Stars lead celebration of refugee women at London's WOW - Women of the World festival

Women on the Move award winners include a young Egyptian refugee campaigning for education access, and two women championing the rights of vulnerable families in asylum accommodation in Halifax.

Zrinka Bralo of Migrants Organise, actor Gwendoline Christie, WOMA winners Veeca and Florence, Young Persons Award winner Shrouk, singer Laura Mvula, journalist Samira Ahmed, and Laura Padoan from UNHCR at the Women on the Move Award's ceremony.   © Beth Crosland

LONDON - The 2018 Women on the Move Awards, presented by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Migrants Organise, tonight recognised exceptional refugees and those working on their behalf for their outstanding work in empowering women.

Hosted by the BBC journalist Samira Ahmed, the awards were presented by the actor Gwendoline Christine (Star Wars, Game of Thrones), and Southbank Centre Artistic Director and founder of WOW - Women of the World Jude Kelly CBE. Acclaimed British singer-songwriter Laura Mvula performed at the ceremony at London’s Southbank Centre.

The main award this year recognised Florence Kahuro and Veeca Smith, who have championed the rights of vulnerable families living in asylum accommodation in Halifax. Through their organisation, Sisters United, they are fighting to improve housing conditions and help refugees settle into their new lives. They take people to hospital, register their children for school meals, organise toy collections and help find school uniforms for families who can’t afford them. Each week, they help 50 women of 17 nationalities (including British).

Accepting the award for Sisters United, Florence Kahuro said: “We want to give women hope so they don’t give up. We want people to understand the struggle that women go through and to show that people should treat everybody the same whether they are an asylum-seeker, refugee, or someone else. We are all the same.”

"no one understands the importance of education better than a refugee or asylum-seeker.”

The Young Woman of the Year was awarded to Shrouk El-Attar, an engineering student at Cardiff University. Leaving her native Egypt at 15, Shrouk was eventually granted refugee status on the basis of her sexuality, but was separated from her family when her mother, sister and brother were refused asylum and deported following a dawn raid by UK immigration officers. Shrouk was unable to access higher education for the several years it took for her asylum case to be processed. She then faced the challenge of paying international tuition fees. Now, Shrouk works tirelessly to support equal educational access for asylum seekers and refugees and advocates for the rights of LGBTI people.

This year's winners of the Women on the Move Awards 2018, Veeca Smith Uka and Florence Kahuro, stand with journalist Samira Ahmed at the Southbank Centre  © Beth Crosland

“To apply for asylum, I somehow had to prove – in graphic detail – that I am queer,” said Shrouk at the ceremony. “It was a really difficult and upsetting experience. It’s emotionally and mentally draining for me to speak about these experiences, so if I’m going to do it, it’s not going to go to waste!” Shrouk has successfully campaigned to improve access to education for those granted discretionary leave or humanitarian protection.  "And no one understands the importance of education better than a refugee or asylum-seeker.”

Presenting Shrouk’s award was Ms. Christie, the actor. “I am proud to recognise the achievement of women who make a huge difference to our society, despite the extremely difficult situations they’ve experienced", she said.

“I am proud to recognise the achievement of women who make a huge difference to our society"

Speaking ahead of her powerful performance of the song ‘She’, Ms. Mvula said: “I am delighted to perform at the Women on the Move Awards and to help celebrate refugee women. Their remarkable strength and determination are an inspiration to us all.”

The Champion Award was given to Jem Stein, founder of the Bike Project in South London, which since 2013 has been taking second-hand bikes, fixing them up and donating them to more than 3,000 refugees and asylum-seekers.

Winner of the Champion Award, Jem Stein, with UNHCR's Laura Padoan and journalist Samira Ahmed.   © Beth Crosland

The Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award went to Manveen Rana for her BBC Radio 4 series following a Syrian refugee family over the course of their journey to Europe.

UNHCR’s UK Representative, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, said: “The bravery of these asylum-seeking and refugee women is truly humbling. In spite of everything they’ve been through, they are reaching out to others in need and giving back to the communities that have welcome them.”

For more information about the Women on the Move Awards, please visit: