The Centre for Peace Studies has been active for a long streak of time in educating young people in peace studies, providing a space for open and unbiased dialogue on issues concerning peace in Croatia and the world, but overall lately they have taken their expertise to the next level, assisting refugees and asylum seekers in their integration in Croatia.
Emina, you have been active in different youth NGOs and youth work is not new to you. How do you connect it to the work you do nowadays?
It is all connected and it has been all the time. There cannot be successful work in just some social fields if you don’t connect it to others, especially when it comes to human rights, vulnerable groups and sensitive social changes. I strongly believe we need to connect work with different social groups and on different social issues in order to open the door wider to a social change we would like to see for individuals and whole societies.
I strongly believe we need to connect work with different social groups and on different social issue
Working with asylum seekers and refugees must differ greatly from the customary youth work done nationally. What are the needs and problems of young people that you work with and how do you and your organisation provide for these young people?
Young asylum seekers and refugees are not very much different from Croatian youth in terms of wishes for prosperous future encompassing access to education and labour market, posiibilities for independent living and family raising, quality leisure time and general safety. Both groups are not likely to exercise these rights especially when it comes to employment and satisfying basic existential needs due to economic challenges. Refugee and migrant youth are definitely more disadvantaged in Croatia and therefore we organize Croatian language courses, non-formal educational programmes and programmes for economic emancipation by preparing them for the labour market but also for social entrepeneurship programmes. Through our network of citizens volunteers we provide daily support in their integration, from paper work in fullfilling administrative requirements over legal aid to direct involvement in different initiatives and projects. One of those successful initiatives is Zagreb 041, a football club composed of players of domestic and migrant origin trained by a young refugee football trainer. Another one is Taste of Home, culinary – language social cooperative employing and involving some 10 refugees and migrants.
What is the reaction from the envirionment that you get when doing your work?
Beside from socio-political environment showing rather xenophobic and often racist attitudes and by that narrowing opportunities for refugees and migrants, there is on the other side a growing platform of individuas and groups expressing solidarity and portraying welcoming side of our society. This has been especially seen in past months of the so called humanitarian refugee crisis when thousands of citizens have helped and supported refugees in their movement and search of safety through self-organized initiatives along the part of the Balkan route in Croatia and borders with neighbouring countries.
Do you consider young people with a refugee or migrant background to be a potential added value to the Croatian society or a threat as many people would perceive it these days?
Refugees and migrants can never be a threat. Refugees and migrants are fleeing from threats of political, economic and climate change nature. They are humans in search of safety and better life opportunities and that can never be judged. It is in human nature and shall not be limitied. Our societies have moral and legal obligation to offer the best they can as the other societies did the same when Croatians were fleeing from war or poverty to other parts of the world.
Our societies are definitely changing due to migration flows. But that has always been like that, too. It should be accepted and should be leading towards building structures for welcoming atmosphere and intecultural potentials we all have. People coming in have been enriching our societies in different ways and opportunities for their integration and safe living should be there. They shouldn’t be misused or used only for economic prosperity based on cheap labour for instance. The way we integrate foreigners is a clear reflection of the level of our political and social maturity.
Please present us the project „Taste of Home“ in brief and outline the main achievements.
A taste of home is a culinary-cultural-research project that introduces the culture, customs and societies of origin of the refugees in Croatia by recording their memories of home, smells and tastes of their cuisine. This is an experiment in sharing life stories and culinary skills of refugees and people from Croatia.
Tastes of home have been investigated and recorded over several years. For over ten years we are meeting people in search of safety and happiness. Some of these stories about the search for a better life have been recorded in the book of recipes and personal stories. Through the culinary workshops and public presentations of culinary specialities, as well as through creation of a cookbook “A Taste of Home” and recording the eponymous documentary, refugees speak out about the reasons of their exile through gastronomy (Fade In, author: Martina Globočnik).
The entire project took place in recent years in conjunction with a program of Peace Studies by the Centre for Peace Studies, within the mentoring group that was part of the course “Migration and Asylum” and “The emancipation of cultural pluralism in the times of exile”, as well as in collaboration with a group of volunteers who provide support in the integration of refugees and the development of the asylum system in Croatia.
Recently we have kicked off a social cooperative that has started its’ catering business employing 4 refugees and persons of a migrant background while involving another 4 cooks in cooking workshops and intercultural discussions with schools. Another strand is starting off language schools that would offer Arabic, Urdu, Dari, Farsi and Albanian language courses for the beginning involving another 5 persons of a migrant background.
What are the plans for the future, considering the fact that the number of refugees and asylum seekers keeps growing and also considering the outstanding work you have done so far?
Our plans are focused on further direct support to integration of refugees and migrants while advocating for just integration policies and kicking off grass root initiatives. We are aiming at further support of migrant and refugee associations and their independent work. Also, we have been expecting rellocated refugees under the European agreement and continuous provision of legal, psychosocial and integration aid. Our goal is to work even more intense on advocacy level as well as to stretch our networking to independent and solidarity based groups in Europe and around the globe.
by Ante Martić (2016)
Ante Martić, executive director of the association IMAGINE and the Regional Youth Info centre Zagreb, Board member of the Association of Youth Info Centres in Croatia. Former European Youth Forum policy officer for youth work development and former Head of Youth Sector at the Croatian Ministry of Social policy and Youth.
Photos © Emina Buzinkic