Migrants doing amazing work in Croatia and across Europe

Refugees Welcome International was invited by the Centar za mirovne studije (CMS) (Center for Peace Studies) to take part in the Human Rights Film Festival to present our work and show local activists that it is possible for refugees and migrants to be involved in such groundbreaking initiatives.

In the Croatian context this is important, as the dominant narrative is that refugees are passive receivers of support. Refugees in Croatia are not expected to be able to fight for their own rights or amount to anything significant.

Croatian Context
Croatia does not have many foreigners, in fact according to Julija Kranjec of the CMS, there are approximately 35,000 foreigners in the country (that has a population of 4.1 million people). The majority of these foreigners come from other ex-Yugoslavian countries, so this creates a situation where there are few refugees in the country.

Many of these refugees entered Croatia during the 2015 refugee “crisis” in Europe and they face issues such as a steep language barrier as well as employment and housing. In the case of employment, Croatia already has a high unemployment rate of 10.5% (according to the European Union) and there is an added level of xenophobia that makes it difficult for refugees to access the labour market.

As such, many members of refugees communities feel that there are invisible barriers that restrict them from realising their potentials in Croatia.

Migrants in Croatia.
Despite this negative narrative, there are success stories in Croatia. Julija mentioned cases where refugees helped emergency services greatly during the floods as they aided in the distribution of goods to survivors. Moreover, she mentioned that some refugees have already opened businesses with the help of the CMS. Julija spoke of a Nigerian, Prince Wale Soniyiki, who has opened a successful Nigerian restaurant in the capital – the only African restaurant in Croatia’s capital. There is another organisation called Taste of Home that expands on a singular concept and provides a platform where refugees can sell their culinary art to Croatians.


What migrants in other European countries are doing.
The people who I shared the panel with all have amazing projects. Toni and Alexia both work on similar projects that use football as a means to bring people together. Whilst Toni´s Welcome United works with refugees in Germany, Alexia´s United Glasgow includes other vulnerable groups in addition to refugees.

Tina Arend Morat is an award winning human rights advocate who co-founded Refugees Welcome Stockholm and is an executive at the Arend Morat Foundation.

However, I believe that the final presentation showcased one of the most dynamic teenagers I have seen in a long time. Fatemeh Khavari is a 17 year old Afghan refugee, who has been living in Sweden for the last 2 years. During the increased deportations of Afghans to Afghanistan from the European Union, Fatemeh decided to take a stand and with her group, Ung i Sverige, spent approximately 55 days sitting in the streets to show their opposition and this gained national media attention. To see a young girl not only decide to take a stance, but also to gather 100s of people of all nationalities to protest against the demonstrations was quite incredible. Fatemeh was in Croatia to empower women.

After the event, Fatemeh spoke to me about the level of hate that she received and I was impressed at how she was coping with attempts by many Swedes to discredit her identity and work. I gave her some tips on dealing with hate speech online and using such odious language to strengthen one´s work.

After the meeting, I met with some local activists and migrant students who all had amazing ideas.

Thoughts
I left Croatia pleased to see that despite living in an difficult environment, refugees have been able to break stereotypical barriers. Moreover, I was impressed to see people in other European countries who continue to fight for their rights and set up projects to integrate refugees in our European society.


Tola Akindipe is the co-founder and international officer at Refugees Welcome Portugal as well as a senior member of Refugees Welcome International.

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