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.

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…

Syrian conflict: what is it all about and why we should be interested in it?

syria-1151151_1920Most Europeans do not possibly remember when they last saw a news show where the Syrian conflict was not mentioned. It sometimes appears that we almost got used to hearing about renewed bombings, numerous casualties and fruitless attempts of diplomats to alter the course of events in the Middle East region. However, taking a closer look at the developments in Syria might help to understand many processes in the contemporary world starting with the refugee crisis and ending with the continuing hostility between the United States and Russia.

The roots of the Syrian Civil War lie in 2011. Following the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, public uprisings against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in Damascus. The peoples of Syria, however, were not as successful in forcing their leader out of power as the protesters in North African countries. A civil war between the government and the rebels began.

In a short time the conflict was no longer limited by the Syrian borders. Iran’s support to Assad’s regime together with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States declaring their support to the rebel forces followed by the involvement of the United States (on rebels’ side) and Russia (on Assad’s side) caused a polarization of all the countries having interests in the Middle East region. The situation was even more complicated by the Kurds (a national minority in Northern Syria) renewing their struggle for independence.

Finally, the conflict gave an opportunity for the emergence of the Islamic State (also referred to as Daesh). The terrorist state was formed after the Syrian al-Qaeda branch fighting against Assad’s regime bearing the name of al-Nusra Front merged with the Islamic State of Iraq and occupied large territories in Eastern Syria. Daesh’s ambitions of establishing a global caliphate and several terrorist attacks have brought the attention of every single nation in the world towards Syria.

What are the results of all this mess? According to Amnesty International, the number of victims of the conflict had reached 220 000 by the end of 2015 and is constantly growing. During the five years of the conflict the economy of the country suffered irreversible damage, numerous human rights’ violations occurred and a chemical weapon was used. At the moment about 50 per cent of the Syrian population is displaced and 4 million people fled their country as refugees.

The question that one may ask is why the conflict continues? Who is it beneficial to? The ones who win the most are, doubtlessly, the terrorist groups. The lack of order in Syrian governmental institutions makes any control of Syrian territory almost impossible, thus allowing the Islamic State to establish its own institutional and economic mechanisms in the east of the country. Uncontrolled Syrian borders also give the IS a possibility to perform international terrorism.

However, the Islamic State is not the main factor preventing either the reconciliation between the rebels and Assad’s regime or the decisive victory of one of the sides. In some ways the situation in Syria surprisingly resembles the local conflicts of the Cold War that took place in Korea or Vietnam. The involvement of Russia and the United States on different belligerent sides turns Syria into the arena of an international conflict between the two greatest military powers in the world.

This clash of the two Cold War enemies also leads any legal international intervention attempts to an impasse: both countries have the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council, which makes passing an effective resolution to solve the Syrian Civil War issue practically impossible. From this point of view the situation cannot be expected to change soon as the conflict remains a matter of influence in the Middle East region which both Russia and the US always sought for.

European countries played little role in the beginning of the conflict but are now being drawn into it more and more firmly. Europe’s role in the Syrian conflict mainly consists of two aspects. First, Europe becomes one of the main destinations of civilians fleeing Syria. Some countries of the European Union advocate the open-door policy while others oppose it, thus causing the internal division of the EU. The problem aggravated as the continuing flow of Syrian migrants gave a pretext to many economic refugees from Northern Africa to search for a better life in Europe despite the absence of any military threats.

The other way in which Europe contributes towards the developments in Syria is the fight against the Islamic State. Following the attacks in Paris France and Great Britain have carried out several bombings in the territory of the IS. However, it is always difficult for democratic governments to receive the popular approval for military actions, which makes it doubtable whether the European role will be significant in giving a decisive blow to Daesh.

The main interest of the European Union is, of course, finishing the conflict. This would sustainably solve the refugee crisis and the newly formed Syrian government would be able to regain territory from the IS. But as military intervention is hardly possible and hardly desirable the main role the EU should play here is that of being a diplomatic intermediary striving to reconcile the belligerent sides. Remaining completely neutral is no longer possible: the conflict taking place in Syria is no longer a local one and it is a duty of every single nation in the world to contribute to solving it.

 

About the author:

Picture Gediminas GodaGediminas (18) took part in our workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2014. He attends International Baccalaureate course at Vilnius Lyceum and is dreaming of being a professor at university in the future. His interests are literature, politics and board games. More…

Opening the borders for refugees

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Nowadays the current refugee crisis is, perhaps, the most widely debated issue. This is affecting a lot of people from Afghanistan and Syria which are involved in a terrible war, thousands have left everything looking for safety. Also it is a problem for Europe, because there are too many people arriving to the European coasts, people that European countries have to maintain. Whereas some people believe that these people have to be rescued and accepted in Europe others think that Europe shouldn’t let them in. We all know that on what all the refugees are going through is an inhumane suffering, but why is this negative for Europe?

Having an open border would be very positive in two ways: In the first place, the refugees would not have as much problem as they have now to reach Europe. Secondly, Europe would not have to make sure that there are no crimes against humanity are produced and comply with the fundamental human rights. Finally, it would also reduce the political problems between countries. Apart from that, as an opposite case we can find Hungary’s one, which is deterring the pass of the refugees through their territories. This decision has had very different opinions attached to it, the great part doesn’t agree on what Hungary is doing and in addition they are contributing to the distribution of the migrants.

On the other hand we have the negative aspects of this massive migratory movement, which mainly belong to the economic facts. When all these people come to Europe and they are inserted, they obviously will need to eat, to sleep, and all those basic needs everyone needs to fulfill, everything they need is paid by the European Union which is affected at the same time by a huge economic crisis, and many countries like Hungary will not be able to take part in the distribution of the refugees mainly because the situation there is quite bad already. Besides that, no one knows when all these people would be able to return back home, so for how much time is Europe going to pay the maintenance of all these people. It is okay, we will help these people, they are suffering an ordeal just to be safe, but economically Europe cannot maintain all these people for a long time.

We can conclude by saying that fundamental human rights have to be respected, but maybe in the middle of an economic crisis we should be taking care of the European citizens mainly and then give help to all the refugees.

 

About the author:

David Fernández Peña David Fernández Peña (16) is a student from Spain and interested in politics, technology and sports.

Refugee crisis

map-of-the-world-1005413_1280

“The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeded 50 million in 2013, for the first time since World War Two” states a report by the UN refugee agency. Not surprisingly at all, the current refugee crisis has become one of the most widely debated issues due to its repercussion on a global scale. While everyone agrees that the origin of such crisis was the Arab Spring, a series of peaceful, pro-democracy movements that began in 2011 across the Middle East which, unfortunately, led to terrible wars in Libya and Syria, most people fail to have similar ideas regarding what should be done in order to tackle the problem of how to host millions of people.

The notion that Europe should take in a number of refugees as large as necessary has been backed up by many using the following arguments. In the first place, since the article 14 of the UDHR states that everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum in other countries, the advocates of an open European border claim that it is the duty of all to host the refugees. Besides the fact that it is a basic human right, empathy makes people want to help to the extent possible to those exposed to inhumane situations; would a normal person not want help when he has been forced to abandon everything he knew, to live in harsh conditions in refugee camps, or even to attempt to cross seas with no safety measures risking his life and the lives of his loved ones? Secondly, developing regions hosted 86% of the world’s refugees. Taking into account that according to UNHCR, it would cost $20,537,705 only to finance the Syria Regional Refugee Coordination Office, it becomes clear that the costs are high. Developing countries appear to simply not be able to afford to invest the necessary money on refugee camps as opposed to European countries. Lastly, refugees have skills, talents and aspirations, and the ability to contribute socially and economically.

On the other hand, a number of European nations have made it clear they are not willing to welcome many newcomers, despite the current crisis, e.g., Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban built a barbed-wire fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia and introduced a new migratory law making any fence crossing a criminal offense. Those who agree with the Hungarian Prime Minister often argue that taking in all asylum-seekers would have a negative effect on European societies as well as economies. Refugees will not only be a “loss of capital” for the states but also a threat to their civic identity. People shudder at the sight of the potential change that the refugees might bring with them, something which contributes to the rise of an anti-immigration feeling. Illustrating this point, Orban stated: “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”

In conclusion, the EU has announced an emergency quota system that will spread out the influx of refugees across its member states, aiming to improve the situation and avoid irrevocable mistakes. I strongly support the opinion of having open European borders for all Syrians and Afghans and honestly believe that the European Union should be realistic about the number of refugees that will arrive in the near future to our continent as to handle the crisis appropriately.

