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  3. Speakers, Presentations and Abstracts

Speakers, Presentations and Abstracts


Ahmad al-Rashid

The Conference Host is Ahmad al-Rashid. Ahmad was born in Aleppo, Syria. He studied English literature before fleeing the Syrian conflict to the Kurdistan region of Iraq in late 2012. Ahmad worked in Iraqi Kurdistan as a volunteer, teaching English in Syrian refugee camps. Ahmad has been working with various groups and organizations raising awareness about the Syrian crisis and the plight of refugees in the region. In 2017, Ahmad graduated from SOAS – University of London. He holds an MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development. Currently he works for International Organisation for Migration.


Thanuja Hettiarachchi

Thanuja took her undergraduate degree (Bsc in Business Administration) in Sri Lanka (2006) and undertook her postgraduate studies (MBA, Master of Business Administration) at Glyndwr University in Wales (2012). Currently, she is employed by the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Team, Wales (EYST). She has extensive experience of working in the voluntary sector and with charity organisations promoting Black and Minority Ethnic Rights and personal, social and educational development in Swansea. She is a longstanding member of the Management Committee at Swansea’s City of Sanctuary and of Swansea Women’s Group. Thanu has a lengthy experience of mentoring, advocacy and support work. 

Marie Gillespie, Professor of Sociology, The Open University

The primary focus of Marie’s research and teaching is on migration, culture and communication, particularly Middle Eastern and South Asian diasporas. Recent research includes projects on forced migration and digital communication among Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees in camp and urban settings.

Alan Thomas: Co-Chair, Swansea City of Sanctuary

Alan is a retired Professor of International Development from Swansea University, previously of Development Policy and Practice at The Open University. He helped found Swansea City of Sanctuary in 2008 and was Chair of Trustees of UK City of Sanctuary between 2011 and 2016.

Dawn Lyle: Co-Founder, 4theRegion

Dawn is a Swansea-based business owner and co-founder of 4theRegion, an alliance that brings people, communities, businesses and organisations together in collaborations for the greater good of Southwest Wales. Dawn also helps to run Wales' Wellbeing Economy Alliance and sits on several regional boards and panels.

Jane Hutt: Minister of Social Justice in Wales

Jane Hutt, the Minister for Social Justice in Wales, will be discussing why access to Higher Education and Employment for forced migrants is a social justice issue, and what strategies and practical plans the Welsh Government have in place in support of opening up access to education and employment for refugees and asylum seekers.

Elodie Mignard: Scottish Refugee Council

Elodie Mignard is Programme Manager from the Scottish Refugee Council. She is responsible for the learning and development in SRC services department and leads on new development on housing, employment, digital inclusion and practice improvement all of which is underpinned by a refugee peer led approach. She is also co-chair of the New Scots Group on Welfare Rights and Employment. In her talk she will explain how The New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy aims to address some of the key barriers forced migrants face when trying to engage in education and employment.

Alphonsine Kabagado: Director of Women for Refugee Women

Alphonsine is the Director of Women for Refugee Women (WRW) since January 2021. She is a survivor of the Rwanda genocide. A passionate advocate of and an expert in the empowerment of girls and young women. Alphonsine's talk The Importance of Welcome for Survivors and Communities will focus on how creating a welcoming environment for asylum seekers is key to supporting women to rebuild their life with dignity and how access to education, employment and becoming active citizens in the community is the key – also see this impactful important report Hear Us: We are Sisters Not Strangers

Stepheni Kays: Community Development with Outreach Manager

Stepheni works with Hywel Dda University Health Board. Previously she worked for Public Health Wales as a Community Development Researcher and for third sector organisations; promoting a culture of welcome and hospitality and improving the provision of information and service delivery for asylum seekers and refugees in South Wales. In her presentation The Importance of Support for Access to Higher Education and Employment Stepheni discusses what can be done to help people reach their potentitial.


Maryam Taher: Universities of Sanctuary Programme Coordinator

Maryam works at City of Sanctuary - a charity that holds the vision that the UK will be a welcoming place of safety for all, and proud to offer sanctuary to people seeking protection in the UK. Maryam is responsible for universities. Having been an asylum seeker herself, she realises the challenges that displaced persons face in accessing support, especially access to education. She is a member of the Equal Access Network at Student Action for Refugees (STAR) and a campaigner for Equal Access to Higher Education. She graduated from the University of York as an Asylum Seeker through a Sanctuary Scholarship. In her presentation Being and Becoming a University of Sanctuary Maryam will explain what the foundational principles of being a University of Sanctuary are, why this national network is gathering momentum and why it appeals to so many universities today. She will also talk about why it has been so important to her – drawing on her own personal experience.

