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Are You Syrious?

Are You Syrious? is a Croatian non-governmental organization that grew out of the volunteer response to the Syrian refugee crisis in the Balkans.

With only two-and-a-half paid staff and 160 volunteers, Are You Syrious? (AYS) is making a significant impact on refugee lives in Croatia, and refugee news around the world.

“Are You Syrious started as a grassroots civil society initiative … .  Suddenly people started coming to our country, and it was a reaction of citizens, who felt the human need to help.” – Tajana Tadic, AYS Program Manager.

The organization provides:

  • Education support for children and adults; an integration center, including the AYS Free Shop where refugees can choose the goods they need;
  • Trusted international refugee news via the AYS Daily Digest;
  • Employment assistance for finding a job and negotiating fair conditions and pay; and
  • Research and advocacy on asylum in Croatia, including border pushbacks.

“It’s important for us to keep the research and advocacy connected to our work in the field… . For example, the Ministry of Interior was denying asylum based on ‘security reasons’ that were not disclosed to asylum seekers, and which they couldn’t challenge. We would never have found out about these decisions if we did not have that relationship of trust with the people, which we built through our everyday work – helping children with their homework, helping people find jobs…. I don’t think one can work without the other.” – Asja Korbar, AYS Head of Development

Refugees help power AYS, serving as volunteers in equal partnership with non-refugees. Work at AYS’s integration center illustrates this dynamic as refugee and local volunteers run the Free Shop and community activities together. Tarek*, a volunteer at the integration center, fled Damascus to Croatia as an unaccompanied minor. Like all unaccompanied minors in Croatia, he was placed in a home for children with behavioral difficulties. He said that life in the home was a waste – a routine of eating and sleeping, with no educational activities. After almost a year, he found AYS. 

“My friend told me about it, and I came the next day …  it’s helped a lot,” – Tarek

Tarek is now one of the best students in AYS’s Croatian course, and with AYS’s help, found a job at a local restaurant. He hopes to one day go to university and pursue his love of literature. Amar* and his brother are also attending AYS’s Croatian course and receiving training on installing home insulation as part of a joint initiative between AYS and the local government. The brothers and their family fled Iraq via Turkey and Greece, then traveled on foot to Croatia. They speak six languages, two of which they learned on the journey from other refugees.

“Are You Syrious – these people have hearts of gold, but life as a refugee here is hard.” – Amar

Following are a few of many examples of partnerships spurred by AYS that are advancing human rights and supports for refugees:

  • After seeing the need for Croatian language lessons, AYS sought out experts, offering refugees access to a world-class program with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zagreb.
  • AYS collaborated with the Center for Peace Studies, a highly-regarded human rights NGO (and UUSC partner) to produce reports documenting illegal border pushbacks and the systematic denial of asylum to Dublin deportees.
  • AYS coordinates with laypeople and experienced journalists from around the world to create the Daily Digest, a crucial resource for refugees and those working on the front lines of human rights advocacy.

UUSC is honored to support AYS as it grows, professionalizes, and remains steadfast in its commitment to volunteer-driven initiatives.

“UUSC has helped us a lot, not only in terms of funding, which has been substantial and allowed us to hire our first coordinator, and therefore to start the process of partial professionalization of the team. This had a huge impact on our volunteers … as it made it possible to dedicate themselves fully to the fieldwork. Not only that, but we had a lot of mentorship and advice from our task managers during the process.” Asja Korbar, AYS Head of Development

* Names and identifying details have been changed.

Courtesy of Are You Syrious

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