let's make it happen written next to an image of Yaser

Yaser: From devastation to opportunity

Yaser Naseri was a born entrepreneur before he was forced to flee Iran.  A University of Sydney scholarship opened the door to a marketing career and a personal quest to mentor other refugees.

People on a half submerged boat in the ocean, with a rescue boat nearby. Yaser was rescued and taken to Indonesia. Photo credit: AFP

In 2011, Yaser was 29 years old, and living in fear in Iran. His involvement with the Green Movement, a civil liberties group protesting what many believed was the fraudulent election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had put his life at risk.

“Close friends were arrested. A few were killed,” recounts Yaser. “You never know when they’re going to come after you. I had to leave.” 

By December 17, 2011, he was on an overcrowded boat carrying 250 asylum seekers bound for Australia, when it capsized. Only 47 adults and children survived. They were detained in Indonesia for months and stuck in the country for several years. 

Yaser was eventually granted refugee status, then a visa for Australia. 

“I knew I wanted to go to uni, so I started a Certificate II in English at TAFE, and completed a Tertiary Preparation Course," he says. "Then came the good news that I was accepted into the University of Sydney’s Business School, with a scholarship.” 

Yaser in his graduation gown holds up his degree certificate, standing on the grass in the University of Sydney's Main Quadrangle.

Yaser secured a place through the University's Access Scholarship scheme, which supported him for the duration of his Bachelor of Commerce degree. 

“I actually cried a few times in lectures because I couldn’t believe I was there, thinking, ‘I should have died in the ocean, and now I’m here in one of the best universities in Australia.”

“The scholarship really helped me to manage everything with my studies. And I was able to use a bit I had put aside from working to see my family again after eight years,” Yaser says. “It was the last time I saw my mum before she passed away.” 

His graduation ceremony, Yaser says, “was like a dream come true. I thought, ‘Wow, if I did that, what else could I do?’”  

As it turns out, quite a bit. Throughout his degree, CareerSeekers, a non-profit that supports refugees and asylum seekers, helped Yaser line up internships with companies like Qantas.  He now works full time in marketing with Wesfarmers. And he also visits companies to share his inspiring story of survival and the benefits of employing refugees – donating his time through organisations that supported him.  

As a Refugee Council of Australia's ambassador, Yaser also has spoken at company events, including for Microsoft, KPMG, and Social Good Summit Australia. His vision is to empower more skilled refugees to become tomorrow's leaders in Australia and beyond.

“I also plan to write a book on my experience, and I’d like to own my own business, maybe a cafe, or a marketing company. I don’t know yet but it’s a goal.” 


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