Help Sasan in his desperate plight

I am writing to thank you for the support you have given Sasan Panbehchi and the expressions of concern you have shown him in his application to have his status changed from that of international to home student at the University of Sheffield.
Earlier this month the University met Sasan to tell him that it would not change his status, but would use a scholarship fund at its disposal to reduce his fees for next year to those he would have been paying as a home student (£9000). His family will be able to pay this money drawing on funds they still have in Iran (though this is, you’ll appreciate, no easy thing to do).
I’m not sure what part our efforts played in getting the University to pursue this course, but what seems to have weighed most with them is that the Medical School is changing its pre-clinical programme (years 1 and 2 of the degree) from next year, and if Sasan had had to withdraw for lack of funds at the end of this year, which he passed, he would have had to repeat the year when he returned.
This gives him, therefore, breathing space: but not a lot more. His father will be applying some time before June 2014 to have his family’s status changed from temporary to permanent leave to remain. In that case the University have said Sasan could go into his third year as a home student.
The likeliest outcome of this application, however, is merely a repetition of the temporary (3 years) leave to remain. And in that case, if Sasan couldn’t pay the grossly inflated international student fees he’d still be liable for, he’d have to withdraw.
So, at the same time as I write to thank you for your support thus far, I want to urge you to be prepared to re-enter the fray on his behalf next year if it proves necessary. Keep your powder dry, as they say.
Meantime, the on-line Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration has just published (vol. 3, 1) a piece that he wrote with my assistance, which you might like to look at.


Sasan Panbehchi, from Iran, was caught up in the upheavals in that country when his father was forced to flee persecution with his family in 2007, when Sasan was aged 12. Last summer he was awarded 4 A-levels, two A*, one A, and one B, and was offered a place to study medicine at the University of Sheffield, where he is part-way through his first year.

His family’s status, however, has created huge problems for him.

The family was granted 3 years’ leave to remain in the UK in July 2011. In May 2012, Mohamed opened a restaurant in a shop in Sheffield which he himself had converted. He will apply for permanent leave to remain in 2014, though it is likely he will be only granted a further 3 years. He is still being treated as a failed asylum seeker and not as a refugee.

As the son of an asylum seeker, Sasan cannot enjoy the refugee status which would allow the University to treat him as a home student. He is treated as an international student and must pay the much higher fees levied on international students (for medicine, about £125,000 in total). He must also pay his fees each year, a term at a time, before he can progress to the next year. He paid his first term’s fees out of family savings and a grant from the University of York. English friends have loaned him the money for the next three terms’ fees. He’s doing well at his studies. But beyond this first year his future is bleak. His family don’t have the money to fund him; even if they could get any money out of Iran, the dramatic fall in the value of the Iranian currency means it would purchase very little here. And, having registered as an international student, he cannot have his status changed during the rest of his degree, even though, following Home Office calculations, he will have lived in the country for 3 years in July 2014, mid-way through his second year of studies.

Sasan has approached the University for help, requesting to be allowed to change his status to that of home student, or to defer payment of the fees until he graduates, like other home students. Not surprisingly, the University has refused to act on this request.

A glimmer of hope remains. The University has declared itself a University of Sanctuary, and is setting up a new committee shortly to consider how best to put flesh on the bones of this principle. One way, clearly, would be to do something to help Sasan, who is extremely committed, hard-working, and bright, and is looking to work in the NHS and so pay back any future investment in him by the Government. Sasan is writing a letter along these lines to the Vice-Chancellor and requesting that it be made available to the committee as part of the evidence it will wish to consider.

We urge you to do all you can to help Sasan in his desperate plight. Contact your MPs, any Government Ministers you know, and any members of Sheffield University or any other public body who may be able to help. Any and every help will be appreciated. Please feel free to copy this information to all your friends. A version of his story is being considered for publication in the newly-established online journal, The Oxford Monitor on Forced Migration, and another is being prepared for submission to the Guardian. For further information you can also contact Roger Ellis and Andrea MacIntyre (, ).

Thank you on Sasan’s behalf.

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