“I’m Jason, Guest Editor of Refugee Action’s Winter 2023 Newsletter. I had the opportunity to speak with two phenomenal women, Azadeh, the Communication and Engagement officer and Ana, the Expert by Experience Coordinator at Refugee Action. Both are Experts by Experience are term for people with lived experience of the UK refugee and asylum system.” – Jason
As people who have experienced the asylum system, what attracted you to want to work in this sector?
Ana: I was in the asylum system for nearly seven years before finally getting my refugee status. In 2016 I started volunteering with Refuge Action in various teams, I represented them as an Expert by Experience – I wrote blogs, gave speeches, and campaigned. After getting refugee status, I completed my university qualification in human rights and I really wanted to support others.
I wanted to play a role in doing something meaningful, and share my experience. Working at Refugee Action felt like a natural next step.
You’re in roles that encourage people to get involved, and share their stories – how do you approach these conversations to ensure they feel protected and empowered?
Azadeh: You mentioned empowerment Jason and my motto is that every single person has the power inside them, you just have to awaken it. People need a space where they feel safe to release it. They already have skills and talent. It’s just about being supported to step into them.
Ana: No one likes to be treated as inferior. For me, it’s important to remember where I’ve come from. I have lived experience and have been where the people I’m encouraging are right now. I always try to reflect on that.
“One of my favourite poets and novelists, Maya Angelou, said: “it’s the way you move, it is the way you sound, it’s the way you represent yourself and every woman before you and after you, you’re a phenomenal woman.”
– Jason, Guest Editor
Do you feel opportunities are available for women with lived experience and women of colour to build careers once they have the right to work?
Azadeh: As someone of colour, you do feel like you have to do double the work to have the same chances. This is something that covers working in general, not just at Refugee Action. It’s not easy, but over the last couple of years, it’s improved.
Ana: When I started volunteering, I was the only woman in the Expert by Experience group. Now, we are seeing change, more women are becoming involved. But it’s hard when you’re a woman in a male-dominated space, from a different culture.
There’s a lack of confidence. But it makes a difference when you can see yourself represented. It shows other women they can do that too. If we continue speaking about it, using the language of love, the language of inclusivity, the language of encouragement and empowerment, I think we’ll see good results.
If you could wave a magic wand to increase the inclusivity of women with lived experience, what would your wand do?
Azadeh: For me, it would create positions equal to our non-expert by experienced colleagues. We need meaningful professional positions because we come with lots of knowledge, even before having lived experience.
Ana: We need to create space for women, this will make Refugee Action more welcoming. Many will not identify the value of this space until they see it. People will not recognise the importance of having a women’s co-ordinator for example until they can see that.
What message are you trying to communicate to our supporters?
Azadeh: Trust people. If I don’t look like you or speak the language you speak, it doesn’t mean I’m less than you or that I don’t have an opinion. To people seeking safety I say, trust yourself. Don’t let the negative attitude toward you alienate or crush you.