178: Sana Mustafa – The Activist Fighting for Displaced Peoples’ Access, Agency and Dignity

178: Sana Mustafa – The Activist Fighting for Displaced Peoples’ Access, Agency and Dignity

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178: Sana Mustafa - The Activist Fighting for Displaced Peoples' Access, Agency and Dignity

Sana Mustafa is this week’s guest.

We’re back. I had a nasty Scotter accident back in Nov 2021, and as a result, had to take four-month hiatus to recover. Bones are all healed so here we go

We recorded this interview just before the accident but given the recent geopolitical events and let’s call it what it is, the unjust invasion of Ukraine, the plight of millions of refugees, or forcibly displaced people have been brought back into the global spotlight. 

Although Sana’s moving story is bound up in the Syrian conflict, her journey, courage, fortitude, and the work she is doing in her role as Director of Partnership and Engagement at Asylum Access, force us to confront what is an anachronistic approach to dealing with displaced peoples, Sana is focused empower them with agency and help them retain their dignity.  In this moving interview, Sana recounts her upbringing under the Assad dictatorship, the jubilation of the Arab spring, the trauma of being thrust into civil war, and being forcibly displaced at age 22. However, Sana’s story is one of resilience, inner belief, the power of community, and the kindness of strangers. 

As an activist, she has spoken at the United Nations HQ in New York, delivered a TED talk, and spoken at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C, Carnegie Endowment, the White House, Harvard Law School, Stanford, and at numerous other respected venues.

Mustafa is a founding member of The Global Refugee-Led Network, a refugees-led coalition working to increase refugees’ engagement with the international community to pursue inclusive, sustainable, and effective refugee and immigration policy, something many nations must confront as they integrate millions of displaced Ukrainian citizens. 

  • The historical context of Syria’s ethnic-cultural makeup.
  • Sana Mustafa describes the foundational impact of her father and mother.
  • Her Father’s willingness to be an active decenter to the regime.
  • Her memories of the indoctrination of the Soviet-influenced Syrian education system. 
  •  The influence of the intifada and the broader political make-up of the middle east.
  • Living under the oppressive surveillance of the regime.
  • Sana Mustafa recounts the experience of living through the Arab Spring, explaining the historical events that precipitated the uprising, and her gratitude for being able to witness that moment in history.  
  • She describes the danger of protesting and the violence, detention, and murder inflicted by the regime’s ‘thugs’. 
  • We discuss Sana’s experience of being thrust into the center of the resulting multilayered conflict that emerged from the people’s revolution, that ultimately led to the complex civil war with the influence of external actors to create a proxy ‘global’ war. 
  • Sana explains the detention of her father and the human rights violations occurring. 
  • Giving voice to the voiceless refugees and conviction to be part of a collective effort and action. 
  • She describes escaping Syrian, her journey, arriving in the US with nothing other than her values, the kindness of strangers, and studying political science to establish herself as Director of Partnership at Asylum Access. 
  • Finally, Sana discusses the broader issues facing dealing with funding a refugee-run organization, her vision, and her work to create refugee rights and build agency for refugees around the world. 
  • Her hopes for Syria. 
  • Her quickfire answers.

Thanks to Natasha Friedus for the connection

Social Links 





Asylum Access 

The Network For Refugee Voices

Larsen Lam Impact Award 


White Tears Brown Scars

Don’t Stop Here

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