I’ve spent two weeks in early May in New York and Washington as aguest of the Women’s Refugee Commission. This year I was awarded their annual ‘Voices of Courage’ award for my work with urban refugees in London. I was very excited and honoured to be recipient of this award on behalf of my colleagues and members of MRCF. It was a novel experience to be recognised for our achievements as we spend most of our time dealing with difficult situations and the experiences of our members and obstacles put in their way by a very hostile system. Don’t get me wrong, although life is tough for most refugees, they are survivors, and it is privilege to be able to support them on their journeys. The resilience of their survival is truly inspiring and I wish more people would appreciate the skills and knowledge they bring to our country.
My trip was amazing. Not only because I was treated like a proper VIP, but also because the culture and treatment of refugees in particular is very different in the US. Of course there are issues and problems with policy and support systems, but the impression I got is that majority of people and many institutions are much more proactive in welcoming refugees. I was especially surprised how many powerful business people support refugees and take pride in providing sanctuary for those fleeing persecution and wars. I found myself on the morning of the 3rd May ringing the bell at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange and promoting our cause amongst 126 million business people around the world.
The next day I was speaking at Microsoft’s headquarters in Washington, whose CEO told us how proud they are to be able to support refugees. Thomson Reuters’ foundation AlertNet, the corporate winner of the award this year, held a reception in our honour and the Financial Times published an advert congratulating me and my fellow honourees on our achievements. More than 450 campaigners, Hollywood celebrities, business and political elite packed the Awards Ceremony in New York where a cost of a table was $7,500 and all funds raised go to help work with refugees. The credit for organising all this and mobilising the support goes to the fantastic staff and trustees of the Women’s Refugee Commission. But I could not help feeling a little bit jealous that they do not have nasty tabloids and pressure groups poisoning public opinion with myths and half truths about refugees.
I came back completely regenerated. It was great to know that it is possible to have public opinion that welcomes refugees. I’ve learnt so much and I am looking forward to using this new energy and knowledge to continue our work in support of migrants and refugees in the UK.