International Women’s Day 2023: Meet the inspiring women leading the refugee and migration sector

By 08/03/2023Stories

This #InternationalWomensDay, we are shining a light on the inspiring women who, by choice or by chance, have made a home in our communities. We are celebrating their achievements and highlighting the incredible work they are doing in the refugee and migration sector.  

They told us about how they have overcome adversity and formed a new life in the UK, the women who inspire them and their hopes and dreams for all women.

Sarah Ahmadi: ‘I discovered within myself a strength and desire to do all I can to not let others go through the same struggles I had when I had first come to the UK.’  

Sarah Ahmadi

Sarah came to the UK 22 years ago when it was no longer safe for her to stay in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. She now works for the Northeast Business Innovation Centre and supports refugees to set up their own businesses.   

I had many struggles when I first arrived in the UK, and it was difficult to see a future for myself here. Knowing that you are valued, and a necessary part of a wider community gives you a sense of belonging. A community does not always have to be the one you grew up in, it can be one you came into and became a part of. A home away from home.

‘Through my work I’ve helped lots of women to set up businesses. My ambition is for all women to be independent and not rely on men, to be confident and work hard to support themselves. I want to help them get the skills, educate themselves and to empower other women too.

‘My hope is for Afghan women to restart their education and for the situation to get back to normal for women and girls because they don’t have an opportunity to progress. They need their education.’ 

Rosaana Leal: ‘We can achieve the things we want for our communities and families. The barriers and boundaries are not there to stop us – they are there for us to push them.’ 

Rossana Leal

Rossana Leal is the CEO The Refugee Buddy Project, which matches local families with newly arriving people seeking refuge in and around Hastings. She and her family sought refuge in the UK from Chile in the late 1970s.  

‘When I moved to Hastings, I became aware of how badly some refugees from Syria were being treated on their journeys.  I wanted to recreate the warm welcome I received so I set up the Refugee Buddy Project. Creating connection and friendship is important when you first arrive. To have people around you who don’t know anything about this but who care, it makes a massive difference.  

‘My mum was a woman who inspired me. I watched her fight for every little space she had, particularly as a refugee woman. She fought to keep us together and take us to safety. She represents the story of so many refugee and migrant women who do the same for their children. She brought me up celebrating International Women’s Day.  

‘I want equality for all women, social justice for women and safe space for women to be able to develop to their full potential. We can achieve the things we want for our communities and families.’ 

Dima Mekdad: ‘I would love for International Women’s Day to be a day when we have equity as womxn, when we celebrate the efforts of all the womxn in our lives who got us there.

Dima Mekdad

Dr Dima Mekdad is the General Manager of small arts charity Shubbak festival and co-chair of Refugee Week festival. 

‘I arrived in the UK from Syria to do my master’s degree. It was in the early days of the Syrian uprising. A year later it was no longer safe for me to return, and I had to apply for asylum here. My early years with this new identity label ‘Refugee’ were difficult infused with survivor’s guilt and with a lot of shame. It’s taken me years with self-work to come to a place where I am much more at peace with my journey.   

‘We should always try to be conscious of our own practices – how equitable we are being towards others. 

‘‘I have a tribe of women who inspire me. I believe a lot of women out there are doing incredible things, however small or big they may be. I believe they each have at least one more woman they lean upon in their life. It’s important to recognise those women in our lives – a sister, a friend, a mother, a work colleague, a mentor, a journey’s comrade, women of our ancestors who paved the way.’ 

Hajar Afdal: ‘I meet women on all different journeys of their life, and we come together to support each other, build each other up and to celebrate each other – that is the power of women.’   

Hajar Afdal

Hajar Afdal is the Digital Inclusion and Outreach Coordinator for Women for Refugee Women, a charity that supports and empowers women seeking asylum. 

‘When I first arrived in the UK, I felt lost and like I didn’t belong. I experienced a lot of racism and often felt like I wasn’t Somali enough or wasn’t British enough. With time and as I’ve grown up, I slowly learnt that I can be both. I now know who I am. I am a woman, I am British, I am Somali. 

‘My mother inspires me every day. She is the most resilient, caring, glamorous woman I know. She had to leave her country and to go through the asylum process. Her journey and drive to find a place in UK motivates me to support other women going through the asylum system.   

‘I know that with the support of my family, friends and colleagues that I never have to go through anything alone. My work, which creates safe and welcoming spaces for refugee and asylum-seeking women reinforces this. None of us have to go through things alone. We are stronger together.  

‘I am celebrating the women around me – my family, friends and the women who I work with every day who are fighting inequality and injustice. For refugee and asylum-seeking women, who have already fled persecution, violence and conflict, I hope for health, safety and security. For women to feel like the rest of the world supports them and welcomes them.’   

You can read their full stories on our Human Journeys Instagram.

Author IMIX

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