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A leader in refugee resettlement in Scotland awarded honorary degree from Queen Margaret University

Posted: 5th July 2023

An inspirational woman who is a leading figure in the support and resettlement of refugees in Scotland was awarded an honorary degree from Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh at its first graduation ceremony of the year, held on 3rd July.

Wafa Shaheen, Head of Services at the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), the leading refugee charity in Scotland, has helped develop a uniquely Scottish approach to welcoming people seeking international protection.

Wafa Shaheen, who was awarded a Degree of Doctor of the University, Honoris Causa by Queen Margaret University, was joined by Dame Prue Leith CBE, Chancellor of QMU, and 400 new graduates and their families at the first of three QMU graduation ceremonies to be held this summer in Edinburgh’s beautiful Usher Hall. This year, the University’s ceremonies run over two days to accommodate the University’s growing number of graduating students. The events will see the first cohort of students graduate with a BSc Paramedic Science, BA (Hons) Education Studies and the BA (Hons) Education Studies (Primary). Students from these courses will take up vital positions as paramedics in Scotland’s NHS, as primary teachers in schools, and in education roles across Scotland.

Having lived and worked in Baghdad, Wafa Shaheen has encountered the restrictions and hostility imposed by Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Her husband was one of Iraq’s forcibly ‘disappeared’ – one of up to one million people in the country who have been detained without an arrest warrant, usually for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Following her husband’s return a month after he was taken, the couple knew they had to get their family out of the country. In 1996, the family found themselves in Glasgow, and have since made Scotland their home.

Wafa’s experience supporting new Scots in their journeys to social and economic inclusion started soon after her arrival in Scotland when she first began supporting Arabic speakers to access health care. She has been with the Scottish Refugee Council since 2000, where her skill and experience in developing high quality services has led to the development of a uniquely Scottish approach to welcoming, supporting and integrating refugees into their new communities. As well as delivering asylum and immigration advice, Wafa has been key in providing strategic insights into the new communities settling in Scotland. She has worked closely on research with the Institute for Global Health and Development at Queen Margaret University, and her insights into the importance of social connections – within and across communities – have guided government strategy ever since. She receives her honorary degree in the year QMU’s Institute for Global Health and Development celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Wafa’s influence extends well beyond the Scottish Refugee Council. She has been a member of the Scottish Government’s New Scots Core Group, has been involved in Glasgow’s Homelessness Strategic Planning Group and was one of the original members of the Scottish Government’s Refugee Task Force Integration Forum, the legacy of which continues to shape Scotland’s response to refugee arrivals, including the Syrian, Ukrainian and Afghani resettlement schemes.

Sir Paul Grice, Principal of Queen Margaret University, said: “We are delighted that, today, our students have the opportunity to learn about the life and career of Wafa Shaheem – a strong, compassionate and inspirational woman who has worked tirelessly to support and resettle refugees in Scotland and to help develop policies that recognise and respond to refugees’ resilience and capacities rather than their vulnerabilities. She has been pivotal in the work of QMU’s Institute for Global Health and Development where she has supported research into the importance of social connections. She has been a truly compassionate leader who has helped Scotland build and connect communities and strengthen its capacity for successful multicultural integration. Her achievements align with QMU’s values of social justice and with our aim of producing relevant research and work which makes a positive impact on the world. Her advocacy for compassionate, sustainable, holistic refugee integration could not be more urgent or relevant in today’s world.

“We are truly honoured to have such an exceptional individual at graduation, and we are delighted to recognise Wafa’s impressive achievements with an honorary degree.”

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