AT the age of just 12 Gulwali Passarlay fled war-torn Afghanistan and embarked on a perilous year long journey which saw him cross 10 countries.

There were times when thought he would not survive.

Now, his journey has brought the inspirational teenage refugee to the gates of one of the country’s leading universities The 18-year-old, who lives in Lostock, is a student at the University of Manchester studying for a BA in politics and philosophy.

Gulwali, a former pupil at Essa Academy in Great Lever and Bolton Sixth Form College, fled with just the clothes on his back in 2006.

He was facing either being forced to join the Taliban or the NATO backed Afghan army.

His mother, Razbibi, urged him to make his way to England.

Members of his family, including his father Dr Shakrah Ahmed, were killed during the conflict — which made Gulwali a target.

After 12 months of hunger, illness, loneliness, a 50 hour sea crossing crammed below deck without food or drink with 100 other refugees in a space designed for 20, and a motorway journey clinging to a hot engine inside a lorry, he made it to the UK.

Gulwali arrived in 2006, penniless, not being able to speak English, and endured racism, loneliness and poverty.

But that did not deter him from giving up on his dreams of an education — and aspirations to return to Afghanistan as president.

As a sixth form student he was supported by the University of Manchester’s Access Programme and will receive the Opportunity Manchester Scholarship of £1,000 a year.

Gulwali said: “My mother knew that my life was in danger, so she told me I had to leave the country; it was so difficult for her to make this choice.

“I thought so many times I was going to die like many of the refugees I saw along the way. But I am certain it was the right thing to do.

“I can’t say enough how much I miss my family in Afghanistan. It is the most beautiful country in the world but because of the war it is also the most ugly.”

He added: “A levels were tough. I’d only completed four years of secondary level education and I was still learning English.

“The MAP programme involved a lot of work: I would attend the university every weekend on top of my A-level studies. But it was worth it in the end.

“University is the most important thing in my life right now — it will enable me to achieve my ultimate goal of going back to Afghanistan to help change my country for the better.

“You never know — one day I might even end up being President of my country.”

Gulwali is one of 15 young people, to join a Department for Education panel which scrutinizes how policy affects young people He became the first Afghan to take part in the Olympic Torch Relay.

Julian Skyrme, director of Social Responsibility at the University of Manchester said: “Congratulations to Gulwali, who has conquered so much to make it to the University of Manchester. His story should make us all feel rather humble.

“I am certain he will go on from strength to strength. Having conquered so much adversity and given so much back to the society which has become his new home, he certainly deserves to.”