Remzije Sherifi trained as an electrical engineer, but radio was her passion and she was one of the first female radio journalists in Kosova. She lost her job in 1992 as a result of the political persecution of Albanians at the time of the fall of Yugoslavia. As the war in the Balkans spread, and at the beginning of the western military intervention in Kosova, Remzije left her home to escape the fighting and was evacuated on medical grounds from a refugee camp in Macedonia. “As a consequence of ethnic cleansing during the war in Kosova in 1999 more then 90 % of Kosovan Albanians became refugees in different parts of the world.I was one of the lucky ones, with my 3 sons and husband to be evacuated by British troops to Scotland as medical evacuee. When we got to Glasgow, it was amazing to find people with smiles who were welcoming us. I didn’t speak any English but I could read the expressions on people’s faces.” says Remzije.
On arrival in Glasgow despite needing urgent treatment for cancer and not speaking any English she immediately began supporting fellow Kosovan families, women and their children to find their feet, keep busy and make links with the local community. Believing that the early years of schooling are the best time for people to learn to accept each other, she started projects with local schools. This is how Remzije remembers early days: “On arrival in Glasgow we immediately felt freedom for the first time ever. It was our second chance for life, especially for our children to have their childhood back, to be able to have education and build their future. Immediately, I started setting up activities for young people and for Kosovan woman, to celebrate and share the richness of our culture as a way of making links and building bridges with our Scottish neighbours. Integration should come from both sides; it is the only way to promote harmony and equality and respect. My passion was to build bonds between communities to encourage and celebrate cultural diversity.”
Remzije now runs Maryhill Integration Network (MIN) where three staff and 60 volunteers operate a diverse programme of weekly activities in health, learning and creativity to support and improve the lives of people from overseas as well as local Scottish people. She believes that the arts and storytelling are a powerful way to reach out and change attitudes, culminating in MIN publications and theatre productions and events at local, city‐wide and national levels, including the Scottish Parliament. She is also the mother of three sons and a grandmother.
Remzije’s community work has had a long term impact on the lives of hundreds of people who have needed a helping hand at the start of their new life in the UK. She is able to understand the traumatic experiences they have been through, and her support and example has inspired others who in turn have made new lives and passed on the lessons they have learned.
One of her supporters said : “I can testify personally to the difference that this support has made to me, my husband and children. I experienced the threat of deportation after being in the UK for 7 years, and that fear made me so terribly depressed. Remzije worked to challenge the UKBA decision. If I am here today enjoying my life with my family and granted leave to remain it is the result of the campaign and support that Remzije was part of. Her support continued after my family and I were granted leave to remain and it helped us to move on. I have now completed my college course, and am training as an adviser and counsellor, working with the Scottish Refugee Council. She has enabled me to support others in turn, passing on the skills and confidence I gained.”
Remzije offers hope for the future to the people she deals with, supporting individuals facing violence, homelessness, racism and destitution. She has established a service for women experiencing domestic abuse, offering support, counselling and advising them of their rights and introducing them to more specialist support services if required.
She is passionate about social justice and with her drive, networking skills, and passion, MIN is now established as a Third Party Reporting Centre for Strathclyde Police where MIN service users and the wider community can report a Hate Crime to trained staff.
Remzije is no stranger to awards, in 2009 she was the Winner of The Evening Times’ Glasgow Community Champion Public Service Individual Award and in 2010 Winner of The Evening Times’ Glasgow Community Champion of Champions Award. Remzije and MIN also received the prestigious Community Champion Award for Arts and Culture from the Scottish Minority Ethnic Achievement Committee.
Remzije has also written a book “Shadow Behind the Sun” which was published in 2007 and was shortlisted for the Saltire Prize. It recounts her experiences as a refugee and contains interviews with asylum seekers describing the conditions in which they live, placing them at the heart of the tragedy of exile.
“I’m very proud of our Kosovan children, who’ve done so well at school and have gone on to university to do masters and PhDs and are working as professionals such as lecturers, architects, interior designers, business managers, Pharmacists, nurses etc. It’s always a highlight to hear people say that our organisation is their second home, and that we’ve changed their lives for the better. That we’ve helped them to move on, gain new knowledge and skills, and to share their cultures with people from different backgrounds and offered them opportunities to give something back to Glasgow.” said Remzije.
photography by Jason Wen, Spot of Bother