Everything seems impossible until it is done

Who are supposed to be the ‘climate-change refugees’? ‘Climate-change refugees’ or so called ‘environmental migrants’ are people who are forced to leave their home towns either temporarily or permanently due to sudden or progressive climate changes which compromise their well being and secure livelihood.

These changes may include increased droughts, desertification, sea revel rise, disruption of seasonal weather patterns such as monsoons, etc. Human activities like burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests contribute to global warming because they release greenhouse gases. Rising temperatures associated with global warming cause glaciers and ice caps to melt, which lead to droughts and desertification – the transformation of arable land to desert. These effects make it completely impossible for people in the region to feet on the crops and they are forced consequently to roam the world to look for better lives.    

Unlike the refugees who flee their homes due to conflict or political oppression, ‘climate-change refugees’ are not protected by international laws and may face greater political risks.

Unlike the refugees who flee their homes due to conflict or political oppression, ‘climate-change refugees’ are not protected by international laws and may face greater political risks. You have to admit, the word “refugees” should not be used in consideration of these people. It’s not them on whom we have to put the blame, because that is nature which caused it.

Nowadays, the problem of migrants is causing a great deal of wrangling in the whole world, including Europe. The European Commission has taken a comprehensive approach to tackle the refugee crisis in Europe, drawing on the various tools and instruments available at the EU level and in the member states. The European Commission gathers periodically at the summit to discuss these contemporary issues and to take corresponding measures. Statistics indicate that the number of migrants crossing Europe illegally by land and sea in 2015 has passed over one million. Of course, not all of them can be called the ‘climate-change refugees’. Some of them may migrate due to social instabilities, such as the terror attacks and the wars in the central and the Western Asia, although some people are migrating, simply because of the climate changes.Then what are the biggest challenges that ‘climate-change refugees’ are facing?

Firstly, wherever people happen to land, there would be significant traditional, cultural and religious differences. To adapt to the afterward circumstances, they would need sizeable amount of time. For example, if one has moved from Western Asia to Eastern Europe, traditional customs will have changed, from greeting others to food culture. This would affect everyone including youngsters and the next generations, trying successfully or not so to integrate into their new cultures.

Another challenge could be finding suitable jobs or finding themselves a place in the workforce.  Currently, migrant workers accounts for 150 million of the world’s approximately 232 million international migrants. Migrant workers contribute to the growth and develop in their countries of destination.
Especially having in mind the rising unemployment rate in the countries where they decide to reside. Furthermore, migration and the resulting unemployment rate have been one of the major issues in the traditional, as well as contemporary global economic scenario. And some criminal activities like robberies, thefts and various negative behaviors by unemployed migrants might arise and will disturb the public order in certain countries. To prevent these, the chances have to be given for refugees to be employed after the specific education system.

When properly managed, the refugees may have far-reaching potentials and their communities as well.

As Nelson Mandela, one of the most famous politicians said “Everything seems impossible until it is done”, other problems and challenges could occur that we might face. Yet we, as human beings have responsibilities to protect the refugees. When properly managed, the refugees may have far-reaching potentials and their communities as well. And consequently they would serve as part of the society which contributes for the economic growth of the country, overcoming ethnic differences and winning the fight for position among other people.

 

About the author:

Ri Kang Song (16) took part in the My Europe Workshop in Sofia on 28-29 November 2016 and won the fifth prize of the writing competition.

Combating climate change should be both a personal and public priority

What will be the big challenges regarding climate-change refugees in Europe in the next 50 years?

Nowadays, climate change is one of the biggest problems the world must face. What was considered as an incremental issue two decades ago, is already starting to show its numerous negative effects both on nature and on society. The question remains if we will be able to stop it in time and what the consequences will be for Europe if we don’t.

Nowadays, climate change is one of the biggest problems the world must face.

 Temperatures around the globe have been rising for decades thanks to our industrialized society and partly thanks to our recklessness when it comes to using our resources. Entire forests have been cut down, seas and oceans polluted and species erased. None of these, however, come even close to the dangerous effects of the polar ice caps melting. Not only will that have a tremendous impact on wildlife and ocean levels, but it will also cause the ocean-levels to rise. This in turn will make huge parts of our planet uninhabitable land. Cities, such as New York, Tokyo or even Amsterdam might become underwater relics in the not-so-distant future. All of this will become fact, should we not stop it while still possible.

