Refugee Week student profile: Resilience and persistence the key to success for asylum seeker student

Daniel Bennet can speak three languages, volunteers at the Royal North Shore Hospital, is studying for his second degree and has more than a decade experience in the banking sector – he also happens to be an asylum seeker.

Five years ago, Daniel fled the south of Iran to an unknown future. He left Iran with no plan – all he knew was that he had to get out. He ended up in Indonesia, and then boarded a small vessel which set sail for Australia. Daniel has no idea how he survived the journey.

“It was a miracle, I was one of the lucky ones. I believe that a few weeks after my arrival government banned the boats,” says Daniel.

But Daniel’s arrival in Australia as an asylum seeker didn’t mean his journey immediately got easier. He was desperate to work; but couldn’t speak English. He was desperate to study; but couldn’t get into a university or TAFE. And he was lonely as he had travelled to Australia without his family. Daniel ended up in a one bedroom in a boarding house in Beecroft, where, he says, very few people reached out to him.

“I could see the way people looked at me on the train, as if they were scared or something. It was really hard. I didn’t tell anyone I was an asylum seeker, I didn’t know what people would think of that, due to the extreme news in the media against refugees and asylum seekers at the time,” says Daniel.

But the isolation, financial and language difficulties didn’t stop him from continuing to strive for his dream of speaking fluent English and studying at an Australian university. Instead it drove him to try even harder. For years, he travelled on three trains numerous times a week to access a free English language course in Newtown. Here, he met a man who kindly gave up his Monday mornings to give Daniel extra lessons.

“I couldn’t believe someone was giving me so much of their time. One day I said to him, why are you helping me so much? He looked at me and said, I know you can’t help me, but I hope that one day you try and pass this kindness on to help other people,” says Daniel.

And this is exactly what Daniel tries to do now. After persistently applying to TAFE and numerous universities over a number of years, Daniel says his ‘dream finally came true’ when Western Sydney University offered him a place in their Bachelor of Business program and an Asylum Seeker Scholarship. As a student, Daniel says he is always on the lookout for student who were like him, in need of help with English or navigating the University work, and always goes out of his way to assist.

“I don’t know enough yet, but I would love to learn more, and I am sure by studying hard at my University I can boost my ability to help and contribute to my peers and community. I wish my visa conditions allowed me to be on campus so that I could be more involved in University life,” Daniel says.

However, despite now being fluent in English and currently studying at the University, Daniel says the challenges aren’t over. Because of his visa restrictions he cannot work, and due to the nature of his visa, he has recently had to leave Sydney to live, work and study in a rural location. He is currently studying his degree online from Canberra. However, his visa can be revoked at any time, leaving Daniel living with uncertainty.

“Imagine being in a new country and still trying to perfect your English, all the while having to study online. I’m thankful for the opportunity, but I feel isolated, and honestly scared,” says Daniel.

“I know the University have been incredibly supportive, but of course it would be much easier to study if I was able to live in Sydney. I have written to members of Parliament about my visa situation, but haven’t received a response.”  

Even after he completes his studies, Daniel is not guaranteed Permanent Residency in Australia.

“Sometimes I feel like asylum seekers are shadows in this city. I have tried so hard to learn, and fit in, and contribute to society. I am also quite conscious to dress professionally and constantly practice my English, to learn more so I can present seriously as a dedicated Western Sydney University student, and educated Australian citizen. All I want is my own job, and to learn, and to earn, so that I can contribute to this community that’s taken me in,” says Daniel.

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


22 June 2018

Media Unit