Women's Refugee Commission Honors Resilience of Refugee Women, Announces Plans for Concert Series at Annual Awards Luncheon

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New York, NY — The Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) today held its annual Voices of Courage Awards Luncheon, where it honored three refugee women and announced plans to launch a new benefit concert series this fall with Grammy-award-winning musicians Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle.

WRC presents its Voices of Courage Awards each year to refugees who are gamechangers in their communities and who have broken through barriers faced by displaced people worldwide. Featuring the theme “Celebrating the Resilience of Refugee Women,” this year’s luncheon drew some 400 leaders in business, media, philanthropy, government, and humanitarian causes in support of displaced women, girls, and youth worldwide.

“At a time when refugees and asylum seekers face unprecedented challenges to their rights in the U.S. and around the globe, it is essential that we come together and carve out a moment to lift up and celebrate their inspiring stories,” said WRC Executive Director Sarah Costa. 

Refugees honored this year included: Majida Alaskary, a Palestinian-Syrian refugee now living in Greece; Sake Jemelia Beda, a former refugee from South Sudan who spent 13 years in Uganda; and Mugisha Willent, a Congolese refugee who fled to western Uganda.

“Confronted with enormous obstacles, refugee women and girls demonstrate remarkable resilience,” Costa said. “For nearly 30 years, the Women’s Refugee Commission has been proud to work directly with affected communities to advance the protections and services of displaced women, girls, and youth worldwide.  

Presenting the awards were: Ambassador Anne Anderson, formerly Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., UN, EU, and France; Massachusetts State Representative Juana Matias, the first Latina immigrant elected to the Massachusetts State House who is running for U.S. Congress; and Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security who served as the first U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

The Voices of Courage Corporate Honoree Award was bestowed on Starbucks for its work to expand economic opportunities for refugees.

The special musical guest was 13-time Grammy Award-winner Emmylou Harris, who announced plans for a concert series this fall to benefit WRC, with details expected in early summer.



Majida Alaskary is a Palestinian-Syrian who, as a youth with her family, fled the occupied Palestinian territories, eventually settling in Damascus, Syria. She went on to become a journalist; however, in 2016, out of concern for her safety as a result of her reporting, she was forced to flee her adopted home. Alaskary made her way to a refugee camp on Samos Island in Greece. Despite being granted asylum, a status allowing her to leave the camp at any time and begin a new life, she has chosen to remain and help other refugees who cannot leave.

Sake Jemelia Beda is a former refugee who, as a child, fled her home in South Sudan for Uganda, where she remained for 13 years. While in Uganda, Beda studied to become a nurse and midwife. Eventually, she was able to return to South Sudan to practice midwifery. She has gone on to become an instructor and travels across the continent to help train other midwives. She also serves as a reproductive health trainer in crisis areas and is a tutor at the Juba College of Nursing and Midwifery. An ardent advocate for education, Beda is the sponsor of 10 schoolchildren in Uganda and seven in South Sudan.

Mugisha Willent is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose family fled to western Uganda more than 16 years ago. Willent founded a program in her refugee settlement to help out-of-school girls, young mothers, and survivors of gender-based violence. She also serves as a UNHCR youth ambassador and has recently spoken at the UN in Geneva on behalf of her peers in Uganda to advocate for free movement in host countries, access to international travel documents, and parity in school fees between refugees and national students.