Furthermore, should we not succeed in convincing our leaders and people that the world is really in danger and that destruction is inevitable – there will be significant consequences for the world and for Europe specifically. Our continent will be facing serious difficulties thanks to its good geographical position with the other, poorer, continents. Coastal cities disappearing will be only one of the obstacles we will be facing. Citizens of poorer countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, where even now wars are being held over water and inhabitable land, will tend to migrate to Europe in the same manner as political refugees are coming now. The only difference – wars end and their effects are reversible whereas the consequences of climate change are irreversible. Our already crowded land will become even more crowded, which resultantly will make people compete increasingly for jobs. Owing to all those factors, extreme political ideologies will make their ways back into our society and hate, racism, intolerance will become present. In turn this could lead to a rebellion of the oppressed minorities and result in a war.

The solution to all these problems lies within our own hands, change needs to happen and it needs to be soon.

 The solution to all these problems lies within our own hands, change needs to happen and it needs to be soon. Difficult as it may sound, it is fairly simple. First, we need to think for ourselves on the question whether we want big money and financial interests to influence our choice and our thinking or decades worth of scientific research and proof. Second, we need to make sure we elect people who think like us, who are not controlled by personal interests or corporations. Third, we must stand united against the threat of climate change by helping protect the environment, helping people who live in affected areas, protesting corrupt politicians and companies who pollute the environment on purpose for their own personal gain. If we manage to do all these baby steps, and every one of us stands together, we can indeed make Europe, our continent, our country a great place to live for decades to come and live the life we want, without fear of not ever being able to visit a certain city or even an entire country.

 As a conclusion, I think combating climate change should be both a personal and public priority. Even though it needs to start as small steps made by us, it should end up as steps in the right direction by our governments and the EU, to truly protect us from experiencing this horrifying picture and in order to see a better Europe in 50 years than the one we have now.

About the author:

Adrian Murat (17) took part in the My Europe Workshop in Sofia on 28-29 November 2016 and won the second prize of the writing competition.

Viviendo con Donald

 

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La victoria de Donald Trump ha generado muchas reacciones en las capitales europeas, desde la sorpresa, pasando por la alegría de algunos, hasta el estupor. Muchos han sido también los análisis y las explicaciones que han intentado que comprendamos mejor un resultado que no era el esperado, y sobre el que las encuestas han fallado estrepitosamente. Para los europeos es difícil entender los movimientos y los cambios que se están produciendo en la sociedad estadounidense. Se ha hablado de raza, de sexo, de edad, de clase social y de distribución geográfica para intentar explicar esta victoria. De todas ellas, el análisis más interesante es el relacionado con la globalización.

Los estadounidenses blancos de clase media y trabajadora han sido muy golpeados por la Gran Recesión. La deslocalización de las grandes industrias, que se han asentado en mercados donde los precios son más competitivos, ha dejado a una masa de trabajadores en paro y sin expectativas de futuro.

Muchos de estos trabajadores recelan de las políticas aperturistas y tolerantes de Barack Obama. Se oponen a la inmigración y a la acogida de refugiados por miedo a perder sus trabajos, y se agarran a un sentimiento nacionalista para reafirmar sus convicciones. Sienten además un profundo rencor contra las élites económicas del país, a las que culpan de su situación.

Este análisis también puede relacionarse con la victoria del Brexit en el Reino Unido, un resultado asimismo inesperado. El mensaje es sencillo: “retomemos el control” clamaba Boris Johnson en los debates previos al referéndum. “Construyamos un muro, hagamos a América grande de nuevo” afirmaba Donald Trump sin tapujos. “Votadme, no tenéis nada que perder”. Sin entrar a valorar lo histriónico y polémico de su persona, Trump ha conseguido representar ese resentimiento contra el establishment. Y también ha despertado las esperanzas de estos votantes que, en efecto, pueden llegar a sentir que no tienen nada que perder, que el sistema no tiene nada más que ofrecerles.

