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 Zrinka Bralo, Chief Executive of Migrants Organise, blogs about how the Women on the Move Awards give migrant and refugee women a voice


The Women on the Move Awards, a joint venture between Migrants Organise and UNHCR UK, were presented by broadcaster Samira Ahmed at the Royal Festival Hall during the Women of the World Festival to mark International Women’s Day 2016. More than 500 people came to celebrate and recognise migrant and refugee women who often do incredibly important, and yet largely invisible, work in their communities.


Our winners, Mariam Yusuf and Seada Fekadu, made the 2016 Awards a true celebration of resilience and dignity. Seada came to the UK from Eritrea as a minor, on her own, on the back of a truck via Calais. She is about to pass her exams with distinction and is off to university to become a doctor. Seada is mentoring young refugees at Young Roots and speaking up for their rights. Livia Firth presented the Young Woman award to Seada, a living example of what can be achieved when we give young refugees a helping hand, and when our protection system and public services work well.


Journalist Lindsey Hilsum presented the main Award to Mariam, who escaped Somalia and despite struggling with our adversarial system since 2008, has given her time and energy to other women in need at Women Asylum Seekers Together and many other organisations in Manchester.


What makes the achievements and contributions of these incredible women even more remarkable is the fact that neither of them spoke any English when they first arrived, and they are both now role models and leaders, turning their traumatic experiences into kindness and respect toward others. Mariam, who is still destitute and is still stuck in immigration limbo, said after the Awards Ceremony: “I was most honored and felt that I really mattered in society.”


This year we named the media award the Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award after a pioneering journalist, herself one of our award winners in 2014, whose legacy of professionalism and whose passion for fair and true reporting will continue to inspire courageous, thoughtful journalism. This year’s winners are Jackie Long and Lee Sorrell for their Channel 4 news piece Inside Yarl’s Wood, which provided undercover evidence of the UK’s dehumanising detention system and helped shift public debate towards more safeguards in detention, including time limits and alternatives to the detention of women.


The Awards also recognise a champion of refugees and migrants in mainstream society. This year, the winner of the Champion Award was Citizens UK, whose grass roots community organising went above and beyond any other civil society organisation, as they responded to the refugee crisis by organising a powerful Refugees Welcome movement around the country, introducing private sponsorship visas as a way for citizens to help provide protection and save lives, and for winning a groundbreaking legal victory to open up safe and legal routes for family reunion rights for refugee children in Calais.


The Women on the Move Awards are growing and opening up spaces for refugee and migrant women to tell their stories of survival contributing to the Southbank Centre’s WOW Festival’s wider audiences and on a bigger stage at the Festival Hall. For that we are very grateful to Jude Kelly, Southbank’s Artistic Director and the founder of the WOW Festival, whose support has been crucial in the growth and development of the Awards. Jude and WOW helped turn our good idea into reality. We are also grateful to the Barrow Cadbury Trust for recognising the importance of changing the narrative by telling the stories of survival and contribution that refugee and migrant women make, and letting them speak for themselves, for justice and dignity, inspiring us all in the process.