in the UK did they study?

Sameera did a one-year Access to Medicine course at Birkbeck, University of London, while completing GCSEs and A Levels at the same time which she says was tough but achievable because she was repeating everything. "Only the language was different," she said.  

Sameera and her sister Tamana, who had a business degree from Afghanistan and had worked in the country's parliament, both got places with English UK member centres through RefuAid to get the language qualifications they needed. Sameera went to Twin Greenwich in London, and Tamana was at International House Newcastle, studying IETLS online. 

Tamana is now doing postgraduate study at the University of East London.

Sameera then applied to Brunel University London, which gave her a scholarship to study biomedicine. She would have preferred to study medicine but could not get a scholarship or a student loan to do that. She hopes to be able to study medicine once she has completed her biomedicine degree. "I want to do medicine and continue my study in this field – it is my dream and goal to work in the NHS. I want to work there as a volunteer now, I love that environment and want to work with patients who need help. I wanted to apply for volunteering jobs but couldn't do anything." 

Problems for the family have also been caused by their being housed in a remote location in Essex. Previously they were in London and involved in community work but now they are more isolated, are not permitted to drive and there are few buses. But Sameera and her family are grateful to RefuAid and the English UK members which helped them. "I had a good experience in Greenwich – it was amazing and the teacher was so helpful. I had a nice journey there."

"I didn't tell the other students I was an asylum seeker – I had been told you don't need to share your personal information with anyone as it might cause problems. It was a good experience."

"RefuAid was the first door opening for my education life [here in the UK]. If I couldn't have found them I wouldn't be here for myself. I am doing my classes and doing my studies so I am busy and this is all the benefits of RefuAid for giving me the chance of IELTS. You know how expensive it is – we receive £5 a day for food. They also gave me my transport costs and fees for the English language school so this is really helpful and I am really glad to meet the lovely people. They are amazing and really helpful."

What does the future hold for Sameera?

"I am hoping to go to medical school afterwards but don't know about situation in the future. I need to get distinction grades to go on to medicine. My first aim is to be a doctor but if I can't I will do post graduate. I won't stop my education after two years, I will continue more and more." 

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Many thanks to Sameera Safi, graduate of the RefuAid, Language: A Gateway programme and student of biomedicine at Brunel University London.

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