Rabia Nasimi arrived in the UK at the age of five with her family, fleeing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Rabia has been extensively involved in running the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), a charity founded by her father to support refugee integration in the UK.
As part of her work at the ACAA, she has worked in a diaspora-led development programme in Afghanistan as well as supporting women and families who are refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
She graduated from Goldsmiths University with a BSc in Sociology and Politics before joining LSE as a postgraduate student, and is now a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Cambridge.
In June 2018 Rabia was a winner of the WeAreTheCity Top 100 Rising Stars awards. The awards showcase 100 up and coming female role models. She was also on the 2018 shortlist for a Women of the Future Award.
You and your family arrived in Dover in the back of a lorry, after an arduous and dangerous journey. Can you tell us about your experience?
Being so young at the time I don’t remember much of it, but my parents have told us about our journey story. It isn’t a very positive or joyful one, my parents took huge risks travelling with three small children across Europe, but I could not be happier with their decision or more thankful to the UK for hosting us.
As academics, my father and mother were likely to become a Taliban target, so we had to escape our home in Afghanistan leaving everything behind. We had no clue of what country we were destined for at first, but we soon had our hearts set on Britain, as we learned about the opportunities it provided. My father became particularly attracted to the British model of integration, one in which you can live your life and express your identity and religion freely.
The tiny bit of the journey I do remember is arriving in the UK, and being greeted by the Border Agency with a smile and a marshmallow.
How did you and your family adapt to your new life in the UK?
Adapting to life in a new country with a new system is challenging – it was hard for us children, but it was even harder for my parents. My sister and I picked up the language quicker from our contact with classmates and teachers at school, and we got to understand more about the culture than my parents. At points, we even guided them. But with hard work and perseverance everything is possible, and eventually we all fully adjusted to our new country. Britain is such a large melting pot of diverse cultures and backgrounds that I never felt different.
In your experience, what are the main challenges and barriers facing newly-arrived refugees?
Language is the main barrier – for both well-educated refugees who had good professions back home, and for those who are illiterate. Language has a knock on effect that can impact almost every part of your life from robbing your self-confidence to preventing you from finding a job or properly understanding what you doctor or teacher is trying to tell you. Other than getting their asylum application approved, overcoming the language barrier is the biggest challenge a refugee will face in their new home.
Not understanding the culture and the system is also a big challenge that prevents many refugees from being able to take advantage of all the opportunities in the UK. Refugees seek refuge to build a better life for themselves, to get a good education and some form of employment. Not being able to understand how to navigate the system is a significant impediment, and grassroots organisations play a key role in filling the gap by providing help and support.
You have been extensively involved in the work of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, a charity founded by your father in 2001. What kind of support does the organisation offer?
ACAA helps refugees with the difficult process of integrating into a new country, a cause that has always been close to my heart. We try to provide refugees with the skills they need to thrive in the UK by offering everything from English classes to employment training and advice on housing, immigration, welfare and legal representation.
Our work bridges the gaps in government and council services helping refugees make the difficult transition from new migrant to asylum seeker to British citizen. Our aim is to ensure every refugee has the support and aid to flourish in their new home.
What led you to study at LSE?
I applied to study at LSE in the third year of my undergraduate at Goldsmiths because I wanted to continue my studies with a master’s focusing solely on Sociology. LSE’s Department of Sociology is among the very best in the world for this discipline and offered some amazing modules on ethnicity and culture, so I felt it was the perfect place for me.
What are your fondest memories of your time at the School?
I have many: I loved the library – which I still use now as an alumna – and graduation was great, academics were very supportive and fellow students were inspirational. I am proud to say that during my time at LSE I never felt different to anyone else, regardless of their background or socio-economic status. As students, we were there to learn – and that was the main focus of my time at the School.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently a PhD candidate at Cambridge hoping to conduct field research into ethnicity and its effect on employability in Afghanistan so hopefully that will be my future for the next several years, but after that it could be anything. I have many plans and, having always kept my options open, I eagerly await to see what the future holds for me. I am hoping to work in Afghanistan – I know the language, and I understand the culture as well as the people. I have kept touch with the country through my research, so I’ve never really felt distant from it. I also want to give back to the UK. I benefited from opportunities I may have not been given elsewhere, so I will work to support and give back to a society which helped me to grow.
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