Refugee’s urge for knowl­edge pays off for oth­ers in same boat

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Scholarships - Bren­dan O’Keefe

A YOUNG Afghan stu­dent’s pas­sion for learn­ing has opened the way for other refugees who want to forge a new life in a free coun­try.

Ab­dul Hek­mat fled the Tal­iban- ruled Afghanistan in 2001. As a Hazara, an eth­nic group at­tacked by the Tal­iban, he had been de­nied en­try into the coun­try’s univer­si­ties.

He fled the coun­try and landed in a refugee de­ten­tion cen­tre in West­ern Aus­tralia, where he spent five months.

The keen stu­dent of West­ern phi­los­o­phy, pol­i­tics, re­li­gion and his­tory made his way to Syd­ney, where he started English classes.

In 2003 he ap­plied to the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Syd­ney for a place in its com­mu­ni­ca­tions ( so­cial in­quiry) bach­e­lor’s de­gree. How­ever, as the holder of a tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion visa he was classed as a fee- pay­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dent. With­out money, he had no chance.

UTS had been plan­ning to in­tro­duce a TPV schol­ar­ship in 2005, but the ea­ger­ness of Hek­mat and his sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing writ­ers David Malouf and Tom Ke­neally, spurred the univer­sity into ac­tion and the schol­ar­ship was fast- tracked to start in 2004.

The schol­ar­ship was to cover all fees and ad­min­is­tra­tion costs. Hek­mat es­ti­mated his was worth about $ 10,000.

He grad­u­ated in May and is do­ing his hon­ours year and men­tor­ing a Burmese jour­nal­ism stu­dent who is among the latest crop of TPV schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ents.

‘‘ I was very happy,’’ he said of at­tain­ing his schol­ar­ship. ‘‘ If it wasn’t for that scheme I wouldn’t have been able to study.

‘‘ I had a pas­sion to study, but be­cause of re­stric­tions I wasn’t able to.’’

Hek­mat was granted per­ma­nent res­i­dency in 2004 but UTS con­tin­ued his schol­ar­ship to the end of his de­gree.

UTS eq­uity and di­ver­sity unit di­rec­tor Ruth Thompson said the univer­sity had paid for 21 refugees, from Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Burma and Sierra Leone, to study un­der the schol­ar­ship.

‘‘ He [ Ab­dul] was the in­sti­ga­tor of op­por­tu­ni­ties for other peo­ple,’’ Thompson says.

Ap­pli­ca­tions are in­vited for a new round of schol­ar­ships in Au­gust.

Hek­mat is work­ing on a the­sis on refugee cen­tres in Aus­tralia and hopes to work with a non- gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion or a com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion af­ter com­plet­ing his stud­ies.

For the ben­e­fit of mankind: Afghan refugee Ab­dul Hek­mat was the first ben­e­fi­ciary of UTS’s tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion visa schol­ar­ship scheme and is now men­tor­ing oth­ers on the same path

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