Last month, more than 250 people gathered at the Royal Festival Hall for the first ever Migrant and Refugee Woman of the Year Award on International Women’s day to honour three outstanding women.
This year’s winner was Nazek Ramadan, founder of Migrant Voice, and two honorary awards were also given to Luljeta Nuzi, founder of Shpresa Programme for the Albanian speaking community, and Clara Osagiede, London Underground RMT Secretary for Cleaners. The ceremony was hosted by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Natasha Walters, and Zrinka Bralo.
Last autumn a group of organisations that supports migrants, refugees and women joined forces to launch this award to honour inspirational migrant and refugee women who are improving the lives of people and communities across London. 40 nominations were received.
“Women cross borders to come to the UK for many reasons; many of them come fleeing human rights abuses. They have often faced great challenges to get here and further challenges once they arrive here in our asylum and immigration system. Yet their courage and resilience is so often remarkable. The leadership many provide at the grassroots to others is an inspiration, and it’s wonderful to be able to celebrate this.” said Natasha Walter, author of The New Feminism and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, and director of Women for Refugee Women.
Community work comes naturally to Nazek. In the 1980s she opened her home in Beirut to refugees, and when she and her family had to flee Lebanon in 1986, she began volunteering soon after she arrived in the UK, initially at an Arabic speaking supplementary school. Her first challenge in London was to learn English, which she did by watching children’s TV (advice she still gives to others), going to classes and joining in any activity she could.
The early years in London were not easy and Nazek experienced racial abuse. She discovered that learning English and getting a job were not enough to be accepted. When a fellow migrant said to her ‘how can they hate us so much, when they don’t even know us’ she replied by saying, ‘you’ve answered your own question, they don’t know us’. She realised that ‘everyone was talking about migrants except migrants’ and so set out to remedy this.
In 2007 she launched the New Londoners newspaper which, modelled on London’s freesheets, succeeded in getting migrant and asylum issues in front of London commuters and won two awards from the Mayor of London. And in 2010 she founded Migrant Voice, an organisation dedicated to addressing the lack of representation of migrants in the mainstream media.