What do the current Miss Manchester, Miss Yorkshire and an aspiring 2020 Olympic swimmer all have in common?

What do the current Miss Manchester, Miss Yorkshire and an aspiring 2020 Olympic swimmer all have in common? Aside from a future filled with the opportunity of fame and glory, this trio of talented individuals who have already displayed a distinct talent for propelling themselves into the spotlight for their remarkable achievements in a variety of fields, have something much more profound which connects them. In addition to being national superstars, the two beauty queens and the exceptional athlete who are all young, driven and gifted… are all refugees.

Having almost qualified as a doctor in her native Syria, Lin Hussin was forced to relocate to the UK as a refugee after her house was bombed in the war. She had no choice but to begin her bio-medical science degree from scratch at Sheffield University in a completely new language. Today, Lin is in the final year of her degree, she works as an interpreter, a radio presenter, she organises charity events and she has remarkably been crowned Miss Yorkshire 2018/19.

The trend continues with Fatime Gashi, a bio-medical science graduate, who knows what it means to maximise opportunities in life. Having resettled in the UK as a Kosovan refugee, Fatime is the current Miss Manchester 2018/19 and is the first contestant in the history of the competition to get a perfect score from all the judges. She now wants to redefine what it means to be a modern day beauty queen, part of which involves changing people’s perception of refugees.

In 2016, Eid Aljazairli nearly drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in a bid to get into Europe. A year later, he stunned swimming experts by becoming a competitive swimmer in just 12 months and is now training for the 2020 Olympics. Eid could barely swim when he fled Damascus and took his chance on a small, barely seaworthy vessel that took him across the Mediterranean. He is now clocking 43 seconds for the 50-metre freestyle, and at this rate, his coaches believe he has a strong chance of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 

So what else do these exceptional individuals have in common? Lin, Fatime and Eid will be sharing their inspiring stories and ideas at the SonaTalks event in September which is being held at Kindred members club in Hammersmith. SonaTalks is a global community that brings together leading thinkers and doers in all areas relating to refugees, to share ideas in a range of disciplines. The inaugural event entitled ‘Celebrating Potential in Refugee Communities’ is a programme of volunteer-led talks that bring people together to share worthwhile conversations. Other speakers at the SonaTalks event are set to include; Jaz O’Hara, the founder of Worldwide Tribe, Marchu Girma, the director of Women for Refugee Women and Jess Thompson, the founder of Migrateful.

The event is being organised by the founders of Sona Circle, a networking and recruitment platform that connects refugees with their immediate surroundings, local opportunities and each other. It has been described by the organisers as “a day of celebration to focus on the achievements and successes in our refugee communities; a day at a lovely venue with good food, great speakers, inspirational talks and an after party celebration to end the day”.By following in the footsteps of organisations such as Starbucks, Ikea and Nemi Teas, Sona Circle is modernising the approach to hiring refugees with the hope of encouraging other organisations to follow suit.

This event is one of a growing number of voices currently working towards changing the narrative about the impact which refugees have on their host communities. Another notable example of these is the ‘Lift the Ban’ campaign led by Refugee Action, a coalition of over a hundred and forty public and private organisations, campaigning to give asylum seekers the right to work in the UK. The restrictive approach that the UK currently takes makes it an outlier within Europe. Opinion polls show that the public strongly supports the right to work for people seeking asylum with the most recent data suggesting that over 71% of people in Britain are in favour.

Last week, the Sun reported that the Home Secretary was under pressure by the Treasury to allow asylum-seekers to work in Britain. The article notes that, “The Treasury has demanded the Home Secretary reduce the spiralling bill for claimants in the UK, which now stretches into the hundreds of millions every year. One idea being looked at is to end the long standing ban on foreign nationals who have claimed asylum taking jobs.”

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