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Basma El Doukhi: a refugee and a Practitioner who is “a voice for the voiceless”

Basma El Doukhi gained a Chevening Scholarship to study MA Development and Emergency Practice at Oxford Brookes in 2019-20. Here she tells the story of an eventful year, the need to shift the narrative on refugees and the importance of hope in building a better world.

“I am a Palestinian refugee living in Rashidieh Camp in Lebanon,” explains Basma, “and I want to use my personal and professional experiences and stories for the benefit of my community: to be a voice for the voiceless, and to be a role model for the girls and women in my community.”

Basma is one of many refugees living in Lebanon which has by far the highest proportion of refugees in the world – more than 20% of its population. Palestinian refugees have been living there for more than 70 years, as well as asylum seekers from Iraq and other countries, and in recent years, refugees from the devastating war in Syria.

As a refugee myself, my personal experience adds value to my work

She began volunteering with local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) within her own community. This lead to work with international NGOs and in 2014 she joined the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

“As a refugee myself, my personal experience adds value to my work because I understand the needs of refugees – and also I understand what they can contribute. So I am in a better position to advocate for refugees.

“With UNHCR, I was working with Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, mainly enforcing the response and prevention activities for child protection, and the protection activities against gender and sexual based violence, and also co-ordinating with local groups and government to build their capacities.”

When I saw the Master’s in Development and Emergency Practice at Brookes, I really liked the subject

To progress her career further, Basma required a relevant Master’s degree. She successfully applied for a Chevening Scholarship, which is funded by the UK government and enables some of the best students and professionals from around the world to study in the UK.

Basma chose to study at Oxford Brookes, “I had a lot of professional experience but lacked academic experience to complement it, which I needed to progress with my career. When I saw the Master’s in Development and Emergency Practice at Brookes, I really liked the subject and list of modules but also the extra-curricular activities such as the Oxford Human Rights Festival.

“So I knew I could bring a good and added contribution from my experience, and get a lot of benefit from interacting with the professors and other students on the course.”

Basma had previously been to Oxford in 2017, when she did a course at Oxford University, and when she arrived at Brookes in autumn 2019 she quickly settled in and played an active role on her course and wider student and city life.

“I had a lot of very positive feedback about my contribution, to the course itself and also to the extra-curricular activities with my willingness to take the initiative and share my experiences. I was the student representative for the course as well so I was able to support others and provide feedback.

“I was also on the planning committee for the Oxford Human Rights Festival. I planned and co-ordinated activities, and spoke about my personal and professional experience, and also held a panel discussion about the negative image of refugees in the UK and how we can change the narrative.”

The Oxford Human Rights Festival took place in March, as it does every year. However March 2020 was not a normal month and Covid-19 changed everybody’s lives, including preventing some events in the festival going ahead. However Basma organised and led two on-line events during last year festival challenging the disruption. Basma is also part of this year’s festival – giving an online tour of Rashidieh, the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where she lives, on Saturday 13 March.

Oxford became part of my identity

Basma is resilient, as we all have to be sometimes, and did not allow the pandemic to stop her studying or continue doing things to support her community – which in this case was the local community in Oxford.

“I adored living in Oxford. During the pandemic I was one of the NHS volunteers helping people in the city. I really enjoyed living in Oxford, both before Covid and during the pandemic. Oxford became part of my identity.

“It was a year I will never ever forget. I am proud of my achievements, and grateful to the academics and my fellow students at the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice.”

Basma completed her course and graduated, with an MA in Development and Emergency Practice, and returned to Lebanon in December 2020. She believes the course was excellent and is keen to recommend it.

“I am part of a global network of Chevening Scholars, and whenever I go to an event I am proud to promote Oxford Brookes and in particular the Master’s course. I am also encouraging my colleagues at the UN to take this Master’s.

“It was very interesting and rewarding to learn from students from other countries and with other perspectives – both professionally and personally. And also to shift narratives about us – about refugees – because at the end of the day I am a refugee as well as a professional, and many people didn’t understand about our area and the conflict we are facing.”

Getting the Master’s has already helped Basma to start a new perspective in her career as a Gender Advisor supporting United Nations programmes. And she has got a fully funded PhD scholarship in migration studies at the University of Kent.

To all refugee women and girls, I say keep fighting for your rights… Your dream will be achieved!

Basma’s passion and commitment to supporting refugees and internally displaced people is as strong as ever. Although times are particularly tough for many people at the moment, she emphasises the importance of retaining hope.

“Lebanon has suffered in the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the financial and social problems that already affected us. I hope the Lebanese community can recover quickly. And for my community – the Palestinian refugee community – I hope that one day we are able to return to our homeland and to achieve all our aspirations.”

Basma has achieved great things, through her passion and determination, and because she was able to access education. She believes it is vitally important that all girls and young women get a good education, as is their right, and with it they cannot just improve their own lives but change the world for the better.

“To all refugee women and girls, I say keep fighting for your rights, keep dreaming and keep believing in yourself. Your dream will be achieved!”

Find out more about this year’s Oxford Human Rights Festival – and join Basma for a tour of Rashidieh camp at oxfordhumanrightsfestival.net

Words by Sirius Gibson – with thanks to Basma for use of the photographs

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