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In Their Own Words: Not Any Less Human

January 14, 2016

An interview with Emina Bužinkić

In the following interview, Emina Bužinkić from the Center for Peace Studies, a UUSC partner in Croatia, speaks about the center’s work aiding refugees in transit and taking part in the Welcome Initiative. This interview was conducted via Skype in October and includes minor edits for style and length.

Can you tell me about the Welcome Initiative? 

It’s very simple. It’s a platform of solidarity of residents and nongovernmental organizations working [NGOs] in Croatia. These NGOs have been working in different fields, including sustainable development, education, human rights, peace building, and gender equality. Everyone has recognized the importance of supporting refugees during this crisis — and also supporting the Center for Peace Studies as a leading organization in the field of migration and refugee services. The work has been coordinated every day in a fantastic way with open communication and coordination of our activities — on the borders and in the refugee camps, while talking to diplomatic staff, and communicating with the public through roundtables, seminars, webinars, and our public campaign.

It’s good to be part of it. Even though the things happening around us are really horrible, and it affects us very much emotionally on an individual level, it seems that on a social level, this initiative is giving us further energy and further motivation to respond to this crisis.

What has been your interaction with the refugees you’re working with?

Many people who we meet with — hundreds and thousands of them — we are not able to talk to in depth. They are in the camps, in transit through the territories and borders, and they are usually in very fast transit in our country, as it is in Serbia and Slovenia. But from the refugees we have talked to in the camps, we hear about why they are fleeing their countries, such as Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq. Most of them are coming from those three countries, though there are plenty who are coming from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most people are very, very tired and very thankful when they receive food and blankets, and we manage to talk to them about their health condition. If they need a doctor, we take them to a facility where medical assistance is provided.

What are the biggest challenges in this work?

We are very much critical in calling attention to this refugee crisis. In talking about the refugee crisis, many people would say that the crisis is happening to us, because many people are coming to our territory, we are responsible in organizing their transport, and it’s kind of costly to establish these camps and to run them. It’s demanding financially and time-wise. And people are afraid of such a high number of foreigners entering the territory — will there be diseases, terrorism? So there are a lot of myths and prejudice, and people are not well informed and well educated when it comes to this. So it a huge challenge to change those attitudes.

But the thing is that the crisis is not happening to us, it is happening in Syria, it is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. The refugees are trying to escape from that crisis. And also, this has been going on for many months and many years. Croatia wasn’t on their path, as there was another path to their destination countries. Greece, Turkey, and Italy have been hot spots for awhile, and the same things have been happening in those countries that is happening now here. It’s probably going to move to Bosnia as well; I am kind of afraid of that moment. And even if all the people who are in our country today decide to stay, or if they won’t be able to move forward because the borders will be closed, that’s also not a crisis for Croatia. We are a small country, we are only four million, we can handle it.

Where do you find hope as you do this work?

We have been living in Croatian society for 25 years now [Croatia declared independence in June 1991], and we have experienced war. We always say that we wouldn’t want anyone else to experience what we have experienced here. So always, during the last 20 years or so, civil actions have been run under the slogan: “Enough of wars; give us peace.”

It’s highly understandable what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern and African countries. Many of us were refugees, so we have that experience. We know what it is to live in a foreign society and to not be accepted, to be labeled — that’s a common experience of many activists here. And we are also people with roots here, from national minority groups. So, we act from experiences.

I think our hope is that we would like to see peace building as an act of protest. There are refugees living in Croatia who we have been working with for many years now through different kinds of projects, such as the football club that we have established together with refugees and migrants or the Taste of Home culinary collective we have or the group of people who share their childhood stories. I think this tells them that people are really willing to live and share their stories and keep nice memories of their homes while they are also trying to build a ground for living here in Croatia — this kind of intercultural connection is very important.

What do you most want people to know about the work that the Center for Peace Studies is doing?

I think we would like people to know that first of all, we are an organization of human beings, who decided to be activists because of injustice in this world. I don’t say citizens — not because I don’t think we have civic responsibilities, but because the concept of nation states and post-colonialism tells us that citizens are only those who have papers. There are many people in this world who do not have documents confirming their identity, but that doesn’t mean they are any less human, even though some people treat them that way. So we are an organization of human beings who are willing to support other human beings in their fight for equality.

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