Strasbourg, May 20, EYMD 2016
Text by Kaja Puto, Poland
If we talk about refugees’; inclusion into society, we usually discuss what Europe could do. But refugees also want to act, and they do. Meet Sarah Mardini, an incredible 20-years- old Syrian girl, who saved life of 20 people she was travelling with on their road to Europe. As a professional swimmer, she was able to jump out of the dinghy when its motor stopped at the Aegean Sea. She was pushing and pulling the boat until it reached the Greek coast. Now living in Germany, Sarah is going to become an activist and human rights expert working for refugees in Berlin.
Kaja Puto: So-called refugee crisis caused a big discussion about if Europe is ready to welcome refugees.
Sarah Mardini: Yes, everybody is talking about refugees, but not with them. And if Europe really wants to find a solution for a refugee issue, it has to include them in the discussion. Among refugees there are many open-minded people who have not only theoretical, but also practical knowledge on that topic. I suppose that they might know more about refugees than people who have everything (laugh).
KP: And do refugees want to be more active?
SM: Some of them do, some not, but they definitely should. Especially those who are stuck in a refugee camp without a job – they have to do something to both get to know and present themselves to the society.
KP: That’s why you decided to start your project called “From refugees for refugees”?
SM: Yes. As a refugee I am an insider – I know what is happening in the refugee camps and routes. I know the language and cultural background of the people coming to Europe. The aim of the initiative called “From refugees for refugees” is to help newcomers in finding a new life here. And I am not alone – many refugees that I know, want to do something, and we will develop this project together.
KP: Do you think initiatives like yours can help people break the stereotypes and show them that refugees are able to make a first step to integration?
SM: Yes, definitely. If you get to know some culture or religion better, you are not afraid of it anymore. It sounds obvious, but some people, including politicians, still don’t understand it. I have a friend, an American, who was literally afraid of me just because I’m a Muslim and he is a Jew. Obviously, he thought that every Muslim is an anti-Semite. Then he spent two months in Morocco and changed his mind due to the great experience there.
KP: Everything is so easy for you, as you are smart, young and educated. But there people who are less educated and less eager to open their minds. Also among refugees.
SM: For them adapting in Europe is far more difficult. Especially for women, because often they are not used to spend their time in public places. That is why they rarely leave their camps.
KP: Do you think they should force themselves to change their habits?
SM: Everybody can live a life that he or she likes, but only while being respectful towards the others. Status of a woman in Muslim world is a very hard topic for me, because I really love my religion, even if fighting for women’s rights is unacceptable for many Muslims. Not for all of them, but for many. It hurts me, because I know so many talented Muslim women forced to hide behind their men. I always tell them to stop saying “yes” all the time. Women have to fight for their rights because no one is going to give it to them. I was born in the family where being a girl or boy does not make a difference, not many women has this kind of support at home. But I hope emigration to Europe might be a chance for them to emancipate.
KP: Are you disappointed by Europe and Europeans?
SM: No, but of course my image of Europe was idealized before I came here. Actually I was quite surprised that Europe is not that different from the world in which I grew up. Of course, there is no war and no one can even imagine life without water and electricity, but still. What I miss in Europe is the Syrian skyline; my city, Damascus, is very unique. But on the other hand I appreciate what Europe has achieved in terms of human rights.
KP: And how do you like the idea of European Union? Do you think it would be better to live in the world without national states?
SM: I don’t think I can really point at what would be better for Europe as I am still a newbie here. But personally I think multicultural countries are far more better, because we learn a lot from each other. And when we all are the same, we become boring.