Los recelos sobre la globalización son legítimos. Lo hemos visto en Europa en los últimos meses, con la firme posición que ha mostrado la región de Valonia en las negociaciones del tratado de libre comercio con Canadá, o las manifestaciones que se han visto por toda Europa en contra del TTIP. Los efectos que pueden tener estos tratados sobre las condiciones laborales de los trabajadores europeos o sobre sus consecuencias medioambientales son cuestiones que deben estar presentes en el debate. No obstante, el auge de la xenofobia o el cierre de fronteras no van a solucionar estos problemas, sino más bien los agravarán. El cambio climático, por ejemplo, sólo se puede combatir si los Estados cooperan, si comparten objetivos, si tienen una visión global del problema. El aislacionismo y el odio no pueden ser la salida.

El resultado de las elecciones estadounidenses, junto con la futura salida del Reino Unido de la UE y otros ejemplos, como las elecciones presidenciales austriacas, confirman el vaticinio de muchos expertos. Nos estamos adentrando en un nuevo clash cultural, que tiene como protagonista a la globalización y a sus consecuencias. Se ha creado un nuevo conflicto ideológico a ambos lados del Atlántico, el que enfrenta por un lado a los defensores de sociedades abiertas al mundo con aquellos que propugnan sociedades cerradas, proteccionistas y en muchos casos contrarias a la diversidad cultural. Es en este segundo bando donde se encuentra Donald Trump, y su nacionalismo populista.

¿Qué puede hacer la Unión europea ante este nuevo escenario? Para empezar reafirmar su voluntad de integración. Los líderes europeos deben defender propuestas audaces y realistas que profundicen la integración en materias como la defensa, la lucha contra el cambio climático, la política exterior o la creación de oportunidades para los jóvenes. Y deben tener presentes ahora más que nunca los valores fundamentales de la Unión. El proyecto europeo siempre se basó en la tolerancia, la solidaridad y el respeto a las diferencias culturales. La crisis de refugiados ha puesto en cuestión estos valores. Las sociedades europeas deben ser capaces de progresar en su integración, y de aprovechar las ventajas de la globalización, sin que esto suponga un aumento de la intolerancia o el odio, o una desprotección de sus clases trabajadoras.

El reto es enorme, y para superarlo serán necesarias altas dosis de habilidad política y de convicción. El discurso populista y xenófobo debe ser combatido con ideas, propuestas y a través de un debate cargado de contenido ético.

Los populistas se han cobrado ya dos importantísimas victorias, y este año pueden consolidar su triunfo en las elecciones presidenciales francesas. No hemos sido capaces de percibir los peligros de su discurso hasta que no hemos visto a uno de sus principales valedores entrando en la Casa Blanca. Esta va a ser la disyuntiva que marque los próximos años y quizás las próximas décadas de nuestras vidas.

Pese a lo incierto del resultado, existen motivos para la esperanza. Ni el Brexit ni Donald Trump fueron las opciones mayoritarias entre los votantes jóvenes.

Hillary Clinton dio un discurso de concesión sosegado y solemne. Ha cometido errores en esta campaña. Muchos se han lamentado de que no haya sido capaz de romper ese último techo de cristal para las mujeres. Sin embargo, es de justicia reconocer que Clinton ya ha hecho historia, ya ha roto varios techos de cristal. Es la primera mujer que ha conseguido ser candidata a la Presidencia de Estados Unidos por uno de los dos principales partidos. Y es la primera mujer en la historia que ha ganado el voto popular en unas elecciones presidenciales en ese país. Sus defectos no deben ensombrecer lo que sin duda es una trayectoria cargada de logros.

En sus palabras dando las gracias a los que la apoyaron y reconociendo su derrota, la ex secretaria de Estado hizo a los jóvenes una última petición inspiradora: “esta derrota duele, pero por favor, nunca dejéis de creer que luchar por lo que es justo merece la pena”. Ella ya ha dejado su marca en la historia. Ahora es el momento de estar a la altura, y de empezar a dejar la nuestra.

About the author:

Nicolás - Author at Spotlight Europe

Nicolás (19) is member of the Youth Council of the Future. He participated in the “My Europe” workshop in Madrid in 2013.

