Annie Lennox hails extraordinary migrant and refugee women at London’s WOW Festival
The awards were presented by Samira Ahmed, with Livia Firth and Annie Lennox, and were held as part of the WOW (Women of the World) Festival on London’s Southbank in the run up to International Women’s Day on 8 March. Music was provided by Maya Youssef – a Syrian kanun player who has performed all over the world and has won an Exceptional Talent Award in the UK – and Roshi Nasehi is a singer-composer and sound artist born in Wales to Iranian parents, with a strong track record in performance, recording, collaboration, public art and social intervention projects and workshops.
Annie Lennox said: “I am delighted to be taking part in this inspiring awards ceremony which truly honours some of the bravest and strongest women refugees. This ceremony truly allows us to stop, think and realise the potential and courage of our refugee community.”
Sonia Khoury, a qualified medical doctor from Syria was recognised as Women of the Year. Sonia arrived in the UK in October 2011 to do her PhD in Health Sciences. Whilst here, war in Syria broke out, forcing her to claimed asylum due to the spreading violence. Sonia is now settled in Wales with her young daughter. Sonia is a powerful spokesperson for refugee women and someone who works tirelessly to help others. In Syria, Sonia had worked helping refugees who had fled Iraq, before events in Syria forced her to be a refugee herself. In her work at Black Association of Women Step Out Women’s Aid, Sonia supports migrant women, particularly those fleeing domestic abuse, to establish a new life and to settle independently in the UK. Sonia is a tireless advocate on the situation of Syrian refugees, and has spoken in Parliament about the need to resettle more women and children to the UK.
The Young Woman of the Year award went to Chrisann Jarrett, a 20 year-old student who founded Let Us Learn, an organisation campaigning for the rights of irregular and undocumented young people frozen out of higher education by their immigration status. A former head girl with top grades at A-Level, it was only when Chrisann applied to university that she discovered that having been born in Jamaica, she was unable to get a student loan. Instead of giving up her dreams of becoming a lawyer, she fought to bring attention to the situation of many migrant children in a similar situation and won a full scholarship from LSE.
Asma Mohamed Ali was recognised with a Special Jury Award. Asma was born on the Brava Coast in Somalia and came to the UK in 1992 having spent much of her childhood in Kenyan refugee camps. Now working in Barnet at the Somali Bravanese Welfare Association, Asma has built a thriving centre and education programme that supports 200 students and their families. In 2013, her Bravanese community hall was burnt down in a racist arson attack. But within a week, while six months pregnant, Asma forged ties between the local Jewish and Muslim communities to keep the students’ programme going, and led community action to raise £1.1 million to rebuild the hall. Asma was awarded by our panel in recognition of her reaction to this extraordinary challenge.
The Awards also recognised Pauline Hawkes as Champion of the Year. Pauline had been a foster carer for over a decade when she heard about the situation facing refugee children around the world. After contacting Haringey social services, she received her first unaccompanied asylum-seeking child, a Congolese girl who had been raped and lost both her parents. Pauline provided a home and safe place for her to rebuild her future. Since that time Pauline has dedicated her life to supporting asylum-seeking young people and victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and founded her own foster care agency, the Phoenix Centre to do so. The centre now provides a home for around thirty unaccompanied young people in Tottenham. An inspirational woman, Pauline is an unsung hero living and working on our doorstep in London.
The ceremony celebrated outstanding media coverage of the protection needs of refugee and migrant women. This year the Media Award went to Giles Duley for his documentary on disabled Syrian refugees and Katie Razzall for her BBC Newsnight report on talented migrant students denied funding for higher education.
Giles Duley is a British documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for his photography of humanitarian issues and the consequences of conflict. With Director David Fuller, Giles travelled to Lebanon with Handicap International teams to document the harrowing experiences of disabled and injured women and girls, some of the most marginalised and vulnerable of the Syrian refugees. With evident sensitivity, his images and reporting grab our attention and provide a powerful insight into the lives of disabled and vulnerable female Syrian refugees, the issues they face and the physical and psychological impact of the conflict on them and their families.
Katie Razzall has been Special Correspondent at BBC Newsnight since April 2014, covering a wide-ranging brief including social and legal affairs and disability issues. She was previously a correspondent at Channel 4 News, winning an RTS and a Foreign Press Award. Her Newsnight piece on the situation of talented students denied funding for higher education, produced by Maggie Latham, caught the judges’ eye for profiling two talented, bright, ambitious young women who are being denied loans because ‘their immigrations status is not settled’. This report featuring these two women fulfills one of the essential criterion of these Media Awards by giving a central voice to migrant women.
UNHCR’s Representative to the UK Gonzalo Vargas Llosa said:
‘Women can face particular difficulties when it comes to applying for asylum in the UK, but these women tonight have shown they are not vulnerable victims and not just survivors, but so often the pillars of their new communities. These awards are a humbling reminder of how refugees contribute to the towns and cities where they live, how they bring people together and create an environment of understanding and friendship. The awards also highlight Britain’s proud history and continuing openness to providing a safe haven for people fleeing persecution from all around the world.’
Zrinka Bralo Executive Director of The Forum said:
This is the fourth year that we have celebrated amazing women through the Women on the Move Awards. For me as a refugee woman, it is heartwarming to see how our modest attempt to shift the negative debate into a celebration of contribution is attracting so much genuine support from celebrities, colleagues and people across the country. Our past winners continue to do amazing work and winning this Award has opened doors for them. It has been great to see their confidence grow as they win further awards, take centre stage at TEDx events and front powerful equality campaigns. It is great to be at WOW Festival again, celebrating International Women’s Day. This is the best party in town. We are grateful to Jude Kelly, South Bank Center’s Artistic Director for having faith in our crazy little idea and supporting us all the way.