NUIG documentary tells story of Professor’s journey from refugee to cancer research scientist

galway daily news nui galway professor in documentary about his life
Professor Afshin Samali with his mother Susan Golroo-Oaimmaqami and his stepfather Iranpour Qaimmaqami. Credit – Sean Lydon.

NUI Galway has launched a short documentary telling the story of Professor Samali, Professor for Cancer Biologya at the University, who came to Ireland as a refugee in his late teens in 1985.

From Tehran to Galway: Professor Afshin Samali’s journey from refugee to cancer research scientist’ 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 hopes to inspire the 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 1985 the Samali family began their new life in Sligo.

“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,” said Professor Samali.

“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 that 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,” he said.

“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.”

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