From education to employment

University of Winchester graduate Sohaib helps charity tackle digital exclusion

A recent graduate who was helped by the University of Winchester’s Sanctuary programme has played a key role in producing a new report aimed at aiding asylum seekers. Sohaib Hafeez has written the foreword to a new report from the Red Cross on the problem of digital exclusion for people seeking asylum in England.

He was also one of the researchers for the report entitled Offline and Isolated.

The report looks at the challenges faced by people coming to this country who cannot use the internet because they cannot afford a mobile phone or a computer, have no access to broadband, lack the necessary digital skills or simply cannot speak English.

As a result, the digitally excluded find it difficult to book medical appointments and access health care and information.

Many people interviewed for the report also felt isolated as they could not connect with their family or friends far away.

Sohaib has personal experience of this situation as he and his family had to flee from political war in Pakistan when he was 11.

In the introduction to the report Sohaib writes: “I faced many difficulties adjusting to life in the UK. Luckily, given my age, I was not impacted by digital exclusion and the digital skills I learnt helped me to integrate. However, people around me suffered from the impacts of digital exclusion, including my parents and other people I know seeking asylum. Many of these people are dependent on family members or community support to access healthcare.

“This has made them feel like a burden, as they are not able to access essential services without help. Martin Luther King’s words resonate here, ‘whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly’.”

Sohaib says many that he interviewed felt “stuck in limbo” with nowhere to seek help.

The report recommends that the Home Office, NHS and local health service providers ensure asylum seekers have easy access to online health services and be given digital training. It also urges that people seeking asylum be involved in developing policies and services relating to the health services they will access.

His family received support from the Red Cross and Sohaib soon became a volunteer for the charity.

As well as helping asylum seekers find accommodation he has worked as a fundraiser and first aider, at events like the Reading Festival.

At the University of Winchester Sohaib studied Psychology and then completed a Master’s in Criminology in 2022.

Since graduating he has worked as a behavioural analyst in Leicester helping children who have been the victims of sexual abuse.

Sohaib was a recipient of the Sanctuary Award scholarship as part of Winchester’s role as a University of Sanctuary.

In the University’s 2023 Postgraduate Prospectus he wrote: “My dream is to continue to raise awareness and support for people in need. Without the University of Winchester and the Sanctuary Award, I would have been a little boy with dreams taken from him…I hope to repay the support I was given to others in need.”

The University has been offering scholarships to sanctuary seekers since 2010. In response to the 2021 crisis it provided scholarships to Afghan students and supported the charity Refugee Action in developing its Displaced Student Initiative.

In 2022 the University responded to the war in Ukraine by launching a new scholarship for Ukrainian students that includes a fee waiver, bursary and extra support including English lessons.

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