Changing fates: An Afghan refugee’s journey from war to Cambridge

Changing fates: An Afghan refugee’s journey from war to Cambridge
Rabia Nasimi uses her sociological expertise to help other Afghan refugees. Souce: Rabia Nasimi

Rabia Nasimi was only five when she was bundled up in a lorry, along with her six-month-old baby brother, older sister and her parents, for a perilous journey to England.

Despite the dangers, discomfort and uncertainty that lay ahead, it was a risk they had to take to escape the cruel clutches of the Taliban regime in war-torn Afghanistan, their home at the time.

That was in 1999, 18 years ago.

Today, Rabia is a PhD student at the UK’s prestigious Cambridge University, armed with one mission: to use her experience to help other refugees like her, especially women.

Rabia has been heavily involved in voluntary work since she came to the UK, as well as receiving a British education, eventually making it to Cambridge to get a PhD in Sociology.

“I was extremely lucky and didn’t face many educational barriers. I attended a good sixth form where I was supported,” she told Study International.

“During my undergraduate degree and masters, I had nice supervisors who guided me. My family were also very supportive and they had a good grasp of the British education system so I could speak to them about exam worries.”

Rabia completed her undergraduate degree in Sociology and Politics at Goldsmith’s in 2015, before going on to do a Sociology MSc at the London School of Economics in 2016.

She started her Sociology PhD at Cambridge this month.

She’s also returned numerous times to her homeland, although her early childhood experiences in the strife-torn nation now just seem like distant memories.

“My first trip to Afghanistan was in 2007, and now I’ve been more than 10 times. At first, it was difficult to fit into a society that I’m essentially from. It’s so different to what you see in the books and in the news,” Rabia said.

Having been away for more than a decade, she said she wanted to understand her country better.

From working with Afghan refugees in the UK, she has noticed that women, particularly older women, often face barriers that are harder to overcome.

“Older women can face language barriers which can stop them getting an education, and women in relationships are at risk for domestic abuse. They come from an environment where women don’t speak out against this,” she said.

“There’s also a risk of depression and marginalisation from feeling isolated. All of this can really hinder academic success.”

Rabia, however, believes that by providing a safe space for people who have had experiences similar to hers and through sharing her journey with them, she can inspire others to achieve their potential on the other side of hardship.

“It’s often asked if keeping refugees within their own community when they arrive here allows them to integrate. I think it does because they are away from home and everything is unfamiliar.

“You need activities and services organised by your own communities to help them feel safe and supported. I can connect with Afghan women and show them that refugee women can progress here just like anybody else,” she said.

She said she has not suffered any prejudice so far, and staff mentors have given her all the added support a refugee may need.

In the future, she hopes to use her research to make a positive impact on refugees’ lives by empowering them to believe in themselves.

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