Journalist who fled Eritrea fearing for life, awarded with national accolade for helping other refugees in Oxford
SIXTEEN years ago a journalist fled her home in Eritrea, Africa with her two-year-old daughter, fearing for her life.
She hoped to find safety in America. But Eden Habtemichael never made it to the US and instead found herself coming to the UK in 2001. Completely isolated and unable to speak English, the now 39-year-old found herself crying every day for three months.
Her luck changed when she saw a sign for Asylum Welcome, based in Magdalen Road, and went in to see if she could be helped by the charity.
She has been awarded the Women on the Move Woman of the Year accolade for 2017.
The Rose Hill resident said: “You do not do this for the awards, so I was very surprised to have won this.
“You do it to help the people that are where you were, in this hole where you do not know what you are going to do next.
“Some of the women now call me mom or sister and that is because they do not have any family here.
“You have to help them rebuild a family.”
The national awards are organized by Migrant Organise and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to recognize and celebrate inspirational leadership and contribution from migrant and refugee women to UK society.
As a former client herself Miss Habtemichael understand the needs and difficulties many of the women face when they come to Oxford.
She added: “When I came here I did not know anything, where to go, what to do and I want to make sure no one else feels like that when they come here.
“I remember bringing my daughter to the playground and just sitting there thinking about how we were going to survive.”
As Woman Service Coordinator Miss Habtemichael runs the charity’s Women’s Group which grew from a monthly group to one that meets several times a week.
Currently, 52 women take part in the program which includes English classes, vocational skills, Zumba and music classes and CV workshops.
Kate Hood, director of Refugee Resource, said: “We are extremely proud of Eden, this award recognizes the outstanding leadership she has provided and the progress that she and the members of the women’s group at Refugee Resource have made.”
In her free time, Miss Habtemichael is also co-chairwoman of the Oxford City of Sanctuary, a trustee of East Oxford Community Centre and is one of the directors at Sanctuary Housing, which helps provide temporary accommodation to vulnerable refugees and migrants.
She has also established a friendship group between the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in Oxford.
In the future, Miss Habtemichael hopes to be able to resume her career as a journalist after she spent seven years reporting on stories in Eritrea.
Her daughter, Segen, now 18, is hoping to study psychology at university in September.
She added: “I am very proud of everything she has achieved.
“That is why I did what I did, so I could have a better life for us both.
“It makes me very sad that she has not grown up in the motherland but my dream is that for one day we will be able to go back home.”
For more information visit: refugeeresource.org.uk