Women on the Move Awards 2018: Celebrating remarkable refugee and asylum-seeking women

This year’s Women on the Move Awards celebrated a young Egyptian refugee campaigning for education access, and two women championing the rights of vulnerable families in asylum accommodation in Halifax.

Presented by Migrants Organise in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the 2018 awards ceremony took place on March 9th at London’s Southbank Centre. Now in its seventh year, the Awards aim to recognise and celebrate the inspirational leadership and exceptional contributions of migrant and refugee women to UK society.

Hosted by the BBC journalist Samira Ahmed, the awards were presented by the actor Gwendoline Christine (Star Wars, Game of Thrones); Jude Kelly, CBE, artistic director of the Southbank Centre and founder of WOW – Women of the World; the BBC’s Nick Guthrie; and Laura Padoan from UNHCR. Acclaimed British singer-songwriter Laura Mvula performed at the ceremony.

Woman of the Year 2018

The main award this year recognised two women, Florence Kahuro and Veeca Smith. Overcoming significant personal challenges, Florence and Vee have worked closely together to champion the rights of vulnerable families living in asylum accommodation in Halifax. Through their organisation, Sisters United, the duo are fighting to improve housing conditions and help refugees settle into their new lives. They take people to hospital, register their children for school meals, organise toy collections and help find school uniforms for families who can’t afford them. Each week, they help 50 women of 17 nationalities, including a homeless British woman.

Brimming with energy, confidence, and hope, Florence and Veeca are incredible connectors and organisers. They have successfully built bridges between people and institutions in Halifax, creating a supportive and informative network, and redefining what community means.

Accepting the award for Sisters United, Florence Kahuro said: “We want to give women hope so they don’t give up. We want to be in all the cities in the UK, we want to go global. We want people to understand the struggle that women go through and to show that people should treat everybody the same whether they are an asylum-seeker, refugee, or someone else. We are all the same.”

Young Woman of the Year 2018

The Young Woman of the Year was awarded to Shrouk El-Attar, an engineering student at Cardiff University. Leaving her native Egypt at 15, Shrouk was eventually granted refugee status on the basis of her sexuality, but was separated from her family when her mother, sister and brother were refused asylum and deported following a dawn raid by UK immigration officers. Shrouk was unable to access higher education for the several years it took for her asylum case to be processed. She then faced the challenge of paying international tuition fees. Now, with three speeches at Parliament under her belt, Shrouk works tirelessly to support equal educational access for asylum seekers and refugees and also advocates for the rights of LGBTI+ people.

“To apply for asylum, I somehow had to prove in graphic detail that I am queer,” said Shrouk at the ceremony. “It was a really difficult and upsetting experience. It’s emotionally and mentally draining for me to speak about these experiences, so if I’m going to do it, it’s not going to go to waste!” Shrouk has successfully campaigned to improve access to education for those granted discretionary leave or humanitarian protection. Via her work with Equal Access and Student Action for Refugees (STAR), Shrouk has already succeeded in getting tuition waivers for asylum seekers studying at Cardiff University and hopes to extend this across Wales, making it the first country to offer equal access education to asylum seekers. “No one understands the importance of education better than a refugee or asylum-seeker,” she said.

Presenting Shrouk’s award was Ms. Christie, the actor. “I am proud to recognise the achievement of women who make a huge difference to our society, despite the extremely difficult situations they’ve experienced”, she said.

The Champion Award

The Champion Award was presented to Jem Stein, founder of the Bike Project in south London, which since 2013 has been taking second-hand bikes, fixing them up and donating them to more than 3,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Via Pedal Power, the project’s cycling proficiency programme specifically for refugee women, 122 women have attended a cycling class and 48 have credited from the full training and taken a bike home. In the process, these women have improved their physical and emotional well-being; built skills and confidence both on their bikes and in other areas of their lives; got fit; made friends; and saved more than £1,000 a year in transport costs.

The Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award

The Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award went to Manveen Rana for her BBC Radio 4 series following a Syrian refugee family over the course of their journey to Europe. ‘A New Life in Europe: The Dhnie Family’ documented both the tumult of the family’s journey to safety as well as the challenges they experienced while adjusting in their new country. A humanising, honest and moving account of modern migration, the series added important nuance and depth to the often sensationalised media reporting on refugee issues.

Zrinka Bralo, CEO of Migrants Organise, spoke at the end of the ceremony, outlining the dangers of the ‘hostile environment’ policies that the government is implementing in order to make life for migrants in the UK as difficult as possible and calling people to action. “Our winners tonight have shown us that we all have the power to create change. We can and must do more,” she said.

Speaking ahead of her powerful performance of the song “She”, which concluded the event, Ms. Mvula said: “I am delighted to perform at the Women on the Move Awards and to help celebrate refugee women. Their remarkable strength and determination are an inspiration to us all.”

For more information about the Women on the Move Awards, please visit: http://womenonthemoveawards.org.uk/

Visit the following links to view videos on the work of the 2018 Women on the Move Award winners: Florence Kahuro and Veeca Smith Uka, Shrouk El-Attar, and Jem Stein. You can also listen to the work of BBC journalist Manveen Rana, winner of this year’s Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award. 

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