BACKGROUND: Rita Alsouliman comes from Homs (Syria) and lives in Utrecht (Netherlands). She is one of the 15 young Syrian leaders taking part in the project ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ of Dutch civil rights organization Kompass. After 7-months of intense leadership training, this diverse Syrian group articulates its views on issues like integration, asylum and mental health to Dutch ministers and media. On June 22, Kompass will host a Meet-Up in the city of Utrecht where everyone is invited to hear the stories of the 15 people, and join in on the discussion on (Syrian) refugees in the Netherlands. In a country where the discussion on refugees has become very tense these days, these young Syrian leaders are working to have their voices heard.
- Tell us something about the project, why did you take part in this project? And why did you choose to focus on this action plan?
When I arrived in the Netherlands my heart was with Syria and the Syrian people, but I also noticed the challenges for a refugee to live in the Netherlands: the system, the law, the culture, and of course the language. For me, this project was a chance to understand Dutch politics better and to raise awareness for the problems Syrian refugees face in the Netherlands.
In the course of this program, every young Syrian leader in this project has made an action plan. I have decided to focus my action plan on educating Syrian people within the Netherlands about human rights. I believe that people cannot enjoy their rights and be active citizens if they do not fully understand what human rights are.
What is important when dealing with this is the diversity of Syrian people in the Netherlands; how Syrians live together after leaving their country, war and conflict. Syria is diverse in terms of religion, ethnicity, gender, etc. People tend to forget that sometimes. And every group or individual has its unique take on the world and the conflict.
Take me as an Alevite person, people immediately have prejudices. I am pregnant and my child will represent Syria in its diversity. I hope it will not have to face differences and division, and will live in a world where human rights for all are key.
- When did you become active in making a political change? Is your political engagement affected by the rise of extremism and how?
I started my work as a human rights defender in Cairo, working with two political Syrian political parties, and Syrian politicians in exile on improving the human rights conditions within Syria. Since I have arrived in the Netherlands I have done volunteer work with various NGOs. I feel a big responsibility to prevent society from hatred and extremism. This includes the Netherlands and Syria. The focus of my plan might be on the Syrian diaspora groups in the Netherlands to live together. At the same time, my action plan might also help Syria in the long run when some of the now better-informed Syrian people are able to return to the country.
- How does being a refugee and woman impact your access to political rights and civil liberties in the Netherlands?
I am human and I deal with other humans. In general, I, therefore, do not want to focus too much on the fact that I am a refugee or a woman. At the same time, there are many challenges for people like me here. It is interesting that every member of our group of young Syrian leaders observes or works on different challenges; whether that is problems with language education, integration, mental health, or the Dutch policy of asylum and return.
I am very happy with a project like Nothing About Us Without Us, which helps us to get the skills and the contacts to bring these topics forward to politicians. Not only our own individual topics, but the challenges many Syrians face in the Netherlands. We met with business leaders, politicians from all sides, lobbyists and university professors. It is great that so many people were willing to help and to give part of their time to teach us how we can make a positive change and work in a better country and world.
- What message would you pass on from the project you took part to other women in a more marginalized position?
As a young leader and participant in this program, I have a moral responsibility to transfer the knowledge I got to other people, starting with Syrian women. My message to women in a marginalized position is: get the skills, get that knowledge, and make that change