Women on the Move Awards Ceremony #IWD2019

photos by Beth Crosland

On Friday 8th March 2019, the International Women’s Day,  we celebrated exceptional migrant and refugee women, their champions and journalist who tell their stories.  The eight annual Women on the Move Awards Ceremony, presented by Migrants Organise and UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, as part of the Women of the World Festival, was once again hosted by the journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed at the Royal Festival Hall and it was opened by interpretive dance by South Coast Collabo from Portsmouth. The performance is inspired by the story of Doaa Al Zamel, a young Syrian refugee, one of 11 survivors who were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea after a fishing boat crammed with 500 refugees capsized in an attempt o get to Europe in 2015.

The Champion of the Year –  Jessica Potter

Dr Jessica Potter, lung specialist, PhD candidate and campaigner for equal access to healthcare for all. Jessica’s work and campaigning ranges from writing articles, organising actions with Docs Not Cops, coordinating the Medact Refugee Group, conducting PhD research in the area, mobilising Royal College and healthcare unions. The Champion Award was presented  by Jude Kelly, OBE, founder of the WoW Festival and now independent WoW Foundation. In the past eight years she staged 49 Women of the World festivals, in 23 countries, over five continents, featuring talks, debates, performances and activism involving more than two million people. In 2018 Jessica worked on establishing a pilot campaign against NHS charging in Bart’s Health, because as she puts it:

“As a doctor I want to see patients, not passports. I want to be a caregiver not a border guard.” 

For more information about the access to healthcare campaign please visit the #PatientsNotPassports website. 

Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award – Amelia Gentleman 

This year the media award for the best reporting in the area of immigration went to The Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman whose investigative journalism unearthed the scandalous treatment of Windrush citizens and highlighted a broken immigration system, resulting in the resignation of the Home Secretary at the time. It has raised awareness, influenced public policy and paved the way for others to draw attention to hostile environment policies affecting thousands of peop

The award is named after the late Sue Lloyd-Roberts, an exceptional journalist whose work epitomises the journalistic values of objectivity and integrity and who was also one of the winners of the WOMA Media Award in 2013. The award was presented by Sue’s husband, Nick Guthrie, BBC Executive Producer and Editor of Dateline London, who has worked for BBC news and current affairs for almost 50 years and Chrisann Jarrett, founder of the Let Us Learn campaign for equal access to higher education for young people, who like herself at the time, could not access it due to their immigration status. In 2015 she won Young Woman on the Move Award for this inspiring work. In her introduction Chrisann said: “The dignity and sensitivity with which Amelia kept telling their stories made them all human to us. So we now know Sarah O’Connor, Anthony Bryan, Paulette Wilson and Sylvester Marshal, to mention just a few.  Amelia  is one of those reporters who go beyond press-releases and shines the light into dark areas; these journalists, are more important to the well being of society than they have ever been. Last year she won several awards including Journalist of the year at the British Journalism Awards.”

WOMA Young Woman of the Year 2019 – Zamira Abbassanova

The award was presented by Laura Padoan, a spokesperson for UNHCR and co-chair of the Families Together coalition campaigning on refugee family reunion. Laura is also one of the executive producers of the WOMA, who said: “Last year saw a new statue installed in Parliament Square of the suffragette Millicent Fawcett, entitled ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’. Well the most courageous people I know are refugee women. They’ve stood up for their political or religious beliefs or their sexuality. They’ve risked their lives journeying to safety. They’ve retold their trauma to Home Office decision makers and they’ve waited, sometimes years to be able to rebuild their lives in a new country. In spite of everything they’ve been through, they are reaching out to others in need and giving back to the communities that have welcome them. If that’s not courage, I don’t know what is.”

“And their courage should call to our courage. To stand up to racism and to the hostile environment and to keep saying that refugees are welcome.”

