Persecuted Beyond Borders

Image result for lgbt italy

After such a great reception of the article we shared entitled ‘Persecuted beyond borders: why Italy needs LGBT refugee shelters’, the YCF decided to interview the author of this piece.

Claudia Torrisi is an Italian journalist who has a passion for social issues, migrations and human rights. She has a master’s degree in Law and has previously worked with some non-profit organisations and projects such as Chayn Italia.

Torrisi has an extremely open background, working in various positions such as a journalist, volunteer, web editor and even worked on the mayoral campaign in Rome during 2016. She is very versatile in her work and as published pieces with openDemocracy, VICE Media and more.

Her piece focuses on the need for centres for LGBT refugees in Italy and documents how some refugees feel unsafe in the current setup. She tells of how they feel attacked and scared, often sensing that they are isolated when they arrive. Many fear telling their stories and sharing their experiences with those they meet in the crisis centres. Their lives are put on hold as they fear criminalisation for their sexual status.

Join us on 15th November 2017 as we interview Claudia Torrisi live on our social media channels.

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… 

 

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.

Rising number of climate-refugees is one of the most important issues nowadays

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

The topic about the refugees has always been and will be a burning problem. And, we can say that the rising number of climate-change refugees is one of the most important issues facing our society nowadays. We live in such an age where many people are free to choose a better way of living. Yet, some are forced to make the decision to leave their homes due to political clashes. “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of shark” (Warsan Shire, 2011) – by ignoring the trend of the fleeing refugees, the world leaders have now allowed one of the largest global humanitarian crisis to unfold. Nevertheless, the situation can be kept under control by taking actions.

Let us take a look at the extreme weather events such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes that are quite common and recurring. Climate change worsens the consequences of those events and it should not be a surprise that people strive to inhabit areas with a pleasant and temperate climate. People are suffering and have no other choice, but to leave their homes. The economies of the countries destroyed are extremely unstable and the population is more prone to fleeing. Every year around the globe millions of people are forced to move due to this major reason.  Furthermore, large segments of the population deciding to migrate are the ones with higher standard of living. Fleeing is inevitable; however the world leaders should find ways to solve the world refugee crisis. For instance, they should aim to provide the basic essentials for the suffering – for example a standard apartment meeting the basic human needs such as hot water and food.

According to the UNHCR, the people, who are forced to move, need some form of international protection since their own governments fail to keep them safe.

The refugee issue is painful to society these days – many people around the globe think that they are a “nuisance”. Not many people realize that all these refugees are actually one of us and that they are forced to leave their countries.  According to recent forecasts, the number of those likely to relocate because of the climate changes is 350 million by 2050, compared to 65.3 million in 2016. This may lead to building walls instead of opening the market between the nations. Unfortunately, most people do not approve of migration. Yet, helping the refugees requires a clear definition of the matter before taking any steps since many people do not indeed know what a climate-change refugee is facing. On the one hand, refugees are people left homeless, who are looking for a better way of living. On the other hand, in modern society’s eyes they are a nuisance, which may destroy their established world. Yet, not everyone is humane enough to face the reality and do something about the refugee issue instead of isolating them and treating them as criminals. There are many ways to integrate them into our local communities. For instance, a solution could be finding job places for them, incorporating them into local activities and dividing them out per capita in every city in the country. The result would be that no one would feel different, rejected and intimidated.

According to recent forecasts, the number of those likely to relocate because of the climate changes is 350 million by 2050, compared to 65.3 million in 2016.

We live in the 21st century and the standard of living is supposed to get better and better. With the increasing number of extreme weather and political events, a concern of the international community about the consequences of migration is also growing. Around 1,700 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the period between January and April 2015. According to the UNHCR, the people, who are forced to move, need some form of international protection since their own governments fail to keep them safe. Hence, the attention is rising to the pledges such as countries like Norway or Switzerland are trying to find a better way of protection for climate change affected people. For example, Norway joined a special recognition procedure in 2005, which includes approval of eligibility of foreign qualifications provided with applications for jobs or studies. It is an attempt to integrate the refugees in the day-to-day life.

To sum up, refugees are people with a decent opportunity for a better life. The foreign governments play an important role in helping them. Unfortunately, the way all of them are treated is not the one they deserve to be. People can find many ways to make their stay more pleasant. Each of them is trying to remain alive and they are looking for a safer place where they will not be mistreated. A couple of countries have already thought of solutions to the refugees’ crisis and so can the others. And the more humane people are, the happier their lives will be.