Open Letter To Young People Of The UK

frogs-897387_1920Dear Young People of the UK,

There are many benefits to being in the EU, both political and economic. When you go to the polling stations on the 23rd of June, to vote in a referendum that could lead to your leaving the European Union, I’m sure you’ll have these taken into consideration. But I want to talk to you about the benefits that are particularly relevant to us at this particular point in our lives, the ones that fall under a different heading: Adventure. Right now, as I am about to leave school, I am ready to set out, and discover, and explore. I hope you will come with me.

I will go on an adventure this Summer, travelling throughout Europe with my friends. You can do the same. As members of the EU, we don’t need a visa to wander around foreign cities, towns, beaches or countryside. We don’t need papers to see some of humanity’s greatest feats- Greek ruins, Roman Colosseums, Stone Age structures- all monuments to war, peace, discovery, art and the triumphs humans can achieve working together. As part of the EU, these histories and monuments are ours, and we can travel and live among them freely.

My adventure will continue in the autumn, when I hope to go to University. My University will be filled with a diverse group of students from all around the Europe, who will be able to easily live and study abroad in the EU. The Erasmus programe allows many students to study in Europe, and whether you choose to do most of your third level education at home or abroad, you and I will be part of a rich cultural tapestry, and make meaningful connections that will connect us forever to people and places far away.

After University, the scope of the adventure only broadens. We can work, without complications, anywhere we choose. We have the freedom so many young people long for, or desperately need. The freedom to, at any moment, move to another country, to live and work there. Tomorrow we could decide that we want to live in Stockholm, or Paris, or in the Alpes, and we could do it with almost no complications, applications, or paperwork. We could choose to live anywhere, living in a culture, in a history, as somebody who belongs there.

Of course, this freedom works both ways. Those who would like Britain to leave the EU want Britain to have more control over its borders, and reduce the amount of people who come to work there. But the free movement of people and trade in the EU is something that has more benefits than harm. It makes it much easier for Britain to sell things to other EU countries, as well as supplying a stream of young, talented people who will help the economy grow.

Right now there are so many people who have been forced to abandon their homes, who want and need what we have- freedom to roam, travel, live and work in these beautiful, peaceful countries. However, Europe is struggling to accommodate them, often choosing to deny them what they need. Now is not the time to be divided, but to work together to reach a common goal. Our European Adventure should not be experienced at the expense of others.

I am on an adventure- an adventure of discovering new places, and people, and possibilities. But it is also a collective adventure, part of a rich history, that is creating new histories with every decision that we make.Will you decide to join me?

About the author:

Feargha colour

Feargha Clear Keena (18) participated in the Dublin Workshop in 2014. She goes to school at Mount Temple Comprehensive and enjoys playing music, writing songs, and learning foreign languages.

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Climate change denial is man-made

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About a year ago I had a dinner with a very bright colleague of mine from the investment bank where I served as an intern. Initially our conversation was quite enjoyable and ranged from physics and mathematics to politics and philosophy. However, there was a topic that noticeably struck a chord with both of us and it was the legitimacy and importance of climate change. We had a prolonged and heated discussion where I made simple authoritarian but empirical arguments citing studies conducted by NASA, the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society etc and he’d respond with varying degrees of skepticism to each of those claims. Initially he’d try to challenge the impartialness of the scientific community even though recent peer-reviewed studies show that between 97% (Stuart, 2016) and 99% (Powell, 2016) of over 11,000 scientific articles state that climate change is not only real but most definitely anthropogenic. Even worse than that is the proven corruption of right-wing politicians, especially Republicans in the US, and “think-tanks” from all around the world who receive direct financing from fossil fuel billionaires like the infamous Koch brothers to finance their political campaigns (Dunlap, 2011). As a matter of fact, a lot of climate change denial in public life is a function of a corrupt political system (see Citizen’s United) and grimly reminds me of the days the tobacco industry was buying politicians to do similar claims about the uncertainty of the scientific community about the danger from cigarettes. Corporate interest is far from the only reason, though. Amongst others we have to also count intellectual laziness, failure of the educational system, inflated ego and just typical human denial of responsibility. But that’s an entirely different topic.

