Meet Mevan Babakar

Born in Baghdad to Kurdish parents, Mevan Babakar was exposed to the uprisings in Iraq, together with genocide against the Kurdish community from a very young age. 

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Mevan’s family fled the Gulf War in the early 1990s, along with millions of other Kurds who were in the same horrific position at the time.  

Mevan’s family initially escaped to the mountains, where they remained for several months. Following the launch of an international coalition, a no-fly zone was established over the mountains, providing Mevan and her family with a safe haven for a short time. Seeking a better life, Mevan’s family then made the difficult decision to journey to find safety. They travelled to Turkey, followed by Azerbaijan, and then finally Russia, where they stayed for over a year.   

During their time in Russia, Mevan and her family faced an array of terrifying events, including robberies, physical abuse, and attempted kidnappings, all while bracing the freezing cold. Eventually, Mevan’s family saved enough money to send Mevan and her mother to the Netherlands, while her father remained in Russia. 

Settling in a refugee camp near Zwolle, Mevan recounts her experience in the Netherlands as welcoming, safe and secure – a time where she was met with kindness and compassion from those around her. She was taught how to use a computer by the locals, and was gifted a bicycle by Egbert, a man who worked at the refugee camp.

Settling in a refugee camp near Zwolle, Mevan recounts her experience in the Netherlands as welcoming, safe and secure – a time where she was met with kindness and compassion from those around her. She was taught how to use a computer by the locals, and was gifted a bicycle by Egbert, a man who worked at the refugee camp. Mevan describes receiving the bike from a complete stranger as one of the most significant and wonderful gestures during this time. It made her feel like she was ‘just another kid’- a fond memory she still holds close to her heart all these years later. 

After one year in the Netherlands, Mevan and her mother moved to the UK. Four years later, with the support of UNHCR and the UK government, they were finally reunited with Mevan’s father, who also then moved to the UK.

 

Mevan went on to study, attending several state schools and later receiving her Master’s Degree in Biological and Bioprocessing Engineering from The University of Sheffield. She now works as Deputy CEO at Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact checking charity, and is a newly appointed trustee for UK for UNHCR.  

In 2019, Mevan went on a two-month sabbatical, retracing the journey that she and her family took during those life-changing five years. After recording her parents retelling stories and anecdotes from all the relevant locations, Mevan visited specific spots in Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, and the Netherlands – while simultaneously listening to the descriptive recordings from her mother and father. In a way, this allowed her to re-live what they went through, but through the lens of an adult, opposed to a young child. 

During this two-month sabbatical, Mevan managed to track down Egbert, the man in Netherlands who kindly gifted her the bicycle all those years ago, to say thank you – reminding her of those small acts of giving without the expectation of something in return. 

Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, which first defined who a refugee is in law and set out the human rights of women, men and children fleeing the horrors of war and persecution to seek safety in another country, UK for UNHCR is launching “The Refugee Dictionary” – a campaign asking Britons to help compile a dictionary that will define only one word – “refugee” – but in thousands of different personal, emotive and thought-provoking ways.  

It is hoped the project will bring thousands of new meanings to the word and highlight that refugees aren’t confined or defined by one word but are individuals with myriad rich stories, hopes and lives. 

Officially launching on 11th June 2021, UK for UNHCR is encouraging everyone to take part, from those who have sought refuge in the UK or people who have family members who were refugees, to those who want to celebrate the positive role of refugees in the UK. 

Mevan’s definition: “A refugee is holding onto the idea that even in the darkest of times there will always be shining acts of kindness” 

To find out more about the campaign, share your contribution (by July 5th) or find out more about supporting UK for UNHCR, visit our website.

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