Update – Crowdfunding Campaign to Help Dying University of Southampton PhD Student Back Home Is Successful!


A crowdfunding campaign launched in the past week to help a gravely ill University of Southampton PhD student get back home in time to see her husband and 8 year-old son in Iraq before it’s too late, has been successful and even exceeded its fundraising target of £56,538 by more than £5,000.

University of Southampton PhD student Arij Altai, 38, was due to return to Iraq in September with her son and husband, but was too ill to travel by normal passenger plane having developed terminal cancer. Ms Altai was first diagnosed with secondary breast cancer back in February, but her condition had deteriorated to the extent that by the time her visa had expired, she had been admitted to Southampton General Hospital with terminal cancer with the cancer having spread to her bones, lymphatic system and lungs. She was soon to be transferred to a hospice as her condition had deteriorated further.

A crowdfunding campaign was set up on GoFundMe by Deborah Fulcher Cornah to raise the estimated costs required to fund a medical flight home to Iraq. As of Wednesday afternoon at 15:10pm, £29,141 had been raised out of the total sought of £56,538, with nearly £8,000 raised in the previous hour and a half alone. Donations have poured in since then with the target successfully reached and exceeded by more than £2,000.

As of 21:30pm on 31st October, a total of 1,394 people had donated across the four days since the appeal’s launch, raising £58,589. However, donations still continued beyond this point to the extent that by 23:30pm on 2nd November, the total raised had reached £62,020.

Ms Fulcher Cornah has posted on the GoFundMe page a video to thank everyone, describing Wednesday as ‘quite an incredible day’. She also explained that the next stage in getting Arij Altai home will be the medical paperwork required, but added that the flight company in question was ready to transport Ms Altai home.

In a previous update when the scale of donations started to become apparent, Ms Fulcher Cornah said how any possible extra funds raised would be put to use:

…I never thought I’d have to write this, but in the event that we raise more money than is actually needed for the medical flight, we will give every bit of cash that is left over to Ahmed and Areej to pay for medical care back in Iraq, supporting Ali through school, other medical, personal and practical costs, etc.  Thank you for your support.

Deborah Fulcher Cornah originally stated on the crowdfunding page that:

Areej’s wish is to get home to Iraq to be with her family. Her husband has managed to get back from Iraq to accompany her home and the aim is to do this as soon as possible. Until yesterday, we were still hoping and trying to plan for taking a regular flight to Iraq next weekend (along with oxygen, medications, etc.). However, as Areej’s condition has worsened, her entire medical team are in agreement that she is too unwell to fly on a regular flight and that there is a high risk of complications or death.

The only option remaining to us is a medical flight, which we would have to fund privately.

It was later explained on the page that following extensive research, the best quote available for a fully medically-equipped flight from Southampton to Baghdad, Iraq was £56,538.00.

Credit: Deborah Fulcher Cornah.

Arij Altai and her husband Ahmed came to the UK in 2013 with their son Ali, to both study for a PhD in linguistics at the University of Southampton. Their visas and sponsorship expired in September, forcing Ms Altai’s husband and son to return to Iraq, while Ms Altai was unable to accompany them due to the deterioration in her health.

According to the BBC, Ms Altai has said:

I don’t want to die now, before I see my son and can be with him.

In an update on the GoFundMe page this morning explaining why Ms Altai’s son couldn’t come to the UK instead, Ms Fulcher Cornah said that attempts had been made, ‘liaising with the the UK and Iraqi Governments requesting that Ahmed and Ali could stay in the UK when it became obvious that Areej’s condition was deteriorating‘. However, ‘no progress’ was made with either government, other than Ahmed being allowed to return for a short time last week due to his wife’s condition getting worse.

Ms Fulcher Cornah also cited other factors as to why seeking to send Ms Altai home was the aim rather than bringing her son and husband here, including concerns about further disruption to Ali’s schooling, the need for the family to return to Iraq to fulfil their PhD sponsorship ‘obligations in paid employment’ and how it was Arij Altai’s ‘wish to go home’.

As well as donating funds, a number of other ways to help Ms Altai return home were listed towards the bottom of the crowdfunding post, including encouraging people to share the story via social media, contact if you know anyone in the medical flight industry who may be able to help, and/or if you know anyone at the University of Southampton who could provide assistance.

Should Ms Altai’s condition deteriorate further to the extent that a medical flight is no longer possible, Ms Fulcher Cornah states on the fundraising page that her default position will be to refund ‘unless told otherwise’ by those who donate.

If you would like to still make a donation to the crowdfunding campaign, please click here.


Editor 2018-19 | International Editor 2017/18. Final year Modern History and Politics student from Bedford. Drinks far too much tea for his own good.

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