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Countless students and doctoral candidates around the world are at risk of having their right to education and/or other basic rights revoked either formally or de facto in their country of origin due to their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or religious identity, or their political or civil society activism. Many of these young people are subject to multiple forms of discrimination and persecution, also known as intersectional discrimination. One of them is human rights activist Milad Ahmad Amanzai. He studied civil engineering at Kabul University until the Taliban came to power in August 2021. Thanks to the Hilde Domin Scholarship Programme from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), he can now resume his studies at Leipzig University.

Launched in 2021, this programme is coordinated at Leipzig University by Helen Matthey, where she works in the International Centre advising international students. She reviews whether the individuals fulfil the criteria to study in Germany and whether the degree programmes offered by Leipzig University match what they wish to study. “Since the programme was announced, we have received several hundred requests. Nearly all of them have been from Afghanistan, but some have also come from Turkey and recently we have also received more from Sudan. Unfortunately, many of these do not fulfil the very strict selection criteria for nominating potential candidates. It can be quite sobering to have to respond to all of the hopeful requests,” says Helen Matthey. In addition to the formal requirements such as transcripts of records and other documents, the nomination request for students and doctoral candidates also includes a description of their at-risk situation: “I get very disturbing proof of the way in which they are persecuted and what they have already experienced. This proof sometimes includes death threats sent in writing – from the Taliban, for example. Sometimes it is also sent in the form of photographs of attacks that they have survived. Or they describe in detail their flight from persecution and how frequently they change the location from which they send me the emails. Reading these tragic descriptions of people’s lives can be very difficult.” 

After the Taliban came to power, nothing in Afghanistan was as it should be.

Milad Ahmad Amanzai

Because of this, 19 July 2023 was a landmark day for the advisor: “On that day, I got an email from Milad from Afghanistan. I had suggested him for nomination and been in contact with him since January of last year. In the email, he told me that he had indeed been offered the scholarship. I must have read the email five times because I was sure there must be some mistake. It seemed nearly impossible that someone would actually come to Leipzig University through the programme.” 

Milad Ahmad Amanzai is a human rights activist and studied civil engineering at Kabul University until the Taliban came to power in August 2021. Thanks to the Hilde Domin Scholarship, he can now continue studying in Leipzig University’s International Physics Studies Program (Honours) BSc and will receive financial support for 3.5 years. The DAAD selected him for the scholarship due to his specialised background, his good grades, and his dedication to civil society in Afghanistan.

“After the Taliban came to power, nothing in Afghanistan was as it should be. I was in the middle of my studies and had to stop suddenly due to the situation. I tried very hard to look for another way to continue studying somewhere. That’s how I found the Hilde Domin Scholarship from the DAAD,” says Milad, who has lived in Leipzig since the beginning of April 2024. Before that he completed a four-month German course in Berlin. “I see my programme at Leipzig University as a completely new beginning. When I arrived here, the feeling was indescribable: both joy and relief. Now I’m free. I was under so much pressure and I can finally let it go. I’m very proud to be able to study here, since I know that it’s Germany’s second-oldest university and many renowned people are alumni,” says the 25-year-old. 

Leipzig to host another scholarship holder

Milad is slowly getting accustomed to his new life in Germany and is learning lots of new things even outside of his degree programme. For example, he said that he had never been on a train before arriving in Berlin, as they are only used to transport goods in Afghanistan. People usually take taxis because they’re very cheap. In the upcoming winter semester, the second Hilde Domin Scholarship recipient coming to Leipzig University will also able to benefit from Milad’s new experiences. Rahmatullah Azimi will study for an MBA in Small Enterprise Promotion and Training. “I’ve been in contact with Rahmatullah since June 2023. In May he’ll come to Germany for a German course. He holds a bachelor’s in Management Studies from the University of Delhi and is a civil activist, journalist and founder of a lot of different education institutions in Afghanistan that offer courses for girls and women who aren’t allowed to go to school. That makes him a promising student with a very suitable and diverse profile for the Small Enterprise Promotion and Training (SEPT) degree programme,” says Helen Matthey, whose challenging work as coordinator of the Hilde Domin Scholarship Programme at Leipzig University has paid off twice this year. 

The Hilde Domin Scholarship Programme was launched in 2021. It aims to give the students and doctoral candidates the opportunity to start or continue their studies in Germany so they can earn a degree at a German higher education institution. Each semester, the DAAD awards 25 of these scholarships across Germany. Potential candidates cannot apply independently for the scholarship programme. Instead, they have to be nominated by a higher education institution. The DAAD then selects suitable candidates based on the risk to the individuals and their academic performance.