"I don't want anybody else to be detained like I was" | Cosmopolitan
What were you doing when you were just seven years old? Playing with friends, or watching cartoons? In 2001, Meltem Avcil, our Ultimate Campaigner winner at this year's Ultimate Women Awards, was desperately fleeing Turkey with her mother. Why? Simply for being Kurdish, something that was heavily persecuted in the country at the time.
For the next six years, Meltem and her mother were forced to move around the country and constantly checking in with Immigration services, before being taken from their home against their will and detained in the controversial Yarl's Wood Immigration Centre.
"I was a normal kid, enjoying school and hanging out with my friends, before everything happened," Meltem, now 22, says. "When I was detained I was only 13 years old and had no idea what was happening."
For the next three months, Meltem and her mum were held in the centre against, where she says she witnessed the abuse of other refugee women and children, as well as against her and her mother.
I want to take away the negative feeling behind the word 'refugee' and give it something positive
On her release, Meltem realised she had to do something about her experience. Working with the charity Women for Refugee Women, she joined their campaign to end the detainment of children at Yarl's Wood which was successful in 2010. Not just satisfied with that, she's now working with them again to close down the centre completely, spearheading a petition called #SetHerFree that has attracted the attention of MP Theresa May and over 100,000 signatures so far.
"I couldn't move on knowing a place like Yarl's Wood exists," Meltem explains. "Just because I was free, why shouldn't I do anything about it? When I was in the centre, I never imagined I'd be backing a petition with so much support so I'm really shocked and grateful that I've been able to do this."
Alongside her studies at Goldsmiths university, Meltem tirelessly campaigns by speaking at parliament and attending protests for the women in the centre, doing everything she can to stop others going through what she did.
"I just want to take away the negative association with the word 'refugee' and give it something positive."