Speech of Robin Schweiger on occasion of World Refugee Day in Azilni dom in Ljubljana

20.6.2013 Ljubljana Begunec
Robin Schweiger - vir - Radio Ognjišče

Dear ladies and gentlemen, first of all I would like to greet you all on behalf of non-governmental organisations and wish you a pleasant celebration of this day. The World Refugee Day is the day when we remember all those who left their country due to various forms of persecution and have already been granted the refugee status in our country. Last year RS granted international protection to 34 persons, which is a nice gesture of solidarity in this difficult economic situation in Slovenia.

In the past year the number of women and men seeking international protection in our country dropped. One wonders why? The answer cannot be that Croatia has more of them. That would be too simple and we know that migration is a complex social phenomenon that is constantly changing. There are no simple answers to complex social issues.

Let us rather raise a more unpleasant question: Do international protection seekers have the possibility in the first place to request refuge in the EU, including Slovenia? Do we know that it is almost impossible to reach legally the European borders and apply for international protection? Are we sufficiently aware of what is going on beyond the Schengen area?

One of the major, if not the biggest European problem, is certainly the so-called "Fortress Europe Mentality". This is precisely why it is so difficult to enter it, yet it remains a promised land for many. Nevertheless, every person who leaves his homeland due to persecution has the right to protection and must have at least the possibility to apply for international protection.

We know that this is not always the case. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for returning people to Libya (judgment in the Hirsi case). A lot of people are waiting in abandoned Greek factories or on city streets for a possibility to board a ship bound for Italy. Many are waiting in Libya to go to Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. Hundreds of people are waiting in the village of Lojane[1] at the Macedonian-Serbian border to go to the Schengen Europe with the help of smugglers against payment.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, reiterated that the European Union should demonstrate more solidarity. What about us? In 2010, RS took the decision on a pilot project of relocating a few refugees from Malta. Why should this not be repeated this year? Germany accepted 5000 refugees from Syria this year. Could Slovenia accept at least 5 Syrian refugees? If it is unable to accept them, it should perhaps accept at least one person imprisoned in Guantanamo. In this way RS would show a handsome gesture of openness, solidarity and above all compassion.

At the beginning of this month I attended a conference in Brussels following the end of an international survey[2], conducted by the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe concerning refugees under the Dublin Regulation in nine European countries. The idea about the Dublin Regulation was good but in practice it had not turned out well and mainly created new suffering and tensions among people and states. This was confirmed also by 257 male and female international protection seekers included in the survey.

Also at the Postojna Centre for Foreigners, which I have been visiting every week for many years, I recently met a young man who had been returned twice under the Dublin Regulation from Sweden and another young man who had been returned already for the third time from the United Kingdom to RS. Just these two cases are 'living proof' that 'Dublin' does not work. It is necessary to find new creative solutions to the problem.

The World Refugee Day is now also a day for raising public awareness that everybody is not as well-off as we are in Slovenia although there is a lot of talk about the tough economic and social situation in our country. Some people and countries have greater and tougher problems than us. Let me quote as an example a broadcast entitled “We are building an open society” by Radio Ognjišče, which has been running for 11 years and discusses various topics related to this area.

 It is appropriate to remember today all those who died on the way to a safer and better life in the European Union. Among them there were surely many international protection seekers who were unable to apply for this important human right – the right to international protection. Maybe some of you present here knew one of them.

The new Italian minister of integration, Cécile Kyenge, who experienced in person a lot of difficulties on the way to the refugee status in Italy, said at the World Refugee Day round table in Rome: “I know your pain. I would like to express a thought for a Somali who committed suicide when he learned that he had not been granted political asylum. I say with all my powers: we are all responsible for this death. There's still a lot to be done in Italy as regards integration”. I would add that a lot should be done all over Europe. If it is not, we will have more and more unrest such as lately in Sweden: attacks on foreigners that took place in different European countries and also more murders, such as the murder of an English soldier…These cases are nothing but the tip of the iceberg of tense relations, injustices and accumulated frustrations in the EU.

I am glad that international protection seekers, both men and women, have their home here at the Asylum Centre. It is not always the same as in other countries. When I was at a meeting in Rome in late May, I was told that international protection seekers in Rome have to wait at least four months for accommodation in national institutions. We can ask ourselves how they survive, what they eat and where they sleep? Most often in the streets and under bridges …Rome is full of people living on the streets. It is just necessary to see them!

I am glad, Mr Minister, that you visited the Asylum Centre and met with the people who are not talked about much but are here among us, or more is said about them on the Refugee Day. Your presence is welcome since we live in turbulent times, yet we know that only together - governmental and non-governmental sector - will we be able to solve all the problems we face in our service for refugees, international protection seekers and undocumented foreigners who are ambassadors of injustices and suffering in the world, unrighteous structures and difficult economic situations, long- standing armed conflicts and environmental disasters.

Let me conclude: May the sun of justice, openness and above all compassion shine for a long time on our Slovenia and Europe, but above all in our hearts, not only on today's Refugee Day but all the days of the year!

I wish you all a pleasant celebration of the World Refugee Day here and also in Mostec!

Dr Robin Schweiger, Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Slovenia

[1] More about events in Macedonia and Croatia will be presented in Brussels on 26 June 2013. More information is available on link.

[2] More about this important research is available on the website of the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe.