Oxford place for refugee who fled war-torn Syria

Sulaiman Wihba who fled war torn Syrian in a refrigerated lorry to the UK had just been awarded a place at Oxford after completing his studies at Brighton College (Photograph: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures)
Sulaiman Wihba who fled war torn Syrian in a refrigerated lorry to the UK had just been awarded a place at Oxford after completing his studies at Brighton College (Photograph: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures)

A Syrian refugee living in Hove is celebrating after being offered a place at Oxford, two years after arriving in the UK in a frozen chip van.

Sulaiman Wihba, 20, learnt this week that he had been accepted by Oxford University’s Balliol College to read maths this autumn.

Sulaiman Wihba (far right) with brothers in Syria  (Photograph: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures)

Sulaiman Wihba (far right) with brothers in Syria (Photograph: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures)

Sulaiman achieved four A*s in his maths, further maths, physics and chemistry A levels last summer and was encouraged to apply to the top university by his teachers at Brighton College.

He said: “For me, this feels truly unbelievable. Who would have thought that 17-year-old me, jumping off a lorry when I arrived in the UK, could make it to Oxford? It’s been such a tough journey since I left the bombings and the bullets in Damascus but I wouldn’t change anything about it. I am also so grateful as I couldn’t have done any of this if it had not been for my parents and my teachers’ amazing support.”

Sulaiman was studying in Syria to go to university until the dangers of being in Damascus became too great and he and his family decided they had to leave in 2015.

Some days he said he would be trapped inside school while a gun battle raged outside, other times as bombs rained down, his mother, father and siblings would have to hide in the family bathroom, which, like many Syrian homes, was in the centre of the house, away from the windows and protected by the attic above.

Sulaiman Wihba who fled war torn Syrian in a refrigerated lorry to the UK had just been awarded a place at Oxford after completing his studies at Brighton College (Photograph: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures)

Sulaiman Wihba who fled war torn Syrian in a refrigerated lorry to the UK had just been awarded a place at Oxford after completing his studies at Brighton College (Photograph: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures)

Brighton College said he is matter-of-fact about the long and difficult route to safety, citing his route from Syria to Lebanon, then Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria then France, Calais and finally England, having successfully stowed away in a refrigerated lorry.

Now Sulaiman, his mother, father and two brothers are all settled into Hove life, with Sulaiman revealing a passion for rugby.

Richard Cairns, Brighton College headmaster, said: “Sulaiman has worked incredibly hard, in the face of great adversity, and he richly deserves this offer. We’re proud to have helped this remarkable young man attain his goal. He serves as a shining example to our other pupils of how perseverance and determination are rewarded. We know he will achieve great things in the future.”

More than 30 Brighton College pupils have been made offers to Oxbridge this week, the private school said.