Nazek Ramadan

Nazek Ramadan

Nazek Ramadan and her family had to flee Lebanon in 1986 during the civil war. Nazek came to the UK on the basis of refugee family reunion to join her husband. The early years in London were not easy and she experienced barriers including egregious racial abuse. She was outwardly made to feel as though she was not welcome.

Nazek, however, has always had a very strong sense of community and has always rejected the victim narrative and stereotype. Her mother had a natural way of welcoming and helping others and in the 1980s Nazek opened her home in Beirut to refugees. Soon after arriving in the UK, she began volunteering and then set up an Arabic speaking supplementary school. She organised Saturday language clubs for women, enabling them to help their families.

Nazek undertook her degree while taking care of her kids and being active in the community. She worked with “Befriend a family” supporting homeless families in temporary accommodation going through difficult circumstances.

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 2005 Nazek joined the Migrant Resource Centre where she worked on five projects including on housing and an anti-poverty group. One of these was the migrant media project and from this point onwards her main focus was helping migrants to use their voices to speak out. In 2007 she set up the award-winning New Londoners newspaper working with migrants to change the narratives around how they were represented in the media.

Despite having faced her own adversity, Nazek has always been more interested in making a difference and helping others with a sincere and genuine compassion that stands in contrast to any ‘savior-victim’ stereotypes we sometimes see associated with refugees and their supporters.

In 2010 Nazek founded Migrant Voice (along with a small group of migrants). Prior to the general elections of that year there were a lot of concerns and conversations about migration – many of which have continued until now. There were a lot of hate crimes being directed at migrants and people with BME backgrounds. Nazek knew that it was important for minorities to speak out and not to stay silent.

The idea of Migrant Voice was to have an organisation dedicated to addressing the lack of representation of migrants in the mainstream media, by focusing on migrants telling their own stories.

Migrant Voice was set up in London, Birmingham and Glasgow charting the experiences of migrants nationally. Without any funding initially, Migrant Voice became a platform and a movement to mobilise migrants to come together and talk about who they are as migrants.

From the very beginning there was a strong focus on telling stories to the media, media training, but also organising ‘Network meetings’ and holding gatherings with food and good atmosphere and then discussing the issues affecting our migrant communities and what to do about it.

These discussions would counter the dangerous and untrue depictions of migrants in the media which has had a toxic narrative about migrants that excludes migrants speaking for themselves. Migrants do not come to the UK thinking they are going to tell their story to the media. Many are from countries where it is unsafe to share your opinion. Nazek explored how we can learn to tell our stories running media workshops and providing platforms to speak out.

The organisation’s first initiative was creating the Migrant Voice newspaper – Election special. The newspaper was sent to all MPs and lords outlining issues affecting asylum seekers and refugees from detention to visa issues for workers, representing the diversity of issues that exist across the migrant communities.

Over the years Migrant Voice started to campaign in addition to the media stories. Some of these campaigns focused on concerns that no one else would touch – for example Migrant Voice’s #MyFutureBack campaign, for justice for the 56,000 international students, who in 2014 were accused of cheating on an English-language test required for their visa renewal. The students had their visas revoked, became undocumented overnight and saw their live destroyed. Since 2017 Nazek and the team have worked alongside hundreds of the students, many of whom have since been able to clear their names and move on with their lives.

Despite having faced her own adversity, Nazek has always been more interested in making a difference and helping others with a sincere and genuine compassion that stands in contrast to any ‘savior-victim’ stereotypes we sometimes see associated with refugees and their supporters. Her approach has not been to pity people but always treat people with respect, agency and power. She treats everyone with dignity and her own experiences account for her deep and heartfelt dedication. She believes while there are hindrances experienced by migrants, those experiences are not the sum total of who they are- full human beings, with nuances. Nazek has worked for over three decades to empower and support other migrants to speak out, tell their own stories and advocate for their rights. This has focused on supporting migrants to speak out in the media, to policy makers, in public and via migrant-led campaigns.

Nazek is a strong facilitator and convenor. She is engaged with numerous groups, organisations and initiative active nationally and internationally including sitting on the board of PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants. She is an active steering group member for SNN (Status Now for All Network), which is a regularisation campaign for undocumented migrants in the UK.

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