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…

One Social Europe: the donkey sanctuary (part 2)

Donkey Maureen is being looked after at the Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe and Felix Junker)
Donkey Maureen is being looked after at the Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe and Felix Junker)

Viktoria (25) and Felix (26) take you on a trip to a social project in Ireland – the Donkey Sanctuary. With their initiative ‘One Social Europe‘, they travelled Europe in their van for six months and presented charitable initiatives on their website. The two young adults drove 17,212 kilometres in 172 days and visited 21 countries. Among the projects they discovered are fair trade campaigns, activities for elderly people, youth organisations and volunteer opportunities in rural areas. Spotlight Europe had a tough job to pick just one project, but in the end we decided to take you the place where donkeys find a new home in County Cork, Ireland.

Maureen takes a look through the fence with her big brown eyes. Cautiously her flour-white muzzle comes closer and she touches us gently, calls for attention and cuddles. Maureen is small, brown and has quite long ears. She is one of over 100 donkeys in the Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll and we like her immediately.

Here in the sanctuary old, sick, neglected or simply not wanted donkeys find a new home – or a transition home until they can move into a permanent new one. Overall, more than 4,000 donkeys were rescued from bad posture, nursed and brought to a new home by the establishment.

Maureen can surely expect a new donkey-friendly home, which she will share with at least one other donkey. The animals are herd animals, an exchange of individual animals is not possible. If new donkeys come into the system, they often bring their “partner-animals”, such as cats, sheep or horses with them. Donkeys have a high need for social contacts to other animal partners.

But not all residents of the large, beautiful area will leave the farm one day. Some donkeys remain all their life on the farm – partly because they have experienced so much that it would not be possible of sending them into a new home, partly because they were raised by the employees of the farm with the bottle and you do not want these animals to be forced leaving their home, if it is not absolutely necessary.

One of these donkeys is Richie. Richie is large, brown-spotted white and has beautiful black-brown eyes, which look friendly at everyone in the area. His mother died of blood poisoning, when he was 10 days old. Since that day, he has been living at the station, first as a bottle-fed baby, now as a fully integrated member of a group of quieter animals.

If you want to learn more about the Donkey Sanctuary there is a lot of interesting information on the website of the sanctuary.

About the authors:

IMG_3725 Viktoria (25) and Felix (26) are inspired by the idea of Europe: peaceful coexistence of different countries and cultures, the cooperation of the European countries, the freedom to travel – to experience Europe as a social continent.

With the project ‘One Social Europe’, their goal was to inform how Europeans are involved in social or non-profit projects and how they bring their country, their society or Europe further – on the way to become one social europe.



Ireland: The first Country in the World to bring in Same-sex Marriage by Popular Vote


“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

On the 22nd of March 2015, the Irish people voted to change the wording of the constitution, so that this phrase replaced the old one, which implied that a marriage could only be between a man and a woman. This was a huge and exciting victory for Ireland and its LGBT+ citizens.

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Referendum posters in Dublin. By Feargha Clear Keena

But this referendum was not won overnight. The holding of the referendum was the result of years and years of work by irish LGBT+ activists, many of whom worked to get homosexuality decriminalised in Ireland in the 70s. In the months leading up to the vote, the streets of Dublin were plastered with posters from both sides of the camaign, people were canvasing door to door, and businesses, schools, even the police, were all publicly showing support for marriage equality. Walking around Dublin, as a young gay person, the enthusiasm and passion of the “yes” campaign (those in favour of marriage equality) was to be seen everywhere, and it was incredible to see the shop windows, traffic lights, and postboxes all proudly bearing the phrase “Yes Equality”.

However, it was hard to overlook the “No” posters, which promoted the “traditional family” at the expense of single parent families and families with same sex parents. The determination of both sides led to a long and engaging nationwide debate. The entire country was having a discussion about marriage and families, and most of all, what it was like to be a member of the LGBT+ community in Ireland. This discussion quickly turned personal. People began to “come out”, including public figures like politician Leo Varadkar and journalist Ursula Halligan, in order to share their stories and encourage people to vote yes. It had become very emotional, and for the first time, the country was listening to a new narrative: that of LGBT+ people.

