Edinburgh Global

At-risk academic continues his profession at Edinburgh

This Refugee Week 2023 we are celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary alongside the theme of Compassion. Read Amanullah's story, as he continues his profession in Edinburgh.

Amanullah with Edinburgh Skyline

Amanullah Ahmadzai and his family were forced to leave their home in Afghanistan in May 2022. Since then, Amanullah has been able to continue in his academic profession as a Research Fellow at the Edinburgh Law School. Read his story below.

What were your impressions of Edinburgh when you arrived?

My family and I haven’t explored Edinburgh/Scotland very well yet, but our experience has been quite positive so far. The people we have met have only shown support, kindness, and a good attitude.

What was the situation you were leaving?

It has been a year since I moved to the UK with the help of the University of Edinburgh, CARA, and a network of professionals. My story began with the tragic collapse of the Afghan government in mid-August 2021. I left Afghanistan in early May 2022. After a short stay in a neighbouring country of Afghanistan, I departed for the UK, in late June last year.

It wasn’t my first time traveling outside of Afghanistan. I used to live abroad, for almost one and a half years, in 2016-17. I left my wife, my newborn baby, my parents, my siblings, and all other relatives and friends, to study in the U.S. However, the feeling and experience was quite different when I was leaving Afghanistan, in May 2022.

Unlike the previous time, I was forced to leave the country. Having the fear of threat to life and being tortured mentally by the environment, it took almost nine months to be ready to leave. The worst experience during this period was going through the process of collecting travel documents for my family and myself.

By this time it was normal to wear a face mask, however, after the August incident, it wasn’t only for protection from coronavirus. By wearing a mask I was hiding my face and identity that I used to be proud of. I should have physically been more secure from terrorist attacks in comparison to pre-August 2021, as the previously armed oppositions became office bearers of public safety and security administrations. Yet, I couldn’t feel safe. Because in a real sense an academic and thinker dies when he/she is prevented from freely expressing himself/herself.

My thoughts, qualifications, experience, and expertise had no value in the post-August 2021 Afghanistan. My enthusiasm to fight for positive changes was lost. I didn’t see any room for my contribution while being in Afghanistan. I had no choice but to leave my parents in tears and alone, in May 2022. We had to suffer all together or I had to take the opportunity to continue my profession.

What was your area of work and what are the hopes for your career?

I worked in academia and public administration back in Afghanistan for almost 10 years. In addition to teaching at Kabul University, I worked with the Ministry of Justice of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. I enjoyed working hard to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan. I had a desire to see Afghanistan as a developed and safe place for everyone to live. I still keep hope and I continue to work towards that. I take the opportunity of being in the UK to gain more skills and experience to bring greater changes for the well-being of all humans.

What are you working on now in Edinburgh? 

I am currently researching in Edinburgh Law School. My research interest is inspired by my previous work and teaching in Afghanistan. I am working on justice system design and reforms. I believe my work will help Afghanistan and several other societies. My work could have been limited in Afghanistan. Here, my view is broadened to think of the challenges that several communities might face. I am also engaged in teaching.

How does your work differ from before?

I have started the PGCAP program which will help me to improve my understanding of effective learning and teaching practices. However, it takes time to adapt to the new education system. More specifically, in my discipline, teaching most law subjects requires sufficient knowledge of the laws and regulations. For an immigrant academic this requires extra time and energy to become familiar with the legal system of the host country. In Afghanistan, I was well aware of the legal system and the context.

What role should universities play in providing refuge and sanctuary?

Universities have a moral duty to support academics in need of support in other parts of the world. It gives a sense of belonging to the family of academia when an academic is being supported. In addition, displaced academics bring an outsider’s perspective and experience to the host institution. This also represents diversity in teaching and research at the institutional level. In some disciplines, like social science and humanities having the knowledge of an additional context could be an extra intellectual asset.

What support have you experienced and how crucial is it to you?

Being an immigrant, it could be challenging to stay in academia. Some Afghan academics haven’t gotten the chance to continue their academic profession, while in exile. I am lucky that I have received the generous support of the University of Edinburgh and CARA to continue the profession.


Thank you, Amanullah, for sharing your story.


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Refugee Week 2023

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Related Links

Refugee Week website  

Refugee Week 2022 (Community Stories)

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Refugee Week 2019