AN inspirational refugee who travelled through eight countries to escape war-torn Afghanistan when he was 12 years old has just graduated from one of the country's top universities.

Gulwali Passarlay, who started a new life in the Bolton after fleeing is war-torn homeland, has graduated in Philosophy and Politics from the University of Manchester.

In 2006, at the age of 12 Gulwali was facing the stark choice of becoming a child soldier for the Taliban or the NATO-backed army.

Many members of his family, including his father, had been killed during the Afghan war, which also made the young boy a target.

His mother urged him to make his way to England, so he fled for his life with just the clothes on his back.

Gulwali endured an unimaginably difficult year of solitary hardship on the road, with hunger, illness, a terrifying 50-hour sea crossing in darkness with 100 other refugees and a motorway journey clinging to a hot engine inside a lorry.

When he finally made it to the UK, his troubles were not over. Penniless and speaking no English, he endured months of racism, loneliness and poverty.

However, despite the huge difficulties he has faced, he has gone on to achieve remarkable success and is now looking forward to the future.

Gulwali finished his schooling at Essa Academy in Great Lever and it was when he was at Bolton Sixth Form College his potential was spotted by the University’s Manchester Access Programme (MAP), which supports talented year 12 students.

Thanks to MAP’s support, he was able to achieve his required A-level grades to take a BA in Politics and Philosophy, and also received a scholarship funded by the Ross Warburton Charitable Trust.

While he has been a student, he has hosted his own TedX talk, has spoken at many schools about refugee rights, was on a Department for Education panel which scrutinises how policy affects young people, and was the first Afghan ever to take part in the Olympic Torch Relay.

Since completing his studies, he has released a book called The Lightless Sky, charting his journey from refugee to graduate.

His commitments meant he could not attend his graduation ceremony over the summer but was back for the winter graduate ceremonies, where he watched by his foster family.

Gulwali, aged 22, said: "I never thought I would graduate and I have my degree, I'm really pleased.

"I also received the Distinguished Achiever of the Year Award."

Gulwali now hopes to go on to work with charities who are supporting and empowering refugees, and to work with UNHCR, using his experiences and studies to influence policy makers on their response to the refugee crisis.

Eventually, he would like to return to Afghanistan, and to play a part in rebuilding his country by working for peace and prosperity.

He said: "It has been an amazing yet challenging three years, but thanks to the help and support of university staff, I have managed to achieve my honour.

"I have no doubt that the knowledge, connections and friendships I have made whilst studying will stay with me for a long time. Thank you to Manchester for such a wonderful time of fulfilment and achievements.

"After graduation, I will continue to speak up for the voiceless and gave a human face to the statistics and numbers we hear from the media about refugees. I am determined to make sure justice is done and we welcome people who flee wars, conflicts and injustice with dignity and respect."