In Their Own Words: Not Any Less Human

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, conducted via Skype in October, has been edited for length.

Can you tell me about the Welcome Initiative?

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.

Our 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. 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. Most people are very, very tired and very thankful when they receive food and blankets. If they need a doctor, we take them to a facility where medical assistance is provided.

What are the biggest challenges in this work?

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. There are a lot of myths and prejudice against the refugees, 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. Even if all the people who are in our country today stayed, it’s not a crisis for Croatia. 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.” Many of us were refugees. 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. 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 or the Taste of Home culinary collective we have. 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?

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.

Learn more about UUSC’s work advancing justice for refugees in Europe.

Jessica L. Atcheson is UUSC’s writer and editor.

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