A FAIRER FUTURE FOR REFUGEES
In February, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, one of Refugee Action’s corporate partners, held a global event – ‘Challenging Stereotypes: A Fairer Future for Refugees’ – which featured talks from Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive, Refugee Action and Laura Di Santolo, Managing Director of Forward-Inc in the Netherlands. As part of this, Fiona McMillan, Vice-President International Communications at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, reflected on her experience of mentoring through the Pathways to Work Programme.
One year ago today, the invasion of Ukraine highlighted the plight of refugees around the world, so our event was a timely revelation about the trauma and prejudice faced by people who are forcibly displaced due to war or persecution at home. Now they are facing further monumental challenges as they proceed to start a new beginning in a new country, where factors such language, racism and a lack of support are barriers to assimilating in the UK.
Nobody chooses to be a refugee. My colleague who movingly spoke of her own experience as a refugee can attest to that. Someone’s life can completely change in a day. Through our Alnylam Pharmaceuticals support for Refugee Action’s Pathways to Work programme, which provides refugees and asylum seekers with employability support, I have been mentoring a lady who had to flee Afghanistan. Her life changed in the space of a few hours. On the morning of 15 August 2021, she was a university lecturer teaching in Kabul and a few hours later, she was dodging gunfire and shelling as she desperately tried to get back to her family. Eighteen months later, she is living in a hotel room in Liverpool, trying to rebuild her life.
As you can see from this Refugee Action blog, this is a ‘hotel’ in name only. So far removed from my blue-sky ideal of relaxation, luxury, and choice, overlooking a sandy beach or snowy mountain peak, with delicious food and enviable décor. Despite this, my mentee is incredibly motivated to continue pursuing her career. Our conversations are uplifting and, despite our different experiences and situations, we bring positive energy to each other.
Working with her enabled me to see beyond the rhetoric of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ refugees, reminding me not to judge and to see people as people, not just someone with the label ‘refugee’ or a humanitarian crisis that is to be exploited for political gain.
Fiona McMillan is Vice-President, International Communications at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
You can read more about the partnership and Alnylam’s three-year commitment here.