'Being a refugee is not an identity it is an experience'

'Being a refugee is not an identity it is an experience'

Research shows that workplace diversity contributes to a company's success. Developing good diverse and inclusive policy starts with awareness and a sense of urgency. We are happy to contribute to that at NOMMER. Read the stories of Mardjan Seighali, director of Foundation Refugee Students UAF, Myrna Harms, hr advisor NOM and Ruzanna Hovakimian, asylum seeker and student.

Mardjan Seighali grew up in Iran and fled the country 30 years ago. In the Netherlands, she managed to follow her own path and arrange her life the way she wanted. In freedom. Now she finds it her task to inspire others. As director of Foundation for Refugee Students UAF, she guides refugees through their studies and on their way to work. 'Employers can improve the position of newcomers. It's not just about being committed to the other person, but also having the courage to do something with them. Although that is quite difficult.'


'My first study in the 1990s was made possible by UAF. I was admitted to the Hogeschool van Amsterdam but did not qualify for study funding. I was gloomy and disappointed. Fortunately, the UAF was able to help me. After my studies, I got into a paid job fairly quickly. My supervisor at the time already saw my talent to lead. I was given a stage and was able to make it happen. I have now been director at UAF, a wonderful organization, for almost 8 years. My message to employers is: seize your opportunity, offer a stage. And my message to UAF participants is: grab your chance too, show what you have to offer.'


'So many talented refugees are entering our country. Highly educated students and professionals who can mean a lot to the Netherlands but who still have trouble finding a good education and a job. With UAF's help they can develop further. We advise, offer study guidance and support them in finding a study and a job. We act as an advocate and cooperate with educational institutions, governments and employers.

Due to the increasing influx of refugees and the scarcity in the labor market in technology, healthcare and ICT, we have recently started focusing on the MBO. I went out myself to enthuse employers about MBO apprenticeships. Pioneering work. By investing in their future employees, employers are taking their social responsibility. People are trained in the company, are given a job guarantee where possible, or receive an income during their training that enables them to follow a pathway. Both sides have to make an effort to come together. It doesn't happen by itself. Such a course creates solidarity.

'Being a refugee is not an identity it is an experience'

Mardjan Seighali

View the UAF website


'There are countless reasons to include refugees in your business. I just mention inclusiveness, diversity and social duty. There are few reasons not to do it. Like: 'They have trauma so I don't know what I'm getting into.' Or 'they don't speak the language like you and I do.' True, I still don't either I say then. In my book 'To the Day' I talk candidly about my own life to show that trauma does not necessarily have to get in the way. Especially in this time of corona, you have to be agile as an entrepreneur and learn to deal with the situation every time. People who have fled have often been tested in this. They have come with a backpack full of knowledge, experience and a lot of resilience. With an open and empathetic attitude, you can capitalize on that knowledge and talent. Power in your organization and inspiration for your employees, that's what you get in return.'


'Employment of refugees can and must improve. Diverse and inclusive policies in organizations are unfortunately not yet self-evident. So it is important to meet and engage in dialogue from the belief that it is good for yourself, for your organization and for the dignity of the human being. Especially now we have to embrace these people. You should not talk about refugees, you should include them in your organization. To entrepreneurs I want to say: dare it! Stuff can be written off, people cannot.

Life Story

'Being a refugee determines your development for the rest of your life. I fought for freedom in Iran, spent time in prison and fled to the Netherlands. I learned to develop a very strong will and to make sure that my freedom is no longer taken away from me. I make my own choices. Another character trait is my ability to always look at possibilities. With me it is not so easy to hear that something cannot be done. In addition, I believe that you should never forget that you are on this earth to do something for your fellow man. My life story has confirmed what I do and how I do it. With my book I want to contribute to tolerance, hospitality and solidarity. Everyone can get something out of it for themselves. What I want to pass along is that being a refugee is not an identity. It is an experience.

Mardjan Seighali in brief

Mardjan Seighali fled Iran 30 years ago from the regime of Ayatollah Komeini. She studied Social Work and Services at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and took several post-graduate courses. Mardjan is director of the Foundation for Refugee Students UAF (University Asyl Fund), president of the Humanist Alliance, holds various
administrative and advisory positions in the field of human rights and won the 2019 Comenius Prize (a prize awarded to a person, institution or initiative focused on one of the themes of education, meaning and society). In January 2021, Until the Day, the life story of Mardjan Seighali, which she co-wrote with Job Hulsman, was published.

'Being a refugee is not an identity it is an experience'


Myrna Harms, hr advisor NOM 'When you hire someone, they have to be enjoying themselves'

'One of the action items in NOM's 2021 HR Annual Plan is diversity and inclusiveness. It is important that we pay attention to this, because NOM also has a social function. Through our partnership in FundRight, we have agreed that within five years, 35 percent of NOM's investment managers will be women. But diversity is not just about women.

Of course, everyone cries out to be in favor of a diverse and inclusive organization, but if you look at the composition of our organization, we are not. Then it's easy to talk. So when we came in contact with Ruzanna, Human Resource Management student, through UAF, we saw an opportunity. During her internship at NOM, Ruzanna will investigate how we view diversity within the organization and will advise us on how to arrive at official policy. The research will reveal how we can build a diverse and inclusive corporate culture. I think that's important. When you hire someone, they have to be happy. Only if you can provide that in your corporate culture are you inclusive. Wherever possible we want to give people a chance at NOM. I think that the HR policy will soon be a good basis for targeted actions. Then we can see where the opportunities lie. Maybe we will have to work on our own organization first.'

'Being a refugee is not an identity it is an experience'

Myrna Harms

Ruzanna Hovakimian does her research internship at NOM 'My plan is to grow further to become an HR Business Partner'

'I fled from Armenia and have been living in the Netherlands for ten years, including several years in Groningen. Through the UAF I study Human Resource Management at the Hanzehogeschool. This is my final year. I am doing my graduation research at NOM.

During my stay in the asylum seekers' center, a staff member told me about UAF. In Armenia I had studied human relations but had not finished and I wanted to pick up where I left off. The UAF helped me with my choice of study, with study materials and financial resources. I am glad they are there, thanks to them I got the chance to study in the Netherlands.

UAF also helped me in finding an internship. My supervisor put me in touch with NOM, they were looking for an intern to conduct a research project. NOM strives for more diversity and wants to be an inclusive employer that also attracts women, people with a distance to the labor market, and people from different backgrounds and cultures. I am going to investigate if and how that can be realized. An interesting topic. Personally, I think a diverse organization is fun and attractive for both employees and customers. I will start in February. I don't have a plan of action yet, my supervisor from the Hanzehogeschool is going to help me with that. To start with, I am going to meet all the employees. Very exciting, but I am really looking forward to it.

Currently, I am still in the asylum procedure. I hope that after my studies, my residence status in the Netherlands will be confirmed and I will have the opportunity to work. My plan is to grow further to become an HR Business Partner. I can totally see that.'

'Being a refugee is not an identity it is an experience'

Ruzanna Hovakimian

The benefit of the other. On diversity and inclusion
The benefit of the other. On diversity and inclusion

In this white paper you will learn:

  • That diversity and inclusion further advance businesses
  • How difficult it can be to set aside your own prejudices
  • What steps you need to take to make work toward greater diversity

    Please note that this whitepaper is only available in Dutch at the moment. We are in the process of translating this whitepaper.
Read white paper