Dr Mike Chick: Lecturer in ESOL at the University of South Wales

Mike has worked in language teaching for over twenty-five years. At the University of South Wales, he is a lecturer in English for Speakers of Other Languages and is the University Refugee Champion. His research interests focus on the organisation and provision of language education for people forced to seek safety in Wales. In his presentation How Widening Access for Refugees Helped Widen Access for All, Mike will outline how becoming University of Sanctuary not only improved access to university for people forced to seek safety in Wales but also how collaborations between universities and third sector organisations provide opportunities to bring people together, break down preconceptions, and build friendships and understanding. [Presentation].

Funmilayo Olaniyan: Sanctuary Scholar in Law at the University of Wales Trinity St. Davids

Funmilayo Bunmi Olaniyan is the first of three students to benefit from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David’s Sanctuary Scholarships. She is studying Law and Legal Practice. In her presentation My Pathway to Higher Education and Sanctuary Scholar, Funmi, in conversation with Klaudia Krogulec, describes why she chose to study law when she realised how important it is to have a good solicitor when you are a forced migrant. She volunteers with the Swansea City of Sanctuary along with Swansea Asylum Seekers Support (SASS), Swansea Women’s Asylum and Refugee Support Group, Women4resources Swansea and African Community Centre (ACC) Swansea..

Klaudia Krogulec: PhD student at Swansea University

Klaudia Krogulec is an ESRC funded PhD student at Swansea University and her research focuses on the EU-Turkey Agreement and its impact on the Human Rights of Syrians in Turkey and Greece. She has been volunteering with Swansea City of Sanctuary for over a year. She also set up a STAR (Student Action for Refugees) society with other students at the Swansea University that aims to promote volunteering as well as working on the projects with Discovery (Swansea University charity) to support refugees and asylum seekers in Swansea.

Lynnette Thomas: Deputy Director, Strategy & Development at The Open University

Lynette plays a leadership role at The Open University in Wales in strategic planning, partnerships, research, innovation and engagement and business development activities, promoting and securing opportunities, to grow the University’s reach and impact across Wales. In her presentation How OU Wales is working towards being a University of Sanctuary she will discuss their current work in Equality Diversity and Inclusion and Access Participation and Success and how these align both with the core OU mission “open to all” and to the principles of Universities of Sanctuary. [Presentation].

Martin Stringer: Pro-Vice Chancellor of Swansea University

Martin is the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Swansea University. His presentation Swansea University’s Journey to becoming a University of Sanctuary will explain how Swansea University has benefitted greatly from local community initiatives such as Swansea City of Sanctuary and local asylum and refugee groups, such as Swansea Asylum-Seeker Support  – enabling PHD students as well as its staff access to the lived experience of local forced migrants and to coproduce knowledge about migration. These long-standing partnerships have furnished rich material for impact case studies in the arts and literature (for example, Hafan Books). The presentation will underscore how important such local community – university connections are in the journey to becoming a University of Sanctuary and what the university’s plans are going forward. [Presentation].


Pathways from Further Education to Higher Education

Paul Vincent is the Equality and Enrichment Officer at Gower College Swansea. Together with the college management team and Vice Principal Nick Brazil, they have worked hard to remove barriers to education that asylum seekers face in Swansea. In his parallel session, Paul will talk about Gower College Swansea is currently undergoing assessment to become Wales' first ever College of Sanctuary - they have implemented several actions to support their Asylum-seeking Students. This includes college wide campaigns to raise awareness of issues faced by asylum seekers and dedicated student support officers and flexible approaches to learning. [Presentation].

Applying to become a University of Sanctuary

Lidia and Aditya will kick off the discussion in this break out group and introduce the research they are undertaking to make a successful application for the OU to become a university of sanctuary. Maryam Taher (see above) will contribute insights into what is required to make this exercise successful, and sustainable. Hiba, will offer insights from a student’s perspective. [Presentation].

Lidia Dancu is working on the forced migration project in the OU in Scotland. She is a lead researcher on the feasibility study for the OU’s University of Sanctuary bid. She has experience of working with asylum seekers and refugees during first dispersals to Glasgow, as well as with displaced people in India. As an OU law graduate, she has worked alongside an immigration lawyer in Glasgow specialising in asylum, human trafficking and human rights, as well as with Shakti Women’s Aid. She continues to volunteer with the Open Justice Online Law Clinic.

Aditya Ray is a postdoctoral fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) in the Open University, where he researches issues of labour, skills, and transnational migration. Aditya, alongside Lidia, is currently conducting a feasibility study in support of OU's application to the University of Sanctuary.

