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Civil Service

Growing up in an alien country wasn't easy

Rabia Nasimi

Twenty-three years after fleeing Afghanistan’s warzone aged just five years old, Rabia Nasimi tells how she adjusted to a new life and language in London. Now a civil servant, Rabia works in the Afghan Resettlement Team, using her experience to shape migration policy helping refugees.

What do you picture whenever you see the word ‘refugee’? A Ukrainian? As war-torn Ukraine fights for survival, world leaders are united in condemning the invasion, but what of the cost to millions of civilians fleeing their homeland? And what is being done to help?

The UK government’s response has included the launch of the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ sponsorship scheme. According to the UNHCR, as of 24 February 2022, there are more than 3.6 million Ukrainian refugees, and this number continues to rise. But this is not a new phenomenon. Not when millions of refugees from around the world seek sanctuary and safety in countries like the UK.

Rabia Nasimi, (in scarf) with her siblings
Rabia (in scarf) with her siblings

Curiously, my story began in Ukraine. But I am not Ukrainian. My parents were studying on a scholarship in Ukraine in the nineties when I was born. My family comes from Afghanistan, another country racked by conflict.

I came to the UK with my family in 1999 – this involved difficult and dangerous ordeals along the way when I was just five years old. It was an arduous 3,509-mile journey from Afghanistan to London.

At the time of arrival, we were a family of five and soon after, my youngest sister was born at St Thomas’ Hospital in the heart of London. I barely have memories from my early childhood, perhaps because I subconsciously wanted to bury them. 

Journey of integration

Rabia Nasimi

Growing up in an alien country wasn’t easy. My parents experienced stress adapting and integrating, and naturally faced difficulties learning a new language, and they’ve really pushed themselves.

Luckily, reflecting on our journey of integration (which is still in progress), I am proud that my parents have not only managed to integrate and learn English, but they’re now supporting thousands of other refugees every year through the charity they founded, the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association. Life in the UK gave my parents the dignity, respect, and safety they had hoped for, so they had a strong desire to give kindness and friendship to others in the country they now call home.

Rabia Nasimi, graduating

My siblings and I have been educated at high calibre universities, something which would never have been possible had we stayed in Afghanistan, particularly for us three daughters in a society that shuns education for girls.

Taliban takeover

Last summer, when Afghanistan fell to the hands of the Taliban a second time, it was a very difficult time for us - particularly for my parents who had first-hand exposure to their barbaric rule.

I was also finding it difficult to work and yearned to find a way to support people inside Afghanistan as well as those that had newly arrived in the UK. At the time, I was working for the Department of Health and Social Care as a Social Researcher, my first role in the Civil Service.

Helping refugees

So, when a DHSC colleague who had previously been posted to Afghanistan and moved to the Afghan Resettlement Team told me about an opportunity to join the team, I didn’t hesitate to apply, and was so delighted when I was successful. 

My new role meant that I graduated from the Fast Stream two years early through promotion to a senior manager grade.  What often feels surreal is that now I can use my own experiences and cultural understanding of Afghanistan to make critically important contributions to the UK government’s migration efforts to resettle Afghan evacuees.

Rabia Nasimi, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Giving refugees a voice

In my role, I lead a policy research team which aims to place the voice of Afghan arrivals and other key stakeholders at the heart of policymaking. I have found it particularly rewarding visiting newly arrived Afghan families and learning more about how they’re adjusting to their new lives in the UK and their hopes, dreams and fears for the future.

For me, joining the Fast Stream was a career change and an entry route into the Civil Service. I’d been working for the volunteer and community sector for several years. Gradually, though, I realised that I wanted to move away from grass-roots delivery to helping to formulate and deliver public policies.

A Modern Civil Service

A Modern Civil ServiceWorking within A Modern Civil Service has enabled me to make friends across departments and grades. The work culture has been increasingly digital, flexible, supportive, and fast-paced. I’ve had excellent working relations with my line managers and have been given space and autonomy to lead and develop.

I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion so that my story does not remain unique, and that we continue to champion expertise and reflect the country we serve.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by Norman posted on

    Well done to you and your parents. An inspiring story

  2. Comment by Asim posted on

    What an inspiring story Rabia. Wish you very well for future ahead.

  3. Comment by Rabia posted on

    Thanks so much Ade.

  4. Comment by Ade Solarin posted on

    Lovely reading this (on here) Rabia 🙂

    Really proud of you and your sisters achievements, and of course your parents too.

  5. Comment by Monwara posted on

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Keep up the fantastic work your doing!

  6. Comment by Erik posted on

    I have had the pleasure to meet both you and your family Rabia & seen first hand the passion and commitment your family have unselfishly shown in providing support and assistance to refugees in the community. It was clear to see your families pride in your achievements and that of your siblings equalled only by the pride you have yourself for your parents. A bouquet of flowers to you all, a lovely and inspiring story.

    • Replies to Erik>

      Comment by Rabia posted on

      The pleasure has been all mine. It has always been so uplifting to hear about your experiences and the contributions of the UK in Afghanistan.

  7. Comment by Abdul Hassani posted on

    Dear Rabia,
    You are a vivid example of hard work and long lasting commitment bears fruit. You and the rest of Nasimis pave the way of success and achievements to the rest of uprising Afghans! Jamil Hassani

    • Replies to Abdul Hassani>

      Comment by Rabia posted on

      Thank you Jamil Jan, proud to have such a warm compatriot.

  8. Comment by Noshaba Baig posted on

    Rabia, I am so happy and humbled to hear your story, especially how your family achieved so much after all that you went through , You are an inspiration and fine role model to be celebrated . As a Pakistani woman I am so proud of you . Well done !!!

    • Replies to Noshaba Baig>

      Comment by Rabia posted on

      Thanks Noshaba Jan,

      I think it is really important to show others refugees that they can do it too.

  9. Comment by Jonathan posted on

    There are times when the 'Like' button simply isn't powerful enough. This needs a '❤' button .
    Singularly impressed by your and your parents' achievements. You are a shining example of the power of diversity and inclusion and I am delighted to have you as a Civil Service colleague.

    • Replies to Jonathan>

      Comment by Rabia posted on

      Thank you Jonathan <3,

      It gives me pleasure to know that there are such kind-hearted and forward-looking people in the Civil Service.

  10. Comment by Gavin posted on

    Thank you Rabia for sharing with us your story.

    May I congratulate you on what you have been able to achieve and for the work that you are now doing to support others.

    I would also like to commend the efforts of your parents who have sought to overcome a number of personal challenges and have looked to turn these into a positive, and use their experience to support those seeking sanctuary.

    Like you, I am a Advocate of Diversity and Inclusion. Could I ask you what significant changes have you seen over the past years in the D&I space and feel that we should celebrate?

    • Replies to Gavin>

      Comment by Rabia posted on

      Feel very humbled by your kind words Gavin.

      Within the Civil Service, I am particularly impressed by how we are trying our best to reflect the country we serve and create opportunities around the UK.