NUI Galway documentary highlights Professor’s journey from refugee to cancer research scientist

Professor Afshin Samali with his mother Susan Golroo-Oaimmaqami and his stepfather Iranpour Qaimmaqami. Credit – Sean Lydon.
May 10 2022 Posted: 09:08 IST

NUI Galway has launched a short documentary - ‘From Tehran to Galway: Professor Afshin Samali’s journey from refugee to cancer research scientist’.   

The production tells the story of Professor Samali, Professor for Cancer Biology at NUI Galway, who came to Ireland as a refugee in his late teens in 1985. 

The short film highlights Professor Samali’s family’s experience escaping a conflict zone and their integration into Irish society.  

In highlighting Professor Samali’s story, NUI Galway - a designated University of Sanctuary - hopes to inspire its community to be more accepting of cultural differences, open to new experiences and to better participate in welcoming our diverse community.  

Professor Samali was born in Iran and is a member of the Baháʼí faith which advocates peace and unity and equality between men and women. As one of the Baháʼí leaders, Afshin’s stepfather was wanted by the authorities where he potentially faced imprisonment and execution, like other Baháʼí leaders. 

Rather than denounce their religion, Afshin’s family abandoned their privileged life, raising money to pay smugglers to take them from Iran, navigating traitorous mountains, ravines and deserts, and negotiating with boarder control to Pakistan where they registered as refugees with UNHCR. As part of a group of 26 refugees, Afshin’s family as were resettled in Ireland in response to Ireland's humanitarian remit, and in December in 1985 the Samali family began their new life in Sligo. 

Professor Samali said “I believe that we have interlinked responsibilities both to work on our own personal development and progress, and to collaborate with each other towards the betterment of our society. Education plays a central role in this dual moral responsibility as we develop our core values and a common vision for the type of society we want to live in. This belief has been a guiding compass in my personal journey.” 

As a University of Sanctuary, NUI Galway has many entrance pathways and opportunities in higher education to support and inspire refugees. 

In launching the documentary, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President of NUI Galway, said: “The history of Ireland is a history of refugees. When NUI Galway was founded in 1845, Ireland was facing challenging times and our university made a profound and positive difference since in the progress of our region, the development of our nation and in international citizenship and human rights. Today, we continue that contribution of kindness by welcoming refugees to our university. The sharing of experiences enhances and positively changes both their lives and ours, as a university, as a community and as individuals. 

“Consistent with our university’s values of Openness and Respect, Afshin’s journey as a refugee, illustrated so vividly in this documentary, is a truly inspiring example for all our students and staff alike. He has made an excellent contribution here, sustaining our mission in research, teaching and engagement. We are a better place for his presence and thank him for being here with us.”   

Associate Professor Mary Dempsey, Vice Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, College of Science and Engineering, said: “Afshin’s academic contribution to our university has enriched both learning and research. His personal contribution has reinforced our core values and the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. 

“The College of Science and Engineering remains committed to supporting our University of Sanctuary scholars and as part of our Diversity initiative, highlighting role models such as our inspirational colleague Afshin, whilst giving our students a safe space, hope and an impetus to succeed.”

‘From Tehran to Galway: Professor Afshin Samali’s journey from refugee to cancer research scientist’ can be view at


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