After fleeing his country of origin at the age of twenty, Davide* arrived in the UK with no friends or family to turn to and experienced homelessness, multiple evictions and extreme loneliness. His situation began to change after he met with Student Action for Refugees (STAR) who advised him to apply for a Sanctuary Scholarship at the University of Bristol.
He’s since completed a foundation year at the University and has recently begun his Undergraduate degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. Here he tells his story and explains how the Sanctuary Scholarship programme has impacted his life.
The situation I left back home is really complicated. The country I was born in is so beautiful, but there are problems there. In some areas people are affected by war, and certain people are struggling under our government’s authoritarian regime. It can create a hostile environment for lots of people. My personal circumstances are very difficult to explain, but they meant I could no longer remain in my country.
When I arrived in the UK four years ago, I had no idea what to do or where to go. I found out that I should go to the Home Office so I went there to ask for help and try to claim asylum. But they told me I needed to go away and make an appointment. I had nowhere to stay and didn’t know anyone so had to live on the street for seven days until they would see me again.
Back then I wasn’t thinking about University at all. If you can imagine – I’d just lost everything, including my family. At that time all I had was £50 and I was just trying to find food. I had my screening interview with the Home Office and after that they started helping me and found me temporary accommodation. First they placed me in Wigan, then Liverpool, then Manchester. At that time, I was really lonely and I had no friends at all. I did have housemates but they weren’t around often and sometimes I wouldn’t leave the house for weeks at a time.
Eventually, I started trying to apply for language courses, and to universities too, but soon found out that I wasn’t eligible for a student loan or any support from the government. I felt like giving up, but things changed for me after I found the Student Action for Refugees’ website. They had lots of information about university scholarships that asylum seekers and refugees could apply for – I couldn’t believe it!
First, they helped me to apply for a course at the University of East London to help me improve my English. I started commuting from Manchester every weekend – taking the overnight coach and arriving in London just before the course started in the morning. It was on that course where I met my first proper friend in the UK, James*, who is now my best friend in the world. The STAR team also recommended the University of Bristol Sanctuary Scholarship programme. Bristol has a really great reputation for my chosen subject, Engineering, I knew straight away that I wanted to apply to study there. I didn’t expect to get a place, as I knew the competition would be really tough, but I thought – why not go for it?
Just three weeks after I started the English language course, I was evicted from the house I was living in by the Home Office. I had nowhere to go, so I called James and asked him if I could stay with him while I sorted my situation out. It was while I was staying with him that I found out the best news I’d had for a long time – I had been selected for a Sanctuary Scholarship at the University of Bristol. I can’t explain or put into words how incredible that felt.
I started my foundation year in 2018 but I experienced a lot of difficulties with my application for asylum which meant I couldn’t keep up with my studies. My solicitor wanted to see me in person every week, so I was having to travel back and forth to London all the time. I started having to miss classes and instead of studying I was talking to solicitors every day and trying to complete endless, complicated paperwork. I was completely exhausted and there were moments when I just felt like I couldn’t go on.
During that time, I was struggling to adjust and my mental health was really deteriorating. Apart from James, I was used to not speaking to anyone for days – sometimes weeks and then suddenly I was seeing hundreds of people every day. It was really difficult because I was in the place that I wanted to be finally but I was also going through this horrible depression.
After one particularly bad night, James came to help me and took me to see my personal tutor who was so supportive. He let me defer my year so that I could have time to work on my case and look after my wellbeing. I was in such a bad place that I just wouldn’t have been able to complete my course back then. My application took over six months and even now, I’m still waiting for a response from the Government.
When I started my course again last September, things got a lot better. I still wasn’t used to the environment but bit by bit I started to make friends. That was one of the biggest benefits for me – being able to socialise with people and speak to people. I was very deprived of friendships before that. Passing the Foundation course has really helped me to get my confidence back and make so many more friends. I think the last academic year I doubled and then tripled my friend list!
Recently, the alumni office put a call out asking for people to send in welcome pictures for myself and other Sanctuary Scholarship students. I knew a few of the people who sent in pictures but most of them I’d never met. It felt amazing – these people don’t know us as individuals, but they wanted to make us feel welcome. I loved seeing them all and they really warmed my heart.
This scholarship right now, means everything to me. I know that my Sanctuary Scholarship friends also really appreciate what they’ve received. So many of them have been through difficult times and without this help, this huge support, we’d be stuck in the system, unable to get anywhere.
This year, I started my Undergraduate course in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. I chose this course because I’m a big petrol head – I love cars and this course will let me work with conventional motorcars as well as electric cars. I could work with renewable energy technologies or soft robotics; all of these incredibly important parts of engineering will be opened up to me through this one course. I haven’t decided yet which area I want to specialise in, but once I do I’m hoping to carry on and do a Masters, perhaps even a PhD.
If I met anyone who had donated to the Sanctuary Scholarship programme I would just say a huge thank you. They saved my life and they gave me this massive opportunity. I wish I could pay them back in some way, but for now all I can do is focus on getting my qualification. In the future I hope I’ll be in a good position and will be able to support the programme myself.
Just two years ago if you’d asked me if I thought I could go to university I would have said it was impossible. I still can’t believe I’m here now and able to study and achieve, thanks to the Sanctuary Scholarship programme. I feel over the clouds – over the moon – to be able to say that I’m a student at the University of Bristol.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of our Scholar.