Going back to the conversation, my colleague would start to progressively question the accuracy of glacier monitoring techniques (Karpilo Jr, 2009), global surface temperature reconstructions (Cowtan, 2014), sea level rise measurements (Parker, 1991) etc. even though all of those experiments are measured independently on an annual basis and in several different ways and statistical models with high predictive ability have been tested again and again. The fact he will quickly deny established facts without having any expertise or empirical counterarguments was a red flag for me hinting he might be a right-wing libertarian of a kind. At some point he went so far as to discard the entire scientific method and statistics in particular as a viable instrument for acquiring understanding of the surrounding world. The entire conversation then quickly left the realm of facts and summoned both of us into the dream world of epistemolog

y, ontology and metaphysics. The tipping point was reached when he had to resort to mathematical fictionalism and the Entscheidungsproblem, basically implying that we shouldn’t make any change to the status quo because we can’t ever be completely sure of what we know now. “Force your opponent to make a metaphysical argument and then you win”, as Quine (I believe) once said.

Finally, after he perhaps felt that there is no practical and convincing way of defending his position, he moved the goal posts and started diminishing the potential impact of a “hypothetical” climate change event. His thesis was that it is not economically sound to constrain the free market and risk capital losses for an event which we could potentially adapt to with just slight discomfort. He claimed that even if the catastrophic projections of scientists actually materialize, it would still pay off more to just stick to our way of life and develop technology which will enable us to continue living in this altered environment or perhaps on another planet altogether. This was the moment when I realized that the entire conversation is not about climate science, statistics or philosophy – it was an argument between people of opposing political and economic convictions where one of the sides refuses to consider authority of any kind – even scientific, even if there is hard data present. The last thing I asked him before I left the table was: If we thought of the planet in the same way in which the managing directors of this bank think of the company and a bunch of experts told them that there is 99% chance that the company is going bankrupt in 40 years how would they react? He said nothing.

It didn’t even make sense to point out that if just the predictions for a higher acidity of the oceans meets expectations, humanity will be in dire straits, because the ocean ecosystems will be altered with unpredictable long-term consequences (Hoegh-Guldberg, 2010) which will propagate everywhere on the planet. You see, if there is really no God (or Atlas shrugging), then there is no one who keeps the delicate and intricate environmental balance which underlies our existence. It is no one’s whim whether we survive or not. And yes, while we are nearly powerless and hopeless in predicting even the immediate future with certainty, these are the best instruments we have and it’s only rational that we apply them accordingly – to the best of our knowledge. If humanity really is a fluke in an absurd world just as if hundreds of monkeys are typing on typewriters endlessly and at some point they get Encyclopedia Britannica, then we don’t want to distract those monkeys. Messing with the balance of nature, as I like to say, is thus like fiddling with the engine of a motorbike while riding it with 200 km/h on the motorway trying to win a race that we invented for its own sake – a race of technology, money and power. While we speak, extreme heat waves, flooding and heavy downpours have already affected the world’s agriculture and infrastructure and those are visible throughout the U.S. and the Middle East. It is thus arrogant not to try to reduce our impact on nature and to instead think evolution will spare us even after we altered its fitness function that spawned us in the first place so profoundly.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t surprise me that the financial world is teeming with right-wing libertarians who proudly deny empiricism and base all of their beliefs on a single arbitrary axiom that doesn’t even make sense. After all, it’s just the world’s economy and thus the world’s fate that depends on them. And yes, I will say they are quasi-religious ideologues who refuse to update their assumptions with factual reality (this is why they are the laughing stock of academic circles). They see society as a function of individuals whereas an individual is clearly only possible as a result of cohesive social structures (see Robinson Crusoe). In my opinion, one has understood what individualism means, only after he has come to the realization how interdependent everything in the universe is. The most important principle of all is that humanity is apples on an apple tree and this apple tree is Earth and this Earth peoples in the same way the apple tree grows apples (see Gaia hypothesis). We have to understand that the bee cannot exist without the flower and thus can be thought of as one and the same thing. In the same way a man cannot exist without society and vice versa. Therefore we should start thinking of our habitat as we think of our streets and houses. We are part of nature and we are animals. Our cities are just complex bee hives. We are not disconnected from our surroundings, and we are not infinitely adaptable and immune to the consequences of o

ur own actions. We are not freaks of nature. We are it and we should start acting like it.

