After arriving in Hyderabad from Gaza Strip, the first thing that Mohammed Ahmed Alsaiqali wanted to see was the Golconda Fort. The rugged old rock castle reminded him of his war-torn country's landscape. He has left that behind and arrived here with a hope for a better future. The next most enticing place for him is his place of study — Osmania University.
Like him, many other students from war—torn countries are increasingly turning to Hyderabad for their higher studies.
Another student, Masood Zalmai, who has come to study linguistics in Hyderabad from Kabul, shares, "There's nothing left in my country. Peace and safety do not exist. Our family did not move to Pakistan like other families. During the Soviet occupation, the civil war started, and I lost many family members in one of the attacks. I took up small jobs and somehow kept on studying. Now, here I am in Hyderabad, studying with nationals from other countries. I feel safe here."
Post—Taliban era life is still very difficult in Afghanistan. It is slowly recuperating from the troubled times of militancy and civil war. "You can see girls studying in the makeshift refugee classrooms. But the teachers are not that really qualified," Zalmai adds.
Many foreign students from Middle East, Central Asia and Africa find India an economical destination for higher studies, and at the same time, it is peaceful and calm.Ahmed Fuad Musawa from Yemen, who is studying Masters in English Literature, says, "The situation in Yemen is not stable. There's a crisis and it has affected everyone big time. I don't know how the situation will be when I go back to my country. The teachers in my country have studied here. I heard a lot about Hyderabad and India from my teachers in Yemen, and that's why I am here."
Each year, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) gives over 3,000 scholarships to foreign students, especially from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Yemen, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Syria and African countries. G Laxmi, the regional er of ICCR at Hyderabad, says, "For the current academic year, we have received 1,500 confirmed admission applications based on scholarships. Moreover, the education ministries of these countries choose universities in Hyderabad as the preferred study destination. The scholarships take care of the students' travel, rent, tuition fees and everything else as well as their stipend." Mir Ahmad Zabih from Afghanistan, who is pursuing MA in political science from Osmania University says, "I received a stipend of Rs 11,000 after I received the scholarship. I can relate to the culture very well. Many students from my country are here and we share a rented flat in Habsiguda which is easy for our budget."
Hyderabad is an island of peace for Alsaiqali in contrast to Gaza. He still shivers while narrating the bombardment of Gaza. "Education was out of question. 'Life' was the first priority. When I came to India in 1989, getting a permission to study wasn't easy. I landed here and experienced what peace is. Our cultures are so similar, so I didn't feel out of place here. I eventually got married to an Indian woman here and have children too.However, I am still worried about my family in Gaza Strip and tribe who have to live in fear," he says, adding, "After Pune, Hyderabad is the second most favoured city for us." At present, he is completing his PhD in Microbiology from OU. One can see a huge crowd of students from different nations flocking the University Foreign Relations Office (UFRO), Osmania University. C Venugopal Rao, the director informs, "Students from Iraq and African countries like Sudan face a lot of visa problems. We extend the duration for them so that they can continue their studies. This year, we have received 450 scholarship applications for OU."
Many such students choose to study Masters and then enroll for a doctorate. Some of them are in their mid or late 30s. Thanks to the volatile political situation in their country, they do not get a chance to study further.
Ali Hashim Muhammadi from Iraq informs, "This is my only chance to study. Because of the crisis in Iraq, I had to wait for a long time. Most of the instructors and teachers have fled from my country." He sighs, "We hope for the best, but the reality appears to be different."