Heba Mamoun Alwadi has just registered for an undergraduate student at The Open University in Scotland. She fled Syria, aged 13, in 2013, went to school in Jordan and came to UK in 2017. Since then she has made great progress in accessing Higher Education and will share her experiences.

Being a University of Sanctuary

Caroline Thraves is Academic Director for Art & Media, Swansea College of Art within Wales Institute of Science and Art. She also holds an MA in Post Compulsory Education and Training, alongside an MSc in Management Studies. Caroline was awarded Welsh Women of the Year 2019 for Services to Education at the Welsh Women’s Awards. Caroline was awarded the Sunday Times/WeAreTheCity’s Rising Star’s Award 2019 (Education and Academia). [Presentation].

Mohammed Salim Ansari is a Sanctuary Scholar at The University of Wales Trinity St Davids. He holds an undergraduate degree in computer science from Mumbai (then Bombay) University. After arriving as an asylum seeker in Swansea, he volunteered at the African Community Centre and other groups and these provided stepping-stones to Higher Education. Mohammed will stress the importance of volunteering and community engagement for asylum seekers to avoid isolation and locate opportunities.

Student Outreach, Support and Engagement

Gill and Suki will kick off the discussion in this break out group and explain how their experiences of working with students from forced migrant backgrounds and/or of setting up STAR groups have led to a better understanding of what forms of student support are required to make it successful, sustainable and viable. Klaudia Krogulec see above) will be note-taker and rapporteur. [Presentation].

Dr Suki Haider is an associate lecturer and consultant at The Open University, tutoring history and social science. She researches the application of anti-racist pedagogy online and facilitates student and staff conversations on decolonising the curriculum. She is a research associate with the College Development Network, University of Sterling and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Centre, University of Manchester.  She brings to the group experience of encouraging students to support the University of Sanctuary’s work, by building student partnerships online.

Gill Ryan is Access, Participation and Success officer at the Open University in Scotland. The APS team is currently developing a pilot project, working in partnership with third sector organisations, to develop study skills and pathways into higher education for forced migrants. She is a member of the OU’s Universities of Sanctuary working group and is a co-author of the Refugee Learning Stories blog.


Hannah Sabatia: Development Officer for the Better Welcome to Swansea Project

Hannah is Development Officer for the Better Welcome to Swansea project, and Swansea Council for Voluntary Service (in partnership with Swansea City of Sanctuary). Originally from Kenya, she qualified as a dietician and worked in a diabetes clinic. She came to Swansea in 2009 and sought asylum. While waiting, she volunteered with various organizations, was Vice-Chair of Swansea City of Sanctuary for several years and obtained a post graduate certificate in education (PCET). Granted leave to remain in 2017, Hannah become coordinator of SHARE Tawe, providing accommodation for homeless refused asylum seekers, before getting her current job at SCVS. She is currently on secondment to the local health board. In her presentation Supporting those Entering Employment Hannah will talk briefly about her experience and touch briefly on what she has observed from those she has supported. [Presentation].

David Bacon: Welsh Refugee Coalition

David Bacon is a member of the Welsh Refugee Coalition’s Executive, chairs Cardiff City of Sanctuary and volunteers for some other Welsh asylum seeker and refugee groups. He used to be a senior civil servant in the Welsh and Westminster Governments, with policy responsibilities that have included skills, employability, business competitiveness, higher education and education strategy. He also worked as a UK diplomat and a government research scientist. In his talk Welsh Refugee Coalition he will discuss current proposals for what is needed to help improve employment opportunities for those seeking sanctuary in Wales. He will draw on the Coalition’s ‘Manifesto’ document for the Senedd elections and a recent ‘Pathways to Employment’ conference held in April. It is hoped and expected that today’s event will help build further on those proposals. [Presentation].

Roger Nyantou and Tesfalem Temane: RETAS

Roger Nyantou and Tesfalem Temane, both work for Refugee Education Training Advice Service in Leeds. In their talk Barriers to Employment they give a g snapshot of the range of challenges, barriers, support available and work left to do to further support refugees into employment. [Presentation].

Carlos Ibarra Rivadeneira and Kate Denner: Down to Earth

Carlos Ibarra Rivandeneira: Ethnic Minority Youth Team (EYST) in Swansea

Carlos supports Black and Minority Ethnic youth via educational and personal development programmes. Carlos worked on large-scale community projects in Venezuela where he used his organisational and counselling skills with people to develop their potential. During his years in Swansea, he has worked as a volunteer and in employment e.g., as a volunteer at Down to Earth Project, a mentor in the Better Welcome to Swansea Project, an Ambassador in the British Red Cross, a Volunteer Programme Coordinator in Re-Cycle South Wales. He has been involved in research projects in the Open University and Gower College.

