Manufa arrived in Ireland alone at the age of 16 in 2015 seeking international protection. She was immediately taken into care and enrolled in education by Tusla.

While struggling with life in a new country without family, Manufa did her best to work towards her childhood dream, to become a medical scientist.

Access to higher and tertiary education supports in Ireland for protection applicants

She was to quickly learn with dismay that her status as an international protection applicant limited her choices considerably.

“After finishing my leaving certificate in 2017, I couldn’t go straight into college because I didn’t have papers. When I turned 18, I was moved into private accommodation as a substitute for Direct Provision.”

Determined, she enrolled in a foundation programme at TU Dublin (formerly DIT) while she awaited the decision on her international protection application.

“I completed that too, and I still didn’t have papers. I was moved, again, this time into a Direct Provision centre. The waiting was harder there”.

In May 2018, Manufa received a positive decision on her international protection application. She accepted an offer to study for a degree in Biomedical Science at TU Dublin in September 2018. Her joy was short-lived as she encountered yet another hurdle. 

“I hoped SUSI would pay since I now had papers (status), but they rejected my application.”

Fighting for an eluding dream

It meant Manufa had to find ways to pay her total fees while studying. She vividly recalls how her daily life became split between college and work, only punctuated by a few hours of sleep. 

“I was always tired. I did work hard in work and college, but doing both affected my results as it’s a full-on course. I ended up failing one module by 10% and had to repeat the whole year. I was devastated. It was the first time I had to repeat a class.”

Manufa had also contacted the Irish Refugee Council’s (IRC) Education team for help. She worked alongside the team, engaging government departments to review the exclusion criteria.

“The advocacy finally paid off as the criteria were changed, so by the time I went into the second year, I didn’t have to work and study at the same time.”

Irish Refugee Council Education Programme

Our Education Programme supports people in the international protection process and refugees interested in Further Education and Higher Education. It broadens access to education by providing information and guidance, advocating for inclusive education policies, working with universities to support the development of Sanctuary Scholarships, and providing grants via the Education Fund.

As a recipient of IRC education grant, Manufa says, “I was getting an aftercare allowance from Tusla, but it was enough to cover rent, bills, and other things I needed. The grant helped me not to worry about transport,” she said, adding, “It meant a lot to me having IRC doing this for me. There were many times I thought I was never going to or finish college.”

The sky is the limit

Manufa graduated this November and has been working as a Medical Scientist at a Dublin Hospital since September 2023.

“I’m glad that; after coming to Ireland as an international protection applicant, a minor; now I can work in the public sector and help sick Irish kids. It feels amazing to belong and be able to give back.”

“Although I now have status, I’m still keeping myself updated and helping where help is needed, and I can help”.

Manufa advises people in the protection process: "There is so much help out there. Look for it. Being in a new country is hard, and you can't get far without help. Wherever you start, if they can't help you, they know where to refer you.”


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