The Young Woman of 2019 is Zamira Abbassanova. She grew up in war but has dedicated her life to peace. She spent time living in a refugee camp, in a UNHCR tent but she has worked to created bridges between communities in Armenia and Azerbaijan. She is campaigner and activist for peace and human rights and  co-founded the Women’s Entrepreneurial Chamber of Commerce in Georgia and since arriving in the UK, she has been supporting refugees to turn their business dreams into a reality through her voluntary work at The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN)

WOMA Women of the Year 2019 – Rossana Leal 

Rossana Leal and her family fled Chile in 1976 when she was nine years old after her father was detained by the Pinochet regime. Having been resettled by UNHCR from Argentina, she always remembers the warm welcome that the family received from the small mining village in Scotland – with a party, bagpipes and toys for the children, and the coal shed that winter remaining stocked by generous villagers. This was her inspiration years later when, moved by the plight of Syrians arriving in Europe, she set up the Buddy Scheme in Hastings. Wanting to recreate the welcoming environment she had experienced, Rossana pairs East Sussex locals with refugees, and together they share meals, visit local sites and festivals, run sewing groups, driving lessons and children’s activities. Rossana’s volunteer work has created a community of more than a hundred people who are forming new friendships and providing hope, as refugees build a new life in the UK.

The Award was presented by Vanessa Redgrave, winer of numerous awards including an Oscar, BAFTA and in 2018 the esteemed Lion D’Or at the Venice Film festival. She was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1995 and has since travelled extensively with UNICEF to Albania, Macedonia, Palestine, Israel, Brazil and in September 2018 to Lebanon to meet with vulnerable Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children and families. In 2017, she made her directorial debut with a documentary, ‘Sea Sorrow’, an impassioned humanitarian film about the refugee crisis in Syria and Europe

“Tonight we heard some of the women, whose lives, as Shakespeare had one of his women say, it is like a lit candle in the notty world. Not is the  Elizabethan way of understating evil. And we live in an evil world, with governments not obeying international humanitarian rights law, not protecting women and children, and to see these women here, I want to say the hugest possible thank you to UNHCR and their partner Migrants Organise and to all the women who volunteer and work for these vital organisations. 

With the Refugee Buddy Project, Rossana is enacting her vision of pushing back and transforming the hostile environment for migrants and refugees in the UK.  In Rossana’s own words,

“When future generations see what was happening in the UK at this time, they will ask did you resist or did you collaborate?

In closing remarks, Zrinka Bralo, CEO of Migrants Organise, Non-Executive Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission in New York, a refugee, campaigner for justice for migrants and refugees and one of the founders of the Women on the Move Awards, said:

“I watch the news, and then feel as if the whole world is having nervous breakdown. I have been a refugee and campaigner for 25 years and it is not that difficult for me to feel I’ve run out of ways to be angry and protest.  But then we start preparing for this event, and we meet amazing women like Rossana and Zamira and hear about good work that good people do quietly like Jess does in the NHS and then read about all the seismic changes that are result Amelia’s relentless reporting of the Windrush Scandal. And I remember why we set up these awards. 

We wanted to create a world, for at least one hour, once a year, where we can experience the world as it should be – the world of welcome and celebration and achievement of people who are making contribution, fighting for truth and justice. 

We wanted to have our voices heard. We wanted to show that we, migrants and refugees are here and we matter. That there are people who think so too. 

And the most importantly  – that we can all do something about it.”

“In organising, we have this expression – if you are not around the table you are probably on the menu.  Which is pretty much why we need to organise. And legendary US congresswoman Shirley Chislhom, the first black woman to run for president of the United States in 1972, gave us all advice on how to organise for change – she said  “If you are not around the table – bring a folding chair.” So if you are up for some organising, start by checking who is missing around your table and invite us – we’ll bring our folding chairs. 

In that spirit of action I invite you to look us up online and social media, join our campaigns, be inspired and start making some good trouble. Every time you retweet welcoming and positive stories – you will make one of us feel more welcome and you will ruin at least one moment  for a right wing fascists – so it is worth it.

The 2019 Women on the Move Awards Ceremony was closed by the wonderful, uplifting performance of the Citizens of the World Choir  whose members are people seeking asylum, refugees, migrants and friends.






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