 

About the author:

Photo Mónica Martínez Jorge is 16-year-old student from Spain who is interested in politics. 

Young World-Wide-Minded Europeans towards the EU Political Union (2/2)

People standing before the EU banner crossing hands, Spotlight Europe
If all European nations worked closer together, the enforcement of human rights and immigration issues could be simplified. (Flickr: European Parliament/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Every European citizen should be aware of the fact that since 1950, when the European Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was signed, countries are obliged to respond to any possible violation of human rights to a sovereign Court; this guarantees not only a major respect for every single person but also a stronger persistence of peace and democracy. Therefore Europeans should sensitize national governments to these Court’s functions to be enlarged and made more powerful, being it not only a guarantee for European citizens but also for foreigners who happen to be on the EU territory in order to escape from a dangerous situation for their own freedom or safety.

I am strongly faithful that this further step towards a complete unification can be reached and would mean the best possible guarantee of freedom. Indeed many doors have already been opened in the last 60 years by the EU. Lightening example of this appeared in the 1980s when Greece, Spain and Portugal had to embrace democracy as a fundamental condition for their membership; furthermore, we cannot forget about the situation of permanent peace between France and Germany (comparing to the 3 wars they fought in the last centuries) or still, about many chances of integration with Eastern countries begun after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Italian coast, Spotlight Europe
Italy is particularly affected by illegal immigration. (Flickr: Paolo Margari/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What particularly concerns me among the recent issues Europe has to deal with, is that of immigration. Italy, among all European Mediterranean countries, is increasingly and considerably touched by the phenomenon and evidently the measures taken to face it are neither efficient nor sufficient. Though, this is not just a problem linked to Southern nations. This is not only because we all need to develop the idea that all the topics concerning one European country actually concern all of them as parts of a single union. It also brings many more immediate and practical consequences: countries such as Italy are often seen by immigrants just as “Transit Countries”, the first of a long series of steps towards a family reunification up North. My personal interest on the point developed in 2009 when a group of Eritrean and Somalian immigrants arduously arrived next to Italian costs, were collectively sent back to Libya by the Italian authorities. All of this happened without any kind of acknowledgment about their personal backgrounds and any care for the risky and tiring trip they had just faced. The question naturally raised by such an event relates to how it is possible that nowadays a declared democratic country commits such an action, with total disregard to human dignity. Moreover several conventions signed by all European countries state that it is necessary to guarantee immigrants a refugee status whenever they run through the risk of ill-treatment in the country of origin (as in the case previously mentioned).

“It is necessary to make the citizens feel involved.”

My personal requirement to the new European leadership would develop on two levels. First of all, from the European prospective, it is necessary to make the citizens, especially the new generations, feel more involved and personally touched by the problem. The second point would be to better organize and structure more in depth the procedures to welcome, host and help the incoming immigrants.

Indeed the European natives, especially in my country, do not conceive immigrants as a special chance to enlarge the national cultural horizons and as a resource but simply as the “others”, the “different ones” etc. All these feelings belong to a phenomena which should no longer appear in a 21st century democratic society such as racism, xenophobia and so on. A concrete episode which made me develop this belief is happening in my country. In the last 20 years, Lampedusa Island (situated in the extreme South of Italy) has been the symbol of hope and freedom for many refugees escaping from North African coasts.

Sadly, in such an historically fascinating place the first and most cruel kind of Italian stereotype against African immigrants originated.

Girl with a European flag paint on her cheek, Spotlight Europe
“Strengthen a unique European identity, especially among the young generation.” (Flickr: European Parliament/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

To conclude, my personal requirement to the new EU leadership would be to work in order to develop and strengthen a unique European identity, especially among the young generation. The crucial point to focus on would be the respect for human rights; young generations especially should be made more aware of the fact that giving more power to over-national institutions, towards a Political Union, would be the only way to guarantee equal rights and opportunities to every person residing on EU territory. Additionally, young people should especially be taught how to develop a world-wide open way of thinking. For this reason, a common feeling of fear of the other such as the one nowadays present towards immigrants, is no longer acceptable.

About the author:
Camilla Crovella, Spotlight Europe
Camilla – Author at Spotlight Europe

Camilla (21) is a member of the Eustory Alumni Network and writes articles for online magazines. She studies Law at the University of Turin.