London woman who fled war helps define ‘refugee’

A London woman who fled the gulf war with her family is helping define the word ‘refugee’ in a new dictionary released for World Refugee Day this Sunday (June 20).

Mevan Babakar was made a refugee when she and her family were forced to flee the violence of the gulf war during the early 1990s.

Now living in London, Mevan is a Trustee for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and will join Countdown legend Susie Dent in helping collect experiences included in a new dictionary that focuses exclusively on a single word: refugee.

The project will mark the 70th Anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention on July 28, 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.

Since 1951, millions more people have been made refugees. The new dictionary aims to collect their experiences and “remind us of the rich tapestry of stories and futures made possible because of this significant human rights convention…”

Launching the campaign, Susie Dent said:

“Your definition will be yours alone, born of your own experience. It might be ‘A grandfather with a wicked sense of humour, who told a great bedtime story’ or ‘A wonderful friend who misses the scent of jasmine flowers.’

“This is about focusing on personal stories. We can’t wait to read the varied and wonderful contributions.

“My definition is: ‘A refugee is the mother who sees her child find their smile again, free of turmoil, full of hope.'”

This and many more definitions will sit in The Refugee Dictionary alongside other submissions, including Mevan’s own definition. 

Having spent five years as a refugee from the Gulf War with her parents before finally settling in London, she offered the following definition: “A refugee is holding onto the idea that even in the darkest of times there will always be shining acts of kindness.”

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