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Refugee university scholarship graduate establishes financial independence in Fiji


Refugee university scholarship graduate establishes financial independence in Fiji

Access to education and employment opportunities have enabled Sebastian to rebuild his life after being forced to flee.
20 June 2024
Sebastian smiles into the camera

Four years after arriving in Fiji as a refugee, Sebastian says he and his wife, Inakka, no longer need UNHCR financial support to get by.

"We can do it, we manage it… I can pay the rental and everything, all the expenses I can manage here," Sebastian says.

Inakka and Sebastian smile at the camera with arms around each other

Inakka (left) and Sebastian (right) standing in the driveway of the flat complex they now call home.

For a short time after his arrival to Fiji, Sebastian was one of the recipients of UNHCR's exceptional Cash Based Interventions support, which aims to provide emergency financial assistance to protect particularly vulnerable displaced people. 

"You [UNHCR] can use the money for other people who are struggling."

Standing proudly beside a shiny red fridge, symbolic of the couple’s newfound independence, Sebastian smiles as he shares that he's enjoying the freedom that comes with having a regular, reliable, income.

"[The fridge] it’s brand new… I got that money salary set, so I paid the instalment."

Education and Employment Accessibility

Sebastian was the first refugee to receive the Pacific Higher Education Scholarship, a program established and funded through UNHCR and its Australian national fundraising body, Australia for UNHCR.

Scholarship programmes that support refugees are vital for both refugees and the communities that host them – enabling forcibly displaced students access to education, secure employment and contribute to the community.

Having received support for tuition fees, study materials and living expenses through the scholarship, in 2023 Sebastian graduated from the University of the South Pacific with a Diploma of Accounting. He says the degree gave him the edge he needed to get into the workforce.

"It was helpful for me because most of the education… it is linked with the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific region, that was the experience for me. That's what helps inform my job here."

Despite overcoming integration challenges like navigating the local language barrier, Sebastian attributes his success to Fiji’s strong sense of community.

Sebastian smiles into the distance

Sebastian reflecting on finding a job after graduating.


"Support has been life-changing for us... open-hearted acceptance has provided us with a sanctuary to rebuild our lives. Fiji has become our new home, a place where we have found peace and security."


Sebastian is now employed fulltime working as an accountant.

Inspired by her husband's determination, Inakka applied for the same scholarship to fulfil her dream of working in the beauty industry. 

Her application was successful and she's now studying a Certificate in Beauty Therapy and a Certificate in Hairdressing at Fiji National University.

While one day Inakka would like to open her own salon, for now her priority is working towards becoming a make-up artist. 

"I love this particular area of study. Make-up matters. Because I'm a woman, I would like to help other women... providing beauty services that can help others feel confident and beautiful."

"I’m really proud," Sebastian says – beaming at his wife. "Because when I see, this year she started the study, the hairdressing and beauty, you have more freedom studying here."

Inakka smiles into the camera

Inakka embracing her beauty in the front garden.

"I'm really proud and very happy because I'm learning this trade," Inakka says. "The only problem is the English, the language, but the teachers very compassionate in helping me with that."

Nobody chooses to be a refugee

Sebastian says he wishes people understood that nobody wants to become a refugee.

"Nobody wants to leave their country," Sebastian explains.

"We were forced to leave due to circumstances beyond our control."

On June 20, Sebastian spoke at the first ever World Refugee Day event in Fiji about how access to education and employment opportunities has provided he and Inakka a chance to rebuild their lives with dignity and pride.

"We stand before you with immense gratitude. To the Fiji Government, Australia for UNHCR and the UNHCR Regional Representation for Australia New Zealand and the Pacific, your support has been life-changing for us and many others seeking asylum," Sebastian said.

"You have given us more than just refuge; you have given us hope and a path forward. Your dedication to our education and employment opportunities has empowered us to dream again. Thanks to you, we have gained valuable skills, secured meaningful jobs, and are leading peaceful, productive lives."