"My life is safe now," refugee students say at elite Paris university

Tue Mar 15, 2016 11:22am EDT
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By Pauline Mevel and Ingrid Melander

PARIS (Reuters) - Twenty-seven year old Minawar Ahmadzai slept in a park during his first few weeks in Paris. Three months on, the Afghani asylum-seeker is studying at one of France's most prestigious universities.

While much of Europe is building up walls and fences to try to stem the flow of people fleeing war in Syria and Afghanistan, 20 of the new arrivals have found an unexpected welcome at Paris' Sciences Po university.

Thanks to a group of students who pushed the university to make room for them, they are studying French and English, trying to build on the university degrees they had at home.

"It is a first step for me to find a bright future in France," Ahmadzai, a father of three who fled war in his country, said on Sciences Po's 144-year old campus at the heart of Paris' chic Saint-Germain-des-Pres area.

"I'm starting relaxing, I'm happy because my life is safe now here, I want to spend my life here," Ahmadzai said, speaking in English, after taking part in a class where the refugee students took turn trying to explain who they are, where they come from, and how to introduce themselves in English.

A majority come from Syria, with others from Africa, Afghanistan and other Asian countries, with about 10 different nationalities in total. Some had just started university before fleeing from their countries, others have masters degrees.

Thirty-three year old asylum-seeker Mohammed Salah Uddin Ahmed had completed a bachelor's degree in anthropology in Bangladesh before fleeing death threats. He wants to do a masters in social sciences but first needs to improve his English and French.

"Je t'aime beaucoup France (I love you a lot, France)," he said in slightly hesitant French. He said he had several times donated his blood as a way to say thanks.   Continued...

Teacher George Ferenci writes on the board "Welcome migrants to Sciences Po" during his English class for refugees at Paris' Sciences Po university in Paris, March 15, 2016.   REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer