Refugee Week student profile: Arash engineers a new life

Arash Bordbar is a talented student who is passionate about engineering, especially engineering projects that help others. In 2016, he was the Young People’s Human Rights Medalist and last year he was invited to present at the United Nations in Geneva – he also happens to be a refugee.

When he was 16 years old, Arash – a third year Bachelor of Civil Engineering (Honours) student – and his family were forced to flee their homeland of Iran after persecution at the hands of the Iranian government made it too unsafe to stay. Arash sought refuge in Malaysia where he lived for six years. Beyond the financial and emotional difficulties faced in Malaysia, Arash says one of the hardest things he had to deal with was his prohibition from studying because he was considered an ‘illegal immigrant’. As a talented student – who was top of his class in exams for both mathematics and physics, and who had also received a Diploma of Mathematics and Physics in Iran – this was very difficult.

“Life in Malaysia wasn’t easy, but it taught me a lot of things. Like how to be strong and protect my family and to never give up,” says Arash.

While in Malaysia, Arash made the most of his time by learning English, volunteering with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, and running a coffee shop with his younger brother. He also crossed paths with a University representative, and with his help, assisted in introducing free short courses for refugees and asylum seekers. Since then, legislation in Malaysia has now changed to allow refugee and asylum seekers to register as students.

In 2014, Arash and his family were finally approved for permanent residency in Australia. But this opportunity didn’t make Arash forget about his friends in Malaysia. Arash is still working to provide scholarships and open up university in Malaysia, and across the Asia Pacific, to provide options for refugees at discounted prices.

Arriving in Australia however, didn’t mean Arash had easy access to higher education. Despite his study and accolades, his application to seven universities were rejected. It wasn’t until he discovered The College (opens in a new window) that he thought his dream of studying at a university in Australia could be realised.

“It was totally by chance that I found out about The College – I just walked into it by accident during a visit to the University campus. Because The College provides pathway and alternative entry programs to university for international students, it was perfect for me,” says Arash.

“As soon as I registered I told my brother and my friends about it so now we are all studying the degree together.”

It wasn’t long before Arash’s academic talents and passion for engineering were recongnised. After a few tries, enrolling into different colleges, he was accepted into the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) - Civil.

“Through my study of engineering I want to help people. I want to be a part of the process of giving people a safe place and a roof over their head because I’ve been through the struggles myself,” says Arash.

“Having access to an education is a big deal and it’s something that I don’t take for granted.”

Arash hopes to combine his passion for Civil Engineering to use in the humanitarian space.

“I hope to build safe houses in the rural areas of Australia in emergency situations. Everyone is focused on Australia’s major cities but rural areas seem to get left behind. It’s about being creative with limited resources and making it easier for our farmers to live.”

In addition to his study, Arash has volunteered his time to numerous non-government organisations. He was selected to be the Chair of the Global Youth Advisory Council under UBNHCR to further push for youths’ participation during the decision-making process. Due to his efforts, he was awarded the Young People’s Human Rights Award in 2016 for his advocacy and was chosen to be and Australian ambassador during Australia Day. He currently works part-time at Parramatta’s Community Migrant Resource Centre (CMRC) and continues to volunteer with the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN), Opening Universities for Refugees (OUR).

“I volunteer because I have many experiences that I think are worth sharing. If you have the opportunity, why not help?” says Arash.

“Another reason I volunteered was to share the pathway I got to university. I have been screaming it out and encouraging others to take this path. It changed my whole life.”

Arash has been invited back to the United Nations in Geneva in December this year to present further research on youth perspectives of sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and LGBTIQ community among other things. He is also a recipient of the Western Sydney University Refugee Scholarship, awarded in 2017.

If you’d like to make a donation to support students like Arash, please give to our scholarship fund: in a new window)


18 June 2018

Media Unit