IN 2000, when I was 10, I moved to the UK with my mother to seek asylum. In 2004, we were granted refugee status which meant that my mother could work and I was able to go to university.

I now work for the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland where I manage and lead the charity’s refugee programme, called Sawti, which means “my voice” in Arabic. The project aims to raise awareness about mental health among asylum seeking and refugee communities in Scotland by using the arts to express and share their experiences. Some of the art work has been exhibited at the Scottish Parliament, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum ,and the University of Glasgow.

I began working for the charity in 2011 on another project with asylum seeking and refugee women. It was called Amaan, meaning “safety” in various languages, and was established after research highlighted a huge gap in mental health awareness among asylum seeking and refugee women.

As a former refugee, the work that I do is hugely personal to me. I regularly hear from asylum seekers and refugees who have struggled with pre-migration trauma, but the main cause of mental health problems is the distress created by the UK asylum system. There is no time limit to an asylum case and we can detain asylum seekers indefinitely. Other barriers exist such as language, not knowing their rights and experiencing racism.

I strongly believe that if immigration was devolved to Scotland we would have a more humane and fairer asylum system. We have long argued that key frontline agencies such as the Home Office and social work services should proactively seek to increase staff awareness of refugees’ experiences of mental health stigma and discrimination to inform policies and practice.

In 2005, a schoolfriend who was an asylum seeker was dawn raided and detained. At 7am on a Sunday morning, 14 home office officials went to Agnesa’s flat, handcuffed her father in front of the family and took them to a detention centre in England called Yarlswood. They were held there for the weeks. Agnesa had been living in Glasgow for five years. I later founded the Glasgow Girls campaign and Agnesa and her family were released from detention. She subsequently received refugee status.

I continued campaigning for other families and our story has been turned into two BBC documentaries, a stage musical and a BBC3 drama. I continue to campaign for the rights of refugees and have visited refugee camps in Greece and Calais.

On International Women’s day yesterday my thoughts were with all the inspiring women I met through our campaign, the people I work with and the 100 women who are on hunger strike in Yarlswood detention centre.

No-one chooses to be an asylum seeker; no one chooses to be a refugee. My life experiences have enabled me to empathise with refugees all over the world. This is why I find my work at the Mental Health Foundation rewarding. I know there is a lot more work to be done.

Amal Azzudin works for the Mental Health Foundation, but this article has been written in a personal capacity