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Man granted visa to see son collect doctorate says he is 'in a dream'

The 79-year-old father of the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council has said he felt he was “in a dream” as he watched his son receive an honorary doctorate from Glasgow University, after the Home Office initially refused to grant him a visit visa.

The department reversed its decision on Sabir Zazai’s father after the Guardian highlighted his case, following a public outcry and repeated questions in parliament.

Zazai described the event, which took place on Wednesday morning, as “absolutely amazing”. He said: “With my dad, as well as all my friends and colleagues around, it is a brilliant day.”

Mohammad Zahir Zazai attended the ceremony, held in the Gothic revivalist grandeur of Glasgow University’s Bute Hall, wearing traditional Afghan dress. He was accompanied by five grandchildren, who he had met for the first time this week.

He said: “I feel like I am in a dream. It is a dream to see my grandchildren. I thank everyone for the support and solidarity in helping me to make sure I see my grandchildren.”

Zazai, a refugee, is a personal friend of the bishop of Coventry and the chair of City of Sanctuary UK. The case of his father was taken up by numerous MPs and public figures.

Presenting Zazai for an honorary doctorate for his services to civil society over the last 20 years, Prof Alison Phipps, Unesco’s refugee integration chair, described the journey from his conflict-ravaged birthplace to the UK, where arrived in 1999 aged 22.

Phipps said: “If you arrive from war, separated from your family, claim asylum in the UK, in a hostile environment, are told, quite literally, by border agents responsible for dispersal, that you are being “sent to Coventry”, you are not going to have a straightforward story.”

At the ceremony, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Katharine Viner, also received an honorary doctorate of letters. Presenting Viner for her degree, Prof Michele Burman described her appointment in 2015 as the first female editor of the Guardian in its 194-year history as “a great testament to Katharine’s journalistic skills, energy, wide-ranging knowledge and experience, and professionalism in her craft”.

Burman said Viner’s editorship had seen her “championing critical independent journalism, encouraging reader engagement and positioning the Guardian at the forefront of digital news provision”.

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