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The Young Woman of the Year was awarded to Shrouk El-Attar, an engineering student at Cardiff University. Leaving her native Egypt at 15, Shrouk was eventually granted refugee status on the basis of her sexuality, but was separated from her family when her mother, sister and brother were refused asylum and deported following a dawn raid by UK immigration officers. Shrouk was unable to access higher education for the several years it took for her asylum case to be processed. She then faced the challenge of paying international tuition fees. Now, with three speeches at Parliament under her belt, Shrouk works tirelessly to support equal educational access for asylum seekers and refugees and also advocates for the rights of LGBTI+ people.

“To apply for asylum, I somehow had to prove in graphic detail that I am queer,” said Shrouk at the ceremony. “It was a really difficult and upsetting experience. It’s emotionally and mentally draining for me to speak about these experiences, so if I’m going to do it, it’s not going to go to waste!” Shrouk has successfully campaigned to improve access to education for those granted discretionary leave or humanitarian protection. Via her work with Equal Access and Student Action for Refugees (STAR), Shrouk has already succeeded in getting tuition waivers for asylum seekers studying at Cardiff University and hopes to extend this across Wales, making it the first country to offer equal access education to asylum seekers. “No one understands the importance of education better than a refugee or asylum-seeker,” she said.

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