A former Kingston University student has received the Christine Jackson Young Person Award this past Monday for her campaign against refugee detention camps.
Meltem Avcil, a former Kingston student, saw her work recognised after her Change.org petition reached over 50,000 signatures, and after making numerous appearances on broadcast and print media.
Avcil began campaigning to end the detention of women asylum seekers in the UK after she and her mother went through imprisonment when she was only 13.
After coming to the UK seeking refuge and waiting six years to get refugee status, the Home Office rejected Avcil’s claim. The two were then locked up for three months in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, which Avcil described as “no different than a normal prison,” while the Home Office prepared their removal.
“These women faced torture, violence and imprisonment in their countries,” she said. “They are traumatised and come to this country seeking a new opportunity, only to be locked up again.”
The young activist describes herself as a thankful person for having the opportunity to build a new life away from conflict and persecution in the Kurdish part of Turkey, where she is originally from. However, there are still women being detained on a daily basis and Avcil is determined to keep going until she has won her fight against detention.
She said: ”Winning the prize was an honour. I gladly took the prize, but not for myself. It was for my mother and all the women in detention.
When I was imprisoned I never thought of such a day. Hopes are rare in there for people like us.”
The award ceremony was hosted by Liberty, a human rights organisation, in Southbank centre, where hundreds of people gathered to honour and celebrate the human rights heroes of 2014.
Avcil took nervous steps into the stage and looked at the crowd before her.
“I had not prepared a speech, so when I heard my name a rush of blood went through my head,” she said. “My nervousness took over me and I left the stage as soon as I received the prize.”
The aim of the campaign, supported by Women for Refugee Women, is to shut down Yarl’s Wood, which is run by Serco, a public company that operates prisons, detentions centres, transport, traffic control and schools on behalf of the government.
Avcil had previously campaigned to end the detention of children in such places, and she won the battle after a parliamentary enquiry resulted in the ban on child detention.
The campaign has been nominated the New Statesman Christmas camapaign 2014.