Refugees at the University of Catania | Photo: ANSA/ORIETTA SCARDINO
Refugees at the University of Catania | Photo: ANSA/ORIETTA SCARDINO

What is university life like for refugee students in Italy? At a recent gathering in Rome, several people spoke out about their experiences.

Refugees who have built a new life in Italy thanks to education spoke about their personal experience at an event held at Rome's Sapienza University last Thursday. The seminar 'L'impegno delle università per i rifugiati' (The commitment of universities for refugees) highlighted how education can be key in giving refugees the knowledge and tools to rebuild their lives in their host country.  The gathering was organized by the university, in particular by Professor Sergio Marchisio, and by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.

Personal stories

During the meeting, many refugees spoke about their personal experience. 

Ahmed, a 32-year-old from Sudan, travelled to Lampedusa in 2011. He recently graduated from the University of Turin and then started a traineeship at an insurance company in Turin. 

"It wasn't easy when I arrived in Turin," he said during the seminar. "I lived in a squat and was able to go to college thanks to a scholarship. But then I lost it. Initially, I thought about giving up but, after all I had gone through, I decided to continue. I started working, first as a kitchen hand and then as a tomato picker. As a refugee, I wanted to prove that I could change my position by studying. Now I have completed my studies and I have started an internship - I am happy that I have made my dream come true. I was abandoned by my country... I want to thank all Italians who have welcomed me." 

Joy, an albino from Nigeria, is in her second year at the University of Trento. "I arrived in Italy in 2016. There is no hope for people who are born with albinism in Africa," she explained. Joy said she found a tutoring program in Trento extremely helpful. "Personally, I was expecting a difficult world at university, but thanks to this project I found a welcoming and relaxing environment," she said. 

Apollos: 'The course made me overcome my fears' 

Apollos, a Nigerian refugee, is a student at the University of Parma's department of education. "I am a refugee, a university student and a social operator," he said. "In Parma, we have accomplished two different projects: the first focuses on training refugees as researchers; the second is a training course called 'open lesson' to bring our experience as refugees inside classrooms... This course has made me overcome my fears and speak about my rights and my duties. We have risked our lives and we have survived, now the time has come to give back to the country that welcomed us." He added: "We ask academic institutions to give us the space to contribute." 

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