Three siblings, who travelled to Australia in the most terrifying circumstances, have become high-achievers at Victoria University and in the community.

All three have been awarded an Asylum Seeker Scholarship, which has laid the foundations for outstanding success.

A terrifying journey

It is remarkable to have three asylum seeker siblings all studying and achieving great results, particularly given the difficulty for asylum seeker and refugee students to access scholarship places. – Julie Madden, VU’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Liaison Officer.

Mohammad, Ghanieh and Zahra Daghagheleh left Iran in 2013 with their mother and their sister. Their father, who had completed the journey earlier, was already being held on Manus Island.

The family made it to Indonesia, but were captured and imprisoned. They tried to escape six times and it was not until the seventh attempt, that they were successful.

Although promised that they would be travelling to Australia on a sizeable boat and have their own bed, the Daghagheleh family found themselves crammed into an old wooden boat with about 130 other asylum seekers desperate to reach safety.

There was no food, no water, no lifejackets, and no room to move or sleep. After three terrifying days, they were rescued by the Australian Navy.

The family then spent three months in detention centres and were finally transferred to Melbourne on bridging visas.

High achievers at university and in the community, from left, Ghanieh, Mohammad and Zahra Daghagheleh.

Thriving in Melbourne

In Melbourne, the family have thrived with all three children becoming outstanding students.

Ghanieh, the eldest daugher, is passionate about medicine, health and saving lives.

“My long-term goal is to become a surgeon,” she says. She has just received offers from two universities to study for a Doctor of Medicine.

Ghanieh is close to completing a Bachelor of Midwifery/Bachelor of Nursing at VU with the help of the Asylum Seeker Scholarship Program and has been working at Royal Melbourne Hospital helping to care for ICU patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ghanieh is also the first asylum seeker refugee of Iranian heritage to qualify as a lifeguard in Australia and volunteers at Ambulance Victoria.

Zahra’s focus is education. She completed a Diploma of Teacher Education Preparation and applied for a scholarship to study a Bachelor of Education. Now in her second year of the four-year course, she hopes to follow it with a Master of Education.

“After a few years of teaching experience, I would like to work in the Department of Education, Skills and Employment developing resources for teachers and other educators,” Zahra says.

Mohammad became vice captain of his high school and graduated with academic excellence awards in three subjects and merits in two.

He was a finalist in the 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize, is an advocate for young asylum seekers’ rights, completing an Advanced Diploma of Legal Practice at VU Polytechnic.

Mohammad has been awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Melbourne and will be doing a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Politics and International Relations.

“I would love to work in the business law sector in the future. I aim to seek justice, promote equality and fight for the rights of our citizens,” he says.

How to help

To all our donors who support this life-changing scholarship program, we can’t thank you enough.

If you want to change the lives of students like the Daghagheleh siblings, you can donate at