References

Cowtan, K. a. (2014). Coverage bias in the HadCRUT4 temperature series and its impact on recent temperature trends. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Dunlap, R. E. (2011). Organized climate change denial. The Oxford handbook of climate change and society, 144-160.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O. a. (2010). The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 328, 1523-1528.

Karpilo Jr, R. D. (2009). Glacier monitoring techniques. The Geological Society of America.

Parker, B. B. (1991). Sea Level as an Indicator of Climate and Global Change. Marine Technology Society.

Powell, J. L. (2016). Climate Scientists Virtually Unanimous: Anthropogenic Global Warming Is True. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. doi:10.1177/0270467616634958

Stuart, J. C. (2016). Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environmental Research Letters, 11(4). Retrieved from http://stacks.iop.org/1748-9326/11/i=4/a=048002

About the author:

Picture Bogomil Todorov GospodinovBogomil Todorov Gospodinov (21) took part in our “My Europe” workshop in Sofia in 2012. He is currently studying Computer Science at the University of Southampton in England.

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The story of a Bosnian refugee

Foca - where it all beganThe town Foca

Zerina Karup is a Masters student at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. She came to Ireland as a refugee when she was a baby. In March, she came to my school (Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin) to give a talk about her experience. This talk was organised as part of a series called Temple Tallks by the Mount Temple Amnesty International group.

Zerina was born in what was then Yugoslavia, a country which composed six republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro) and two provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina). She described her life in a Bosnian town called Foca, with family around, the river nearby…it was a very normal life, which is important to remember.

People don’t leave their countries – their friends and families, traditions and customs – because they want to. They don’t go to a foreign country where they don’t know anyone, and they don’t know the culture, for no reason. People leave because they have to.

She explained a bit of background to the war: “It started in 1991, when countries started to become independent. Slovenia started, then Croatia wanted to become independent. Serbia wanted to form a new country, Greater Serbia. In addition to these different countries, or states within a country, there were also different religions; there were Catholics, Muslims, and Serbian Orthodox. So there was a lot of potential for tension and conflict.” In April 1992, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina started, and that was when Zerina’s family decided to leave. Initially they stayed within Bosnia, moving from Foca to Gorazde, but quickly realised they still weren’t safe and moved on again. They left just in time; right afterwards, Gorazde became a Serbian enclave (nobody could enter or leave the town; there was no water, no electricity, no food.) They went to Montenegro, and then after a couple of days to Serbia.

It might sound contradictory to go to the country of the aggressors. But in the beginning there was no war in Serbia, so it was safe. Also, Zerina’s family had friends who could accommodate them, because they didn’t have much money. They stayed there for two months, but then Bosnians began to be deported back to Bosnia, into concentration camps. Zerina’s parents decided they were no longer safe, and her family got a bus to Macedonia. At the border, a Serbian soldier checked the bus. Bosnians were brought outside, lined up, and separated into groups of men and women and children. All those people were deported back to Bosnia, to concentration camps. The soldier let Zerina’s family through, telling them it was only because of the young children. They were incredibly lucky.

In Macedonia the family quickly ran out of money, and had to live on the streets. They they weren’t granted refugee status, mainly because there were already too many refugees. However they had met a very kind man, who owned a shop and he gave them milk and breakfast every morning. This man brought them to a house, in a forest in Macedonia, where other Bosnians were living. They stayed there for 25 days before moving on again. They got on another bus and went through Bulgaria and Romania, up to Hungary, to Budapest where they lived on the streets. If they got hold of any money, they went to hostels for homeless people, where their only belongings were stolen one night.

Luckily Zerina’s uncle, who lived in France, was able to send some money so they stayed in a hotel for a few weeks. They then managed to get train tickets to Austria. Despite having no passports, nothing, they made it to Vienna. They stayed in a refugee centre for a few weeks: a massive factory hall, with hundreds of beds next to each other. Horrible conditions to live under for a long period of time, but fortunately they discovered that Ireland was accepting Bosnian refugees, so that’s how they came to Ireland.

