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11 August 2021

Syed Hasnain: Advocating for Refugee Rights and Equal Opportunities

Syed Hasnain has experienced all the challenges associated with being a refugee in Europe and is now making a difference by advocating for refugee rights and equal rights opportunities in decision-making spaces. 

Originally from Afghanistan, Hasnain is the co-founder and current president of UNIRE (Italian National Union of Refugees and Exiles), the first national network of refugees living in Italy. UNIRE is a shared space dedicated to build and strengthen the networks of associations promoted by refugees and individual activists. It aims to restore the agency and the protagonism of refugees in relevant political decision-making spaces, no matter where they are from, by means of self-representation and self-narration.

In addition to his impactful mission with UNIRE, Hasnain has worked with several relevant humanitarian NGOs and is currently a member of the Expert Group on the Views of Migrants in the Fields of Migration, Asylum, and Integration at the EU Commission, where he provides policy expertise. If that wasn’t good enough, since 2018, he is one of the most dynamic members of the European chapter of the Global Refugee Network (GRN).

Stay with us to learn more about Hasnain’s journey and aspirations to keep impacting refugees and exiles’ lives in a positive, inclusive and lasting way: 

Q: Thank you for joining us, Syed! To get us started, how would you describe yourself in only a few words?

A: I am a cosmopolitan refugee advocate.

Q: We imagine that this description of yourself is a good introduction  to your life purpose . Are we correct?

A: Yes! My purpose is to advocate for refugee rights and their access to equal opportunities in host societies.

advocating for refugee rights

Syed Hasnain advocating for refugee rights

“Refugees are, generally, perceived as weak, as a burden, as needy and passive members of society. For me, it’s the opposite: they are courageous, skilled, and passionate changemakers” 

Q: That’s definitely an urgent and relevant matter, and you’re doing incredible work advocating for refugee rights with UNIRE and GRN. Could you share with us a little about your own story and how it led you to the work you do today?

A: I have been a refugee since I was 10 years old. I have been to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Italy, and along my journey I’ve faced many barriers accessing my rights and also discrimination for something that I had no choice but to become ​​ a refugee. UNIRE and GRN are the main and appropriate platforms to combat all kinds of exclusion and discrimination for people seeking safety and protection, in addition to making inclusivity a concrete part of society.

Q: We have nothing but admiration and respect for your journey. When you think about what you’ve been through to be here today, doing the relevant work you’re doing, are there any particular achievements you are most proud of? 

A: I managed to candidate UNIRE to the EU Commission Expert Group on the view of migrants and refugees at the end of 2020. It was successfully selected as the unique and single refugee-led organization from Italy among 24 members from all over Europe. Being part of the Expert Group and contributing to its works is the perfect opportunity for UNIRE to transmit and reflect the views and perspectives of refugees for better policies in areas of migration, asylum, and integration.

Q: That’s amazing! Considering your experience, is there anything you’ve noticed not to be widely known and want more people to know about refugees and refugee rights?

A: Refugees are, generally, perceived as weak, as a burden, as needy and passive members of society. For me, it’s the opposite: they are courageous, skilled, and passionate changemakers, both in their lives and the host societies. We just need to ensure they have the right inclusion opportunities.

“UNIRE and GRN are the main and appropriate platforms to combat all kinds of exclusion and discrimination for people seeking safety and protection, in addition to making inclusivity a concrete part of society”

advocating for refugee rights

Syed Hasnain and UNIRE

Q: Looking ahead now, what is your ambition for the upcoming year? What impact do you aim to make?

A: My goal is to struggle and ensure more agency is given and more meaningful participation of refugees is held in policy-making processes. Secondly, I’d like to change the toxic and negative narrative around migrants by means of self-narration and self-representation of refugees and migrants in public spaces.

Q: At Impact Hub we talk about entrepreneurship a lot and we know it requires courage. What is courage to you?

A: For me, courage means taking the right and huge step in the right moment even if you are going to have to face many challenges along the way and, hopefully, keep following your dreams in the hopes of a better future.

Q: Thank you very much for sharing your inspiring story with us! To wrap this up, what was your key takeaway from the first LIAISE Community of Practice’ session?

A: Learning from other stories and understanding that it takes courage to put in place life-changing initiatives.


In a co-effort with the European Business & Innovation Centre Network, the European Venture Philanthropy Association and Caritas organizations, Impact Hub gathered experts and entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups in a series of virtual working sessions (Communities of Practice) as part of Better Incubation to engage over the topic of inclusive entrepreneurship. Our guest on this occasion, Syed Hasnain, is one of the admirable program participants.

Follow Syed Hasnain and his inspiring work with UNIRE and the European Coalition on Facebook. 

For more interesting stories from the Better Incubation program, enjoy our latest article about Larissa de Moura’s and her mission to build a world without borders. Make sure to keep an eye in our social channels, as we will share more stories of inclusive entrepreneurship in the upcoming period.