Syrian Refugee Who Arrived to UK With Almost Nothing Now Offered Place at Oxford

Published January 15th, 2018 - 02:00 GMT
 "Who would have thought that 17-year-old me, jumping off a lorry when I arrived in the U.K., could make it to Oxford?" (Shutterstock/File)
"Who would have thought that 17-year-old me, jumping off a lorry when I arrived in the U.K., could make it to Oxford?" (Shutterstock/File)


  • Sulaiman arrived from Syria to the U.K. two years ago 
  • He began teaching Arabic to refugees
  • He was offered a full scholarship at a prestigious school
  • After excelling in his A-levels, he was offered a place at Oxford


Two years ago, he stepped out of a lorry carrying frozen chips and stepped onto British soil for the first time.

Having made the journey from war-torn Syria in just a T-shirt and shorts, 17-year-old Sulaiman Wihba didn't know what his new life in Britain would hold.

But the refugee, now 20, has exceeded all expectations with his academic achievements – and is now celebrating having won a place at Oxford University.

Sulaiman left Damascus after enduring a daily battle for survival as bombs and bullets rained down on his neighborhood. His home became so dangerous that in 2015 he and his mother took the decision to flee.

After traveling to Turkey, they endured the dangerous five-hour journey across the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat.

Surviving on meager supplies, Sulaiman and his mother – who arrived in the U.K. with just one shoe – made their way to Calais, where they managed to stowaway on a refrigerated lorry.

Within a fortnight of his arrival in Britain, he managed to enroll at a local school and with the help of charity Voices In Exile launched his bid for asylum.

As a way of keeping busy, Sulaiman began teaching Arabic to refugees through the charity, which rented out a room at Brighton College.

The headmaster at the £23,000-a-year school ($31,645), Richard Cairns, heard about his selfless work and offered him a full scholarship.



Sulaiman rewarded the faith shown in him by gaining four A*s in further maths, maths, physics and chemistry after sitting his A-levels last summer.

He is overjoyed after being offered a place at Balliol College, University of Oxford – which numbers three prime ministers among its alumni – to study maths.

"For me, this feels truly unbelievable," he said. "Who would have thought that 17-year-old me, jumping off a lorry when I arrived in the U.K., could make it to Oxford?

"It's been such a tough journey since I left the bombings and the bullets in Damascus but I wouldn't change anything about it. I am also so grateful as I couldn't have done any of this if it had not been for my parents and my teachers' amazing support."

Other family members arrived from Syria last year under the Dubs Amendment - a regulation that means refugees have a right to go to join family members if they are legally in another country.

Now Sulaiman, his mother, father and two brothers are all settled into life in Hove, East Sussex, with Sulaiman revealing a previously undiscovered passion for rugby.

Brighton College headmaster Richard Cairns said: “Sulaiman has worked incredibly hard, in the face of great adversity, and he richly deserves this offer.

“We’re proud to have helped this remarkable young man attain his goal. He serves as a shining example to our other pupils of how perseverance and determination are rewarded. We know he will achieve great things in the future.”

Some 30 more Brighton College pupils have been made offers to Oxbridge this week.


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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