Former Iraqi Kurdish refugee sets sights on Miss England crown

The aspiring beauty queen arrived in the UK aged 5 in the back of a lorry

Roza Kurdo, who fled Iraqi Kurdistan in 2001 and arrived in the UK as a refugee the following year, is competing in the Miss England 2022 beauty pageant. Photo: Roza Kurdo
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A young Kurdish woman who arrived in the UK as a refugee is competing in the Miss England beauty pageant in the hope of raising awareness about the injustices suffered by people in her homeland.

Roza Kurdo, 25, fled Iraqi Kurdistan with her family in 2001 during the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

A nine-month journey which saw the group of relatives survive a perilous voyage in a small boat from Turkey to Greece culminated in them reaching the UK, hiding in the back of a lorry.

Ms Kurdo, who works as a nurse and a phlebotomist at a medical practice in London’s Harley Street, said the Miss England 2022 crown is not her only goal — she also wants to be a voice for her fellow Kurds.

Looking back on her harrowing experiences as a young child, Ms Kurdo told The National that she is determined to use her newfound platform to shine a light on the plight of her fellow countrymen and women who continue to suffer in Iraq, Turkey and Syria.

Roza Kurdo is hoping to be crowned Miss England 2022. Photo: Roza Kurdo

“I decided to join this pageant because I wanted to have a platform to raise awareness of the injustices which occur,” she said.

“I want to raise awareness of the things that most people don’t know about.

“Many people are unaware that the Kurdish people are the largest nation without their own country, or that Kurdish people have been subjected to crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing as recently as the 80s and 90s in Iraqi Kurdistan, and ongoing inhumane and very questionable treatment in Turkey and Syria.

“The governments who committed these atrocities don’t even acknowledge them.

“Even today a lot of people don’t know what’s going on. I wish to reach out to people particularly those in difficult circumstances and those who are fearing for their lives or for their freedom and human rights.”

In addition to working full time and campaigning to be crowned Miss England, the aspiring beauty queen is in the process of writing a book about her life.

Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority group in Iraq and face systematic discrimination.

Since entering the Miss England competition, new doors have opened to help Ms Kurdo advance her mission to educate people about the suffering endured by those in her native land. She was recently invited as a guest of honour to meet Baroness Emma Nicholson, president of the Iraq Britain Business Council, to discuss the plight of Iraqi Kurds. The veteran British politician has worked on charitable projects in Iraq for more than three decades.

Looking back on her turbulent journey as a refugee across Europe, Ms Kurdo said she is full of appreciation and gratitude for her family’s sacrifices and her life in the UK.

After arriving in the UK, the Kurdos settled in Plymouth, a port city in south-western England, and sought to assimilate into British culture while retaining strong links to their roots.

“It was beautiful. I had a really, really lovely childhood,” she remembered. “I have very loving parents and two amazing brothers who are younger than me. I really could not fault my childhood and I am very grateful for everything.

“When we first came to the UK we were refugees. I still have a prominent memory of that time. I can remember when we were asylum seekers and were afraid of being sent back.

Roza Kurdo fled Iraqi Kurdistan with her family when she was 4 years old. Photo: Roza Kurdo

“So many people didn’t survive [the journey to the UK]. I am very fortunate and privileged. It made me more resilient in the face of hardship and more self aware because I have had those experiences.

“I was the only Kurdish girl in the entire city and we were one of two Kurdish families for about five-six years. [Now] I am much more aware that I can in fact have both, you can be Kurdish-British and love both cultures.”

Ms Kurdo relocated to London in 2016 to pursue a career in the medical field and her family joined her in the capital two years later.

She will join her fellow contestants in Miss England’s London regional heat on Sunday, where one woman will be chosen to represent the city in the national finals.

“Regardless of the results on Sunday, I feel like I have already got so much out of this experience and I would encourage more young people to try experiences like this,” she said.

“I have also learned to love myself, without condition. I have discovered that the self appreciation is deeper than the skin, and it is unshakeable by anyone else’s opinions.

“The Miss England sponsors, like Dentakay and Cetuem cosmetics, have made it possible for me to meet many other accomplished and lovely women, and it's been honestly a lovely experience all round.”

Roza Kurdo, right, pictured with her mother, father and two brothers. Photo: Roza Kurdo
Updated: June 02, 2022, 3:06 PM