Kate Denner: Lead Programme Facilitator and Research Lead Down to Earth

She is a Lead Facilitator of programmes and Lead Researcher for Down to Earth’s clinical research programme. Kate is a qualified EATS L3 and ESOL teacher and has been working with refugees and asylum seekers since she first started working at Down to Earth as a volunteer in 2009. Kate had as First-Class Honours BSc and Post Grad Dip in Environmental Conservation and Management.

In their talk Moving Forward: Learning Skills and Gaining Experience to Improve Employability for Refugees they discuss a number of exciting projects


Employment Support

Deborah Cooze is BME Invest Project Co-ordinator at the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team. She is a career coach with considerable experience of working with asylum seekers, refugees and those who found traditional education and qualifications a struggle. Her current project at EYST is an Active Inclusion placement programme offering paid work experience for 16 hours per week for 16 weeks. Targeting participants from a BME background aged 18-24 who are currently not in education, employment or training, as well as those aged 25+ who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, the project is funded by ESF funds and managed by WCVA. Deborah will give examples from her experience of refugees she has coached, presenting jointly with Rahim El Habachi, who was previously a valued volunteer at EYST. [Presentation].

Rahim El Habachi is a Gay Moroccan refugee, committee member of Glitter Cymru, dancer, writer, and HIV positive activist. Rahim grew up in Morocco, where homosexuality is illegal as well as being thought unacceptable in Islam. Targeted by officials after trying to set up an LGBT group, he sought asylum in 2016, first in Netherlands and then UK. After four years and three appeals, his asylum claim was granted. He currently works in Cardiff. Rahim will present some of his experience and give his thoughts on how more asylum seekers and refugees could be supported into employment, presenting jointly with Deborah Cooze, who was his career coach for a while.

Entrepreneurship: Hurdles and Possibilities for Refugees

Saskia Volders is the Engagement Officer on the Refugee Women Empowerment project at the Centre for African Entrepreneurship, Swansea. Saskia Volders is a self-employed job coach, originally from the Netherlands, who has supported people into self-employment and employment for more than 12 years. This presentation by Saskia Volders from the CAE’s Refugee Women Empowerment Project is an introduction to interviews with refugee entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs on how more refugees can be supported to start businesses. What are the obstacles and what is possible to become a freelance worker, a business owner, a sole trader or an employer to help Wales’s economy flourish?

Engaging with Businesses in Hiring Refugees

Nadir Taha is the Regional Officer at ReStart.

In this presentation, Nadir will be discussing the need to highlight and communicate benefits, success stories and best practices, add training, education and resources for employers, and support matching refugee skills/qualifications with industry needs.


Parvati Raghuram: Professor of Geography and Migration, The Open University

Parvati’s research interests focus on the ways in which the mobility of individuals, goods and ideas is reshaping the world and the implications of mobility for class and race politics. Parvati will draw together themes of significance that have emerged during the day and especially the ways on which opportunities for education and work can come together in ways that allow forced migrants to realise their potential.

Simon Tindall: Head of Skills and Innovation at Open University

Simon has led a number of innovative projects that link education and employment in highly creative and productive ways. He will discuss the Uber drivers programme which enables Uber Pro Drivers and/or family members (many of whom are from Black and Minority ethnic backgrounds to apply for fee waivers for Open University degree courses. He will also refer to free online Open Learn skills for employment development modules, among other initiatives. He will draw on his experiences of these project and the contributions during the day to offer some insights into practical strategies for improving access for forced migrants. [Presentation].

Sian Summers-Rees: Chief Officer of City of Sanctuary UK

Siân is currently the Chief Officer for City of Sanctuary UK (@SummersRees). Previous to her current role she worked as the Director for Wales for the Community Transport Association (CTA) for two years. Previous to that she worked as the Chief Officer as Displaced People in Action (DPIA) for ten years, at the time the organisation had extensive employment and education services for people seeking sanctuary. She has also worked for various race equality organisations and has experience of delivering training in equality, diversity and refugee awareness. Siân has a legal background and is also a trustee for Asylum Justice (having volunteered with the organisation since it was set up in 2002), Asylum Justice is a charity which provides free asylum and immigration advice. [Presentation].

Sibusisiwe Mbwembwe: General Manager at African Community Centre, Swansea

A vibrant Motivational Speaker, Mindset and Lifestyle Coach, Zumba Instructor, entrepreneur and a Role Model with Big Ideas Wales. Sibusisiwe is passionate about helping people to unlock their full potential through harnessing a growth mindset and personal development.