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Culturally and linguistically diverse, Education Training

Syrian-born refugee forges career in medical science, inspiring other refugee students with SSI Allianz scholarship success

SSI 4 mins read
Simon Issa, refugee scholarship recipient, receiving his university degree.

Refugee students have today received vital funds to pursue their education, under a scholarships program that nurtures the aspirations of refugees like scientist Simon Issa, who is changing lives after receiving a scholarship back in 2016.   

Allianz Australia and not-for-profit SSI have awarded 34 deserving refugee students with SSI Allianz Refugee Scholarships, which supports refugees and people seeking asylum to overcome the added financial barriers they experience in secondary school, vocational education, university, skills, and qualifications recognition.  

Syrian-born Simon received this scholarship back in 2016. Nearly a decade later, he is giving back to the community as a clinical measurement scientist at Queensland Health, changing the lives of patients in the regional Queensland town of Mackay.  

“As a refugee, I came to Australia with absolutely no money on me.  My family had just come straight out of war, and we had to sell everything we owned to get here. We didn't have enough to cover my education.  

“When my parents found out about the scholarship, they were so proud; I could see it in my father’s eyes. He had been so upset when I couldn’t go to school as refugees in Lebanon.”  

With the support of the scholarship, Simon pursued undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in medical science. He received an academic excellence award from his university for his achievements.   

This year’s recipients gathered to celebrate their achievements today at Allianz’s Sydney office.  

Since 2016, the program has awarded over 280 refugee education scholarships, totalling more than $700,000. This year, scholarships were awarded to 34 people from 15 different cultural backgrounds, including Syrian, Ukrainian, Ezidi, Congolese, and Burmese.  

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the partnership demonstrates a shared commitment to empowering and supporting newly arrived communities to realise their full potential.  

“People with refugee background face several challenges in pursuing their education. In particular, the increasing cost of living has adversely impacted newly arrived students, who are facing challenges in managing their studies and the cost of rising living expenses. By working with organisations, such as Allianz and other community partners, we aim to offer support to students in their educational pursuits,” she said.  

Allianz Australia Chief Financial, Nathan Fink, said the partnership brings benefits to both the recipients and community.  

"Allianz Australia is proud to provide financial support to help people with refugee background with their education and skills recognition. We have seen how helping them gain local qualifications hugely benefits these deserving people and can also help alleviate Australia's national skills shortage,” he said.  

“Our collaboration with SSI over the years has seen us fund scholarships for almost 300 individuals from a refugee background and provide permanent jobs within Allianz for 36 skilled migrants. We look forward to following the journeys of these latest scholarship recipients,” he said.  

The Allianz and SSI partnership has been recognised by the Australian Human Rights Commission, awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission Business Award in 2017.  

For more information, visit here.  

Simon’s full story:

At 20 years old, Syrian-born Simon Issa was awarded an SSI Allianz Refugee Education Scholarship in 2016.  

Since he was little, Simon has been a high-achieving student with a passion for helping others and a dream to pursue a career in medicine and health. 

As a young boy, Simon was forced to leave Syria with his family when the civil war broke out. They lived as refugees in Lebanon for two years.  

Simon was not allowed to continue his high school studies while living in Lebanon, so he worked two jobs every day for those two years. His mornings were spent working in a shoe shop, while his evenings were spent in a chocolate factory.  

Shortly after arriving in Australia with his family, Simon received the scholarship that provided him with the launch pad he needed to follow his dreams.  

“When my parents found out about the scholarship, they were so proud; I could see it in my father’s eyes,” Simon said. “Dad had been so upset when I couldn’t go to school in Lebanon.  

“As a refugee, I came here with absolutely no money on me. I was still young, and I didn’t have any savings. My family couldn’t financially support me either, we had just come straight out of war. We had to sell everything we owned to get here. We didn't have enough to cover my education in Australia.”  

Simon described the scholarship as a great stepping stone in his life, allowing him to pursue his degrees and focus on his studies with less financial stress.  

“The scholarship helped me a lot. I bought lots of textbooks for all my subjects and a computer — that helped a lot.”  

Simon went on to study medical science at the University of Western Sydney and completed his postgraduate studies in clinical physiology. In 2022, he was honoured with an academic excellence award from his university.  

Now, nearly 30 years old, Simon has established a successful career as a clinical measurement scientist at Queensland Health, based in the regional town of Mackay. His work involves conducting diagnostic studies for medical investigations.  

Simon continues to chase big dreams. "I am so grateful for where I am in my career. I am always looking forward to what’s next, exploring ways to grow and develop further, and finding new ways to help others."  

Simon is continuing his studies, enrolling in a master's in medical science to deepen his knowledge and further develop his skills in his field.   

He has a message to this year’s scholarship recipients, and other young refugees pursuing their education in Australia:  

“Don’t stop. When an obstacle comes up, and there will be many, just keep powering through. Keep fighting and don’t give up. If you’ve made it as a refugee to this beautiful country, you can make it through the long journey to set up your future here." 


About us:

About SSI:

Settlement Services International (SSI) delivers a range of human services that connect individuals, families, and children from diverse backgrounds with opportunities - including settlement support, disability programs, community engagement initiatives and training and employment pathways. At the heart of everything we do is a drive for equality, empathy, and celebration of every individual.  


Contact details:

Jordan Wise, Communications Officer 
M: 0431 601 120  E: jwise@ssi.org.au

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