About the author:

Zhaklin Dimitrova Yanakieva (17) took part in the My Europe Workshop in Sofia on 28-29 November 2016 and won the first 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…

Brussels Lockdown

alarm-959592_1920  Thirteenth of  November 2015. This date is still on the minds of many people around the globe as the dreadful day when a series of coordinated terrorist acts occurred in Paris and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis. Three suicide bombers struck near the Stade de France, followed by suicide bombings and mass shootings at cafés, restaurants and a music venue, the Bataclan theatre. The attackers killed 130 persons and injured 368. Seven of the perpetrators of the attacks also died. The attacks were the deadliest in France since World War II and the most fatal in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004.  They led French president François Hollande to declare a 3-month state of emergency and launch Opération Chammal, the most extensive French airstrike operation against ISIS to date. Counter-terrorism measures were also taken by other states in Europe and North America. In addition to triggering political reactions, the event resonated with people across the globe, especially on social media where the Twitter hashtag PrayForParis and the Facebook profile filter French Flag were launched so that people could show their support for France and the families of the victims of the attacks.

Many things can be said about the consequences of the attacks in France and elsewhere, but today I want to focus on some of the effects it has had on my home country, Belgium, and more specifically on Brussels, my hometown.

Some of the men that participated in the attacks lived in Brussels and one of the main perpetrators, Salah Abdesalam, who survived the attacks, is suspected to have crossed the French-Belgian border after the attacks. This prompted Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel to announce a lockdown on Brussels by declaring a level 4 security alert, which is defined by the National Security Council as an imminent and serious threat. As a result, subway lines, schools, universities and many shops were closed down for several days. The Winter Market, one of the biggest annual attractions held in December in the center of Brussels risked being canceled and attracted substantially fewer people than previous years. Military personnel patrolled the city, police presence was increased, streets were empty, and the overriding message was to “avoid all crowded places and stay at home if you can”.

In addition to implementation of these security measures, a total of 20 arrests were made in Molenbeek, a neighbourhood in Brussels where some of the Paris attackers lived and where they may have been radicalized. The arrests were coordinated by Belgium’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Jan Jambon, who stated that he would “clean up Molenbeek”.  Molenbeek was scrutinized by foreign media for several weeks after the raids and many European politicians criticized Belgium for its lack of security and anti-terrorism intelligence.  A headline in the famous French newspaper, le Monde, read: “For Belgians, the Abdesalam brothers did not constitute a threat” and the British daily, The Guardian, stated that “Molenbeek was becoming known as Europe’s Jihadi central”.  Donald Trump, one of the Republican Party candidates for the US presidential elections, claimed that “the capital of Belgium had been adversely affected by its lack of assimilation from their Muslim residents”.

As a Belgian living abroad, I was often asked about the state of alert in Brussels and many individuals who were eager to discuss the issue with me had narratives similar to those proposed by the media. This prompted me to read news articles on the subject and talk to my parents and relatives living in Brussels. It brought me to the following conclusion: while these allegations may have some truth to them, it is important for people to carefully analyze the context of the situation before making assumptions about the gravity of the situation in Brussels, and particularly Molenbeek.

First, with the population increasingly feeling frustrated by the lack of public transport, closed shops and closed schools, the level of alert was decreased to 3 on the 27th of November, only 6 days after imposing security level 4. The decision was made without pointing out any real change in the situation, suggesting that the threat may not have been as prominent as had been claimed in the first place.

Concerning Molenbeek, of the 20 arrests made, 16 people were interrogated and 15 were released. This suggests that the majority of those  arrested did not constitute a direct threat to security and that the intervention was carried out as a show of power. Jan Jambon’s solution was to clean up Molenbeek. This is a simplistic solution that is overused by politicians when referring to the perceived threat that neighbourhoods of lower socio-economic standing pose to the general population. It is a dangerous term because it separates the inhabitants of the said neighbourhood from the rest of the population and treats them as the “problem”. It implies that  if something had to be “cleaned up”,  it must have been “dirty” in the first place. Further alienation of a stigmatized group of people can only increase resentment and lead to more violence.

My suggestion is to urge people around the world to carefully analyze the information they are exposed to by the media and political interests when they address the problem of terrorism. They should consult multiple sources of information with differing perspectives in order to have a more informed opinion on the matter.  Increased knowledge and awareness of the factors contributing to terrorism are essential for the initial steps that will hopefully lead to its eradication.

 

 About the author:

Fiorella pic newFiorella (19) attended our Brussels Workshop as a student of Collège Saint Michel. She is currently an undergraduate student in biological science at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Fiorella is interested in politics, arts & literature, sports (climbing), guitar and travel. Her dream job is being a veterinarian for wild animals in a national park. More…