Is this Britain’s bravest student?

Inspirational Manchester University student tells The Tab his story


It’s fair to say that Gulwali Passarlay has a slightly different background to most of Manchester University’s freshers.

In 2006 Gulwali Passarlay was forced to flee from war-torn Afghanistan, alone and on foot. Only 12, his journey to the UK took him away from his family, some who had been killed in the fighting, and across eight different countries in one year. After being smuggled across the border, Gulwali’s terrifying travels included a horrific 50 hour sea crossing crammed with 100 other refuges into a space designed for 20, and several visits to jail.

A year later, he arrived in England penniless, missing his family, and unable to speak the language. The torment didn’t end there as Gulwali was endured racism, loneliness, and was forced to prove to the authorities that he really was an Afghan national.

Once settled, Gulwali worked hard to become fluent in English, passed his GCSE’s and A-levels against all odds, before gaining a place at the University of Manchester this year to study BA Politics and Philosophy.

The Tab caught up with Gulwali during his first week.


Your journey sounds almost unbelievable for someone so young. Can you describe any particular moments that stand out to you?

I was in a camp when a man came in waving bananas. He asked ‘Who will come?’ and I put up my hand, then others followed. We climbed into a refrigerated container filled with bananas, and the whole journey we were terrified that he would turn on the fridges and that we would die. Also, I climbed into a lorry that began travelling at high speed on a motorway, and I was clinging on only a few centimetres from the hot engine. That was very scary. The driver was surprised to see me when he stopped!

Why did you choose England as your destination?

I knew that I might be reunited with some family here, but also England was the first country where I was not immediately arrested and told to leave. For example, in Greece I was given papers that told me I must be out of the country in one month. But then I was arrested and told I would be kept in jail for three months. This just did not make sense to us.

Why did you want to come to Manchester University?

In about Year 11 it became my ambition. I really like it here.


Beside your degree, what do you enjoy doing?

I enjoy playing football at the weekend. I’m also going to join some university societies, probably the politics and philosophy society, and any others supporting peace and justice.

To learn English so quickly, and pass your GCSE’s and A-levels must have been really hard.

Yes, when I arrived at school I was put into a class learning German, which was very confusing! I thought, ‘I cannot even speak English, how can I learn German?!’


A keen politician

What are your proudest moments? 

I was the first Afghan to run with the Olympic torch. I still have it at home. Someone offered to buy it from me, but I will not part with it. It is priceless!

And what do you intend to do after Uni?

Hopefully I will return to Afghanistan, and become involved in the government, maybe even run for the Presidency! After all, somebody has to do it.