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Pride in Dublin City. By Feargha Clear Keena

The campaign was also very different from previous referendums in its amount of youth involvement. It was very clear from the get go that the result was hugely dependent on the youth turnout in voting stations, as young people tend to be the most supportive of LGBT+ issues. A huge part of the Yes Campaign was devoted to highlighting the importance of registering to vote and voting. People were so moved by this issue and this campaign that many Irish emigrants living abroad flew home to vote yes, which resulted in the phenomenal hashtag #hometovote, where people blogged their journeys from other countries, continents to take part in the historic day. In a country where voting had become much less popular with young people as well as everyone else, this particular issue invigorated the population, resulting in a historically high voter turnout. Almost 66,000 people registered to vote for the first time, with a total of 1,935,907 people voting in total.

On the day of the results, thousands of people gathered in Dublin Castle, where the votes were being counted for the Dublin constituencies. People were draped in rainbow flags with brightly painted faces, and the atmosphere was electric. When the results officially came true, I heard a weak stream of the national anthem from the crowd. Little by little, we all joined in. For many of us, it was a moment of not just LGBT+ pride, but Irish pride. Irish Pride in a way we had never felt it before.

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“Yes” Campaign ad. By Feargha Clear Keena

Many people do not take the issue of Marriage Equality seriously, because there are so many more serious obstacles facing the LGBT+ community, both in Europe and globally. But if you are seen as equal in the eyes of the law, you are ultimately more protected by your government. When I grow up, if I do have a family, I won’t have to worry about being treated differently or having less rights as a mother and a wife as anyone else in the country. It also showed a huge support for LGBT+ people. It told us that Ireland has changed, and that we do not have to hide anymore.

This is a huge and important change for our country, and I could not be more proud.


About the author:
Feargha Clear Keena
Feargha Clear Keena

Feargha Clear Keena (17) participated in the “My Europe” Workshop in Dublin in 2014. She goes to school at Mount Temple Comprehensive and enjoys playing music, writing songs, and learning foreign languages.

For me, Europe is…

…an amazing collection of art and culture and history that I’m lucky enough to be able to witness and be a part of.

Europe Still Popular in Ireland!

Irish girl holding up "My Europe" pin, Spotlight Europe
Europe still popular in Ireland? (Picture: “My Europe” Workshop in Dublin, 2014)

It might come as a bit of a surprise but Europe is still popular in Ireland! Certainly the financial and economic difficulties of the last few years have presented huge challenges for the Irish government and Irish society. There have been job losses, emigration and cuts in living standards that have affected almost all Irish families. Who was to blame for all this- maybe Europe? For some people in Ireland the answer to this question is yes. Some doubt that Ireland has really been shown the ‘solidarity’ that EU leaders pretend. However, away from the heat and noise of current politics, something much deeper and more important has survived the crises of the last few years: the idea that Ireland belongs in Europe. Indeed, Ireland in many ways has become more European in recent years thanks to the greater diversity of our communities with many families now having connections with the countries of Central Europe.

Dr. Murdock giving a speech in front of students in Dublin 2014, Spotlight Europe
Dr. Murdock during a “My Europe” Workshop session in Dublin, 2014

My perspective on all this is from the vantage point of running an undergraduate programme in European Studies at Trinity College Dublin. This programme is very attractive to students with stiff competition for places. We have Irish students from different regions and backgrounds and also students from various European countries in the programme. Students come to study two European languages, and to study European history and politics. It is not a programme that focuses narrowly on understanding current European affairs or the institutions of the EU. Rather, it offers students the chance to learn and think about Europe’s literatures, histories and cultures as well as its sociology and economics. Students also spend one year of their four-year programme in a partner university in one of seven European countries. Students are also encouraged to develop their own research projects as well as pass examinations!

When I ask students why they decided to choose European Studies for their degree- they do not reply by speaking about current politics. Rather, their answers reflect on something much more important- the understanding that their futures and the future of Ireland will be found in engagement with the rest of Europe and the wider world. Ireland is a small country on the north-western margins of an extraordinary and diverse Continent. Students appreciate that to thrive in the new Europe they need to learn European languages, to learn about the cultures and histories and traditions of Europe, and to understand the Europe of today in the context of its rich, diverse and complex past.

There are always reasons to be concerned about the future but working at a university like Trinity is a wonderful antidote to pessimism. I get the privilege to work with a new generation of talented, hard-working and (yes!) ambitious students who look out with confidence from Dublin across a Continent that they call home. Students from around Europe are welcome to join us!

For more information about the study courses, please visit: All the information about how to apply can be found here

About the author:
Graeme Murdock, Spotlight Europe
Graeme Murdock – Author at Spotlight Europe

Graeme Murdock is Associate Professor of Modern History and Director of the Centre for European Studies at Trinity College Dublin.