An 18 year old who survived a perilous European trek is starting his degree at the University of Manchester this year.
BA Politics and Philosophy student Gulwali Passarlay, who was awarded a scholarship to the University, spoke to The Mancunion about his struggle to make it to the United Kingdom.
Gulwali’s journey began in his home country of Afghanistan. He fled from his home province of Nangarhar, in eastern Afghanistan and began a year long journey spanning 10 countries. Living in the shadow of the Taliban, Gulwali’s mother made the decision to send him outside Afghanistan’s borders.
“I didn’t really understand at the time. I thought we might be coming back, but then we went forever. So I had to make myself stronger and keep telling myself ‘ You can do it. You have left Afghanistan, you can’t go back.’ As an Afghan you have to have this dignity, this self- determination,” he said.
Upon arriving in Bulgaria, Gulwali was sent back to Turkey and had to hike through kilometres of snowy mountains. After this, he was also arrested when entering Greece.
He said, “They told me that I had to leave Greece within a month or I would have faced deportation back to Afghanistan.
“In all the countries I’ve been to, they’ve arrested me and put me in jail, even though I was only 13. But I had no choice, I had to make it to my destination, of getting somewhere safe.”
For Gulwali, the most difficult moment was being trapped in the underbelly of a boat that was making the crossing between Turkey and Greece, “There were a hundred people in a small boat for nearly 50 hours.
“We did not have access to food or drink, nowhere to go to the toilet. The ship was about to sink, water came in. If the police had not come, we would have sunk within seconds.
“I thought I was gone. The only thing I was worried about was that my family would not find my body, I would be somewhere in the sea.”
Gulwali’s arrival in England was the start of his involvement in a number of panels and organisations. He was a member of the Youth Consul and is now the representative of the North-West in the National Scrutiny Group. He is also the Ambassador for Refugees and Asylum Seekers as well as shouldering other positions of responsibility.
“ I do as much as I can because I think it is the time for me to get involved and make a difference, not only because this country has given so much and I want to give back to society, but also because I want to put this to use in Afghanistan. Hopefully it will be relevant and help me and my people,” he said.
Speaking no English when he first arrived, Gulwali went on to achieve 10 GCSEs. He then applied for the Manchester Access Programme (MAP) and was one of the 500 students awarded a place. He had to integrate his A- Levels with university workshops and seminars several times a month, all the while learning English.
“ I got into MAP, I fulfilled all the requirements. I am very grateful to the University. They gave me the chance. I made the impossible possible. I still can’t believe that I’m here. Having this wonderful opportunity and facilities in this great institution, people need not take it for granted. We’re the future and we should be preparing for this future,” he said.
Despite what he has been through, Gulwali’s desire to return to his home country is strong. “Even if I had very little, I would still appreciate to be there with my family.”
He added, “even if young people leave, it’s because they have no choice. If they join the Taliban, they will be killed. If they join the government, they will be killed – either case, they go out in the morning and there is no guarantee they will return home alive.”
Gulwali said he wants to one day return to a safer Afghanistan, “My hope is to support my people, my nation. I hope to go back and see my family and take care of them and to get involved with the Afghan peace process.
“My ultimate goal is to be in a position where I can change things.”