Europe’s youth must stand up against populists

Now it has also reached Germany. The fact that a right-wing populist party, the AfD in Germany moves into the Bundestag with official provisional results of 12, 6% is another warning for Europe. Everywhere in Europe, tendencies to close the borders, return to the nation state and abolish a common currency can be seen. The leaders in Europe have been warned sufficiently to take populists seriously and to do everything to ensure that Europe remains a one-of-a-kind entity. Europe’s youth in particular is called upon to take a stand against all positions of populists and clearly choose a free Europe without borders. We do not want to lose all the advantages that Europe has given us in the last 50 years and return to nation-states. We want to continue to be able to travel freely within the EU, pay in a common currency and be able to communicate with all people. Our goal is to maintain a free Europe and to give all people equal opportunities. That is why we launched the initiative European Youth Marathon with the slogan ‘I’m a part of Europe’. Join us and fight for the unity of a free Europe.

 

About the Author:

Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is CEO and founder of My Europe 2100 e.V.. Additionally, he is founder of the future think tank Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, founder and Deputy Chairman of the European Association for Banking and Financial History (EABH) as well as of the Institute for Corporate Cultural Affairs. In 2011 he was awarded with the Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse of the Federal Republic Germany for his charitable commitment in the European banking and financial sector. Read more… 

 

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.

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…

Western norms and values

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Heavy times in Europe right now. Everybody was shocked when the first boat sank. But now, when we have to share our land, we are not that shocked anymore. Sinking boats are something from daily life. Suddenly we have to share our little country with another nation, with another culture and another religion. Nobody ever said it should be easy.

When I was little I was taught not to burp at the table. Always to look people straight in the eyes, to have respect for everyone and every culture I was with. These are norms, with the value to respect everyone. In Europe a big discussion is going on right now: do we have the duty to welcome these people? Even though they stick to another culture, another religion?

A few famous, populistic, politicians say we have to overthink our own Western Norms and Values and protect them first, instead of just taking everyone. Even though they see norms and values, which are normal to us, in another way. So, my question, what are these norms and values exactly?

Je suis Charlie. Paris 7th of January 2015. Two men in black suits shot cartoonists. Cartoons emerged afterwards: cartoons from ‘western people’ with duck-tape stuck to their mouths. It seems so important to us: our freedom of expression. We have this famous politician in Holland: Geert Wilders. He is repeatedly accused for insulting remarks/expressions against Muslims. His expressions and speeches are banal and heavy, and many people wonder why he has so many followers. It is because of this, we all had the same feeling when the cartoonist got killed: our freedom of expression is in danger. ‘We have fought for it through history’. I think this is an important value in Holland, so it is in Europe. People get angry when they feel they cannot say what they want, even though it is hurting other humans. Right now, in Poland the government decided to lead the state television, which means they can control when and what people say on television. According the rules from the EU-membership this is forbidden. But with another crisis to carry, the EU doesn’t pay that much attention to this problem. Even though it imparks the Polish citizens’ freedom of expression.

New Year’s Eve. Cologne 1th of January 2016. Sexual harassment is a big issue and was put on the spotlights after the incidents in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. First the refugees came to ‘touch’ our freedom of expression. Now they’re touching our women: the world has gone mad.

So, safety should be a value. Safety on the streets to walk everywhere and at every moment you want, in the clothes you like. So, according to our European identity there are two important values: freedom of expression and safety (no sexual intimidation). The most important values, but in my opinion also the most empty values. I wonder, are you free when the government checks everything you are doing on the streets and on the internet in the name of keeping terrorists away from planning attacks?

For example: in Amsterdam you can be who you are and by that I mean the gay community. The Ministry of Education in Holland decided to educate asylum seekers in gay rights in the Netherlands. As the minister Jet Bussemaker told the media: ‘Refugees often come from countries where female- and gay rights are not always self-evident’. I think this is not only a Dutch value: discrimination is also not allowed in other European countries. So I think we can say that ‘no discrimination’ or ‘tolerance’ also are Western values.

So with this we come to a few important values belonging to our Western European World: Freedom of expression, safety (on every area), against discrimination, tolerance. And with these we also come to another value: the European Identity. Some European citizens are afraid Europe will lose her identity and her dominant culture, when lots of people from other cultures come to live here. I think this is not true, because I think diversity and tolerance towards other cultures and religions is one of the strongest values a country can have. We have to defend this values, but not because they’re ‘our Western values we have fight for through history’. We have to defend and think about them because these are values that are always very important.

What allows us to teach refugees not to condemn people on their sexual preferences if we still condemn people on their culture and religion ourselves?