There was a lot of media coverage at the time. Zerina’s family lived in a refugee centre for a year or two. Every family had their own room, which was, compared to Austria, luxury. Her parents were really grateful to be looked after. There were medical services, and entertainment, and volunteers who would interact with the Bosnian population there.

In the talk, Zerina said, “In Ireland, I never felt like a stranger. I always felt like one of the other children. I went to school, I had loads of friends. My parents had loads of friends. There were free English courses for Bosnian people and our neighbours would mind me and my sister while our parents were at school, so there was a great support mechanism within the community. And our neighbours, and everyone, really wanted to support us…I always felt very welcome.” Bosnians were provided with social services, community services, and training so they could get jobs more easily. There were two components. On the one hand, the Irish did a great job of integrating the Bosnian community. But the refugees were also given the chance to interact with people from their own culture. This was really important for people with a lot of traumatic experiences, coming from a war.

Going back was not an option anymore

When the war ended, every Bosnian was questioning whether to return to their country or not. For Zerina’s family, going back was not an option. Bosnia as it had been was divided into two parts: the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Serbian Republic. Since it was one country before, there were mixed ethnicities, so Bosnian-Serbs lived in the Republic, and everyone else lived in the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And their house was in the Republic. Zerina described going back there as being like an Irish Protestant living in the Catholic part of Belfast right after the Troubles, or vice versa. It’s just not going to happen. In Foca, she said, when you go back today, you’ll see pictures of war criminals that killed many people being praised as heroes, and graffiti saying that Bosnia belongs to Serbia.

For Zerina’s family, going back was not an option. Bosnia as it had been was divided into two parts: the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Serbian Republic.

It wasn’t the home they once had; so they had to establish a new one. Eventually they went to Germany because they had a lot of family there and Germany is also, geographically, closer to Bosnia. Zerina went to school there, and she began to travel a lot…

When she was 15, the American Field Service, an organisation, came to her school giving a talk, after which she was absolutely convinced she wanted to do a year abroad. She got herself a scholarship and went to Argentina for a year, living with a host family – an “amazing experience”.

She returned to Germany where she started her Bachelor degree in Political Science, Sociology and Media and Communication Science, and while there she took part in an Erasmus programme. Her Erasmus took her to the University of Cadiz in Spain, where she had a great time and made great friends.

On her return to Germany, Zerina got herself an internship with the United Nations World Food programme, the largest humanitarian agency in the world. Their target is to end world hunger. She worked there for seven months and it fuelled her passion for development and humanitarian aid. And that’s how she’s back in Ireland, because she found a Master’s programme that appealed to her, in the field of development. She’s now studying a course called Development of Practice. She says she’s really happy to be back in Ireland because going to Germany was a tough move for her. This summer she’s going to Kenya for three months, again with the United Nations World Food programme, to research her dissertation on the socio-economic impact of home-grown school feeding programmes in Kenya.

Kenya 2016

Zerina says she considers herself very lucky, because she doesn’t think the life she has now would be possible if she hadn’t had those support mechanisms when she came to Ireland.

“When I see pictures like this, nowadays, it really touches my heart because that boy has the right to the same opportunities we have. Just because he’s from a different country, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to interact normally in society. I ask myself, will these children be able to reach their full potential, like I was able to? And if we continue doing what we’re doing at the moment, the politicians especially, I would say no. …These children can’t become the best versions of themselves if they don’t have the right support mechanisms.”

This talk demonstrated to me that support systems don’t merely allow people to survive, they allow people to thrive. They allow refugees to achieve their full potential, grow as people, and give back. It is a long-term investment.

Whether it’s in relation to the appalling Direct Provision system in Ireland today or the response of the world in general to the current refugee crisis, we need to up our game. As Zerina says, it’s our responsibility to implement a policy of zero tolerance towards intolerance.

born in ireland

About the author:

Carol McGillCarol McGill (17) participated in the “My Europe” workshop in Dublin in 2014. She is a student at Mount Temple Comprehensive and loves to write, mostly short stories, in her free time. Carol also enjoys history, drama and reading. Most of all, she would like to be a writer, but is also interested to be involved in promoting human rights and reducing discrimination. More…