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Former refugee graduates from Swansea University with MSc in Population Movements and Policies
Latefa Guemar, from Upper Killay in Swansea, had to give up a promising career as a scientist when she was forced to flee her home country of Algeria in 2003. But the forty-five-year-old is now looking forward to a new career researching the politics of national, regional and international migration and its implication for government policies, as she graduated from Swansea University with an MSc in Population Movements and Policies, on Friday, July 23rd.
Latefa arrived in the UK as a refugee, heavily pregnant and with two young children, after her husband, a journalist and political activisit, also fled Algeria for his safety.
Latefa and her family were relocated to Swansea by the Home Office, where they eventually settled after being awarded refugee status in 2004, and began their new life.
"The first two years were very difficult," said Latefa. "In Algiers, I worked as a research assistant in non-destructive testing for the Algerian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Although I hold an Electronic Engineering degree, I was one of only half a dozen women working in a very male-dominated environment. This was challenging, but not as challenging as being forced to give up your home, your family and social network; in fact almost everything for your beliefs."
Amazed by the number of women she encountered in Swansea who had been forced to travel or migrate on their own due to political unrest and gender-related persecutions, Latefa was keen to get stuck in to help. A volunteer at the Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group and a host of other organisations, Latefa re-oriented her studies and enrolled for a part-time degree – BA (Hons) in Humanities – at Swansea University's Department of Adult and Continuing Education (DACE), with a focus on race and ethnicity.
She also worked with DACE on a three-year project entitled 'Parenting in a Multi-Cultural European City' and was quickly appointed as local coordinator. She said: "Although the parents spoke different languages and came from many different backgrounds and countries, they all had to deal with the issues faced by parents everywhere such as difficult teenage behavior, bullying, etc. At DACE, we knew we needed to do something else to help and subsequently designed the website www.swansea-arrivals.net as a guide for people arriving in Swansea for the first time."
It was her passion for understanding the reasons behind forced migration and the impact on women and their mental health which resulted in Latefa enrolling for the MSc in Population Movements and Policies, in the University's School of the Environment and Society. Despite much continued personal difficulty during her studies, Latefa's dissertation was awarded a Distinction. She is now preparing to submit the proposal for her PhD degree.
Latefa's Course Director and supervisor, Professor Heaven Crawley, Director of the Centre for Migration Policy Research (CMPR) at Swansea University, said her success is inspirational. "Latefa has been an exceptionally hard-working and determined student who has managed to combine her passion for understanding migration processes and policies with deep insight and understanding gained through her own personal experiences," she said. Her dissertation explored the impact of exile on the mental health of refugee women living in Swansea. Although the subject was clearly close to home, it was a thorough and powerful piece of work and I am delighted – although not surprised – about her success. Students such as Latefa are a huge asset to the Centre for Migration Policy Research. Much of the research undertaken within the Centre is embedded in the migration experience and focuses on the ways in which the realities of national and international migration (for migrants, the communities from which they depart and those to which they subsequently move or pass through) are conceptualised and represented within policy and practice. Latefa and others who have first-hand experiences of forced migration are particularly well placed to help us understand these issues."
Latefa said, "The Centre provides excellent academic teaching within a great atmosphere and I very much enjoyed studying and building longstanding friendships with my fellow students."
Since studying at Swansea, Latefa has become a CMPR Research Associate, contributing significantly to a number of research projects exploring the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers. Her proposed PhD will focus on how to engage professional Algerian women in the diaspora in the development of both receiving countries and Algeria. And she looks forward to working with Professor Crawley again.
She said: "A renowned expert in her field, Professor Crawley has made it possible for me to use my personal experiences to inform my study and ultimately achieve success. Without her expert direction and understanding of the issues, I am not sure whether I would have been able to get where I am today. I am also incredibly grateful to the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) for their financial and childcare support. Now, I love living and studying in Swansea and although it was a strange way to get here, I am confident that my experience can help others faced with similar circumstances."
The Centre for Migration Policy Research (CMPR) is a University research centre which aims to encourage the exchange of ideas about asylum and migration and ensure that policy-making is underpinned by empirical evidence about the nature and causes of migration, the impacts on different countries and communities and the effects - both intended and unintended - of policy responses. Information about research and activities undertaken by CMPR can be found at www.swansea.ac.uk/cmpr.
Swansea University is a world-class, research-led university situated in stunning parkland overlooking Swansea Bay on the edge of the Gower peninsula, the UK's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Founded in 1920, the University now offers around 500 undergraduate courses and 150 postgraduate courses to more than 13,800 students. Visit www.swansea.ac.uk.