 

About the author:

Adinda BlankAdinda Blank (18) participated in our workshop in Amsterdam in 2014 as a student of Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam. She is dreaming of becoming a journalist and enjoys history, singing, rowing, drawing as well as writing stories.

A Helping Hand for the Refugees

1The closing of the Serbo-Hungarian border in October 2015 caused a massive influx of refugees seizing their last chance to make it into the European-Union through Hungary. Katharina* (54), housewife and mother of three children in Munich decided in October 2015 to go to the Serbo-Hungarian border to offer her help to the refugees.

She agreed to share her experience with us in this interview.

YCF: What motivated you to go to the Serbo-Hungarian border?

Katharina: I decided to go there, when the refugee crisis and particularly the position of the European-Union at its borders were at the center of media attention. The spotlight was put on the Syrian refugees and their struggles at the borders to get into the European-Union by land or by sea. When I saw these people in Hungary walking by feet on the streets direction Austria I couldn’t stop thinking of them.

Furthermore, there was a wave of solidarity coming up in Munich, the city in which I live, as well as in Germany in general.

But the thing, that pushed me the most, was the urge of the situation and the will to face it. I mean, there was a huge humanitarian crisis just about 500 miles away and I couldn’t stand it, just to stay in my comfort zone and not do anything about it.

YCF: How did you go? And who did you take with you?

Katharina: I got in contact with a small group of people in my neighborhood who also wanted to do something. Most of them helped by donating stuff and/or money, but two of them were willing to come with me to the border to help the refugees there – a German architect who was about 40 years and a Syrian man who has lived in Munich for over 40 years.

Once the group was formed we decided to rent a truck and fill it with the donations. We even got supported by a charity organization which gave us among other things strollers and baby-carriers.

We first arrived in Budapest, where we originally wanted to help, but we were quickly told that there were enough people willing to help in the city. However, there was a huge lack of people at the Serbo-Hungarian border.

YCF: Once there, what was your first impression?

Katharina: I was surprised by the lack of infrastructure when we arrived. We first had to clean the surface to even think about creating a kind of infrastructure where we can welcome the arriving refugees. Then we distributed tents and made a plan to create a structure.

I was also surprised, that there were just very few people who came for humanitarian causes and a lot of journalists. I even felt, that there were more journalists than volunteers that came to the border. And there were quite a lot of Hungarian policeman at the border as well.2

YCF: What were your main activities at the border?

Katharina: Well, the activities varied. As already said, we installed tents to welcome the refugees, but we also gave them dry clothes when they arrived wet from head to toe because of the heavy rain. And we gave shelter and information to the disoriented refugees. We even gave money once in a while when they lost everything on their way. We also gave the often terrified children some toys and brought families to main train stations so that they could continue their way from there. As you can see, we always had something to do.

3YCF: What impressed you the most?

Katharina: I think it was to see so many families. Of course, I expected to see some families, but I was surprised to see that many families with small kids I thought meeting a lot more young to middle-aged men, who made the way to get their wives and kids later.

I was also surprised by the dignity and the decision of the refugees. Some of them had made very tough ways to get to the border and most were very tired. But all people were incredibly respectful and helpful one to another. I’ve never noticed a violent skid or even a feeling of aggressiveness.

Last but not least, I was surprised by the fact that there were not only Syrians trying to cross the border, but also a lot of Iraqis and Afghans fleeing terror and war.

4YCF: What was your most shocking experience

Katharina: One evening we were looking out at the border, if there was anyone who could need our help. We noticed someone hiding in the bushes, so we went a little closer. It was a young woman with a newborn in her arms. The young mother just gave birth a very few days ago in Serbia. But she didn’t have the time to recover from the birth. She had to continue her way direction Hungary. Once they arrived at the border, she sat down in a bush and stopped moving. She stayed in a severe state of shock with her newborn for one day and one night. The baby was almost not dressed. He wouldn’t have survived one more night like this in the cold.

At the example of this woman you can see how the refugees are going to their extremes. There is no going back for them.

YCF: Are you still active in the help for refugees today?

Katharina: I am indeed. I joined an organization in my city that offers different types of workshops for the refugees. The aim is, to integrate them and to offer them something to do during the long days. The workshops vary from German-classes and help in the bureaucratic steps to sports and cooking workshops. I personally lead a painting workshop with another woman. With this workshop we try to give them an opportunity to show their artistic skills and to express their experience. At the end of the workshop we’ll expose the paintings in a gallery to show it to a broad public.

* name changed as requested

Interview: Clara Hachmann

About the author:

Picture Clara HachmannClara took part in our “My Europe”workshop in Munich in 2013. She is one of the winners of the international writing contest from the workshop and has been actively representing the voice of young Europeans through the “Youth Council for the Future” (YCF). Read more…