Inspirational migrant women take centre stage at the Royal Festival Hall.
The awards were presented by Samira Ahmed, with Livia Firth, Phyllida Lloyd, Zahera Harb and Lindsey Hilsum, and were held as part of the WOW (Women of the World) Festival on in The Royal Festival Hall at London’s Southbank on 11th March. Music was provided by Woman Asylum Seekers Together (WAST) choir from Manchester- winners of the 2015 Liberty Human Rights Arts Award. This remarkable choir brings women refugees and asylum seekers together in song and raises awareness of the injustices suffered by women who are seeking asylum in the UK.
Livia Firth said: “It is wonderful to be back at this amazing Awards Ceremony at the WOW Festival, to recognise the achievement of women who make a huge difference to our society, despite the extremely difficult experiences they have been through.” Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf, orignally from from Somalia now living in Manchester, was awarded The Woman Of the Year Award. Mariam arrived in the UK in 2008 fleeing war and gender-based violence in Somalia and leaving behind her two children, convinced that they would soon join her. But eight years later, having been detained, destitute and homeless, Mariam is still stuck in the asylum system. Wanting something positive to come out of her experience, Mariam has dedicated her time to campaigning to ensure that asylum-seekers are not forced into similar hardships. A tireless champion for the rights of women who have experienced domestic violence and FGM, Mariam is a source of support and hope for many people who are seeking protection and trying to rebuild their lives. She is not giving up hope of seeing her children again.
The Young Woman of the Year award went to 21 year-old Seada Fekadu. At the age of 16 she fled Eritrea and found her way to the UK, via Calais, on the back of the truck, on her own. Without knowing a word of English, she managed to find her way to safety in London, and as soon as she was able to do so, she started helping other young people with similar experiences. In addition to mentoring other young people, Seada is working to ensure their voices are heard in places where decisions are made about their lives. She was quickly granted refugee status and soon started volunteering, becoming a mentor and a role model to many young people. Seada is a powerful advocate for many of those who often do not have a voice and who, like she once was, are children seeking protection and trying to start a new life on their own. She is about to go to university to fulfil her dream of giving back to Britain by becoming a doctor.
The Awards also recognised Citizens UK as Champion of the Year. Citizens UK coordinated the Refugees Welcome movement in 85 towns and cities across the country and successfully campaigned to increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK in 2015. Citizens UK is the largest broad-based community organising alliance in the UK. Its membership comprises over 300 civil society groups, including schools, faith institutions, trade union branches and universities. The main aim of Citizens UK is to increase participation of civil society in public life, by organising communities to act together for the common good. Citizens UK have been campaigning on refugee and migrant issues for over a decade, but have really stepped up their efforts in promoting rights of refugees and migrants in the past year. The main aim of their campaign is to restore dignity and respect for migrants and refugees. The Award was presented by Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR Representative to the UK and Director Phyllida Lloyd to women leaders: Razan Alakraa, Joon Lynn Goh, Rabbi Janet Darley and Reverend Karen Rooms.
The ceremony celebrated outstanding media coverage of the protection needs of refugee and migrant women. This year, in memory of Sue Lloyd-Roberts, the Media Award was renamed The Sue-lloyd Roberts Media Award. The Awards was presented by Sue’s husband, BBC producer, Nick Guthrie and went to Jackie Long and Lee Sorrell for their C4 news piece Inside Yarls Wood. Read more about Sue here.
A Parliamentary inquiry followed this special investigation and an independent review into conditions at Yarl’s Wood detention centre was commissioned. The centre has been branded ‘a place of national concern’. The special report exposed the ordeal of many refugee and migrant women detained and mistreated at the detention centre. The report was executed skillfully and demonstrated high commitment to ethical journalism. It brought the sufferings of those women into the public domain. It gave the detained women of Yarl’s Wood a voice, a strong one to reach out and say ‘pay attention to our rights as human beings.’
“What we have witnessed here today, in the past hour, sums up the past year – a year on the move – a year of struggle for 60 million displaced people, a year in which a new phrase – “weaponising refugees” – entered our vocabulary – two words which sound as sinister as “collateral damage”. But we have also witnessed a year of survival, humanitarianism, goodwill and welcome on a scale that has never been seen before. And two different words now for the first time in my lifetime stand together in our public conversations – refugees welcome! We’ve got the hashtag, and we’ve got the t-shirt and we are not going away. I know that there is a danger of being labeled as emotional, guardian reading, churchgoing, lefty, no borders, anarchist. And there is nothing wrong with that. But this is actually about being very rational, knowing our history and not repeating it. So when we say never again – we mean it.”
Zrinka Bralo, CEO of Migrants Organise, the Founder of the Women on the Move Awards