Legis's team is a real picture of multicultural Macedonia

1. Mrs. Smailovic in the worst days of the refugee crisis, the Balkan route is closed and thousands of refugees are at impasse. What is the current situation and what is the work you are carrying out now?

We are really having a hard time, a time of wrong decisions and agreements. I would say these are the worst days for humanity! The current situation is desperate, very close to depression. We have 1,500 refugees stuck in the Refugee Transit Center in Tabanovce and 12 refugees in Vinojug, Gevgelija. They have been stuck there already for 3 weeks, stuck in a country that for them is only a transit country, in very poor conditions inside a camp that was designed to retain a minimum of 30 people. Their needs of food and clothing are met by different organizations that are present there, such as Legis, which  distributes 1,500 hot meals daily, as well as hygiene materials and other services.

2. They say that when if you share your personal energy with others, that energy heals you and encourages others to do the same. How did your story with "Legis" start and how long have you been part of this NGO?

Humanitarian work is a matter of spiritual satisfaction, especially when you do it willingly and with love. I am one of the founders of Legis, and our story begins in 2009. Behind Legis there are a number of international and humanitarian projects, for me it was particularly important our humanitarian mission in Somalia in 2011. With the collected money from citizens in Macedonia we went to visit Dadaab, the largest refugee camp there, where a million of refugees found their "home".

3. You must have witnessed many touching scenes and situations. How do you get back to normal after being in a refugee camp? Are children faces haunting you? Do you still have faith in humanity?

I follow closely what happens in the Middle East and beyond, and I know exactly the horror from which they escaped. When I met the first refugees in Macedonia in November 2014, my life rose to another dimension. We're not humanitarians who give them food and then leave, we communicate with them, sympathize with them. But at the end it is very hard to carry all the burden of heartbreaking stories, and to return to your comfortable home and family and continue to live normally. During the crisis, I was pregnant with my second child and it was really hard witnessing miscarriages among exhausted refugee women, or among refugee women who were in their due time at extreme high or low temperatures, with huge bags on their backs, moving forward without any objections. And after giving birth, after only 2 days, they left immediately. And also the children, with their eyes full of hope, this is a view that haunts you in your dreams. I will never forget their strong hug after giving them chocolate or their sincere "thank you", such a small thing you did could make them happy.

What made this crisis so particular was the humanity of ordinary citizens. Macedonian citizens, despite their modest income, managed to show great solidarity and mobility in helping these wretched, suffering people. But global policy is very cruel, and almost borders with fascism.

4. Are you upset by the prejudices on the whole situation with refugees, especially when coming from people who have never been in the camp? We know that whole families go through hell, how many activists are currently on the field?

Despite the solidarity developed here in Macedonia it was certainly very uncomfortable for us to notice how fast xenophobia developed and expanded more every day. All their fears were so unfounded! We strive continuously through social networks to share stories and photos from the camps, so that citizens can familiarize with this world tragedy. When you see fear in their eyes, mixed with hope for a better life, and their struggle to achieve it, you simply want to be their voice in public, to dispute all the lies and prejudices about them. But the media, which are fueling fear, continue with their negative news, giving all refugees a bad name.

During the crisis, many citizens joined our organization in order to help refugees. We engaged with 22 activists to be constantly in both camps, as well as in our head office in Skopje, and we have a large number of volunteers. Legis's team is a real picture of multicultural Macedonia. People from different nations, religions, political affiliations and cities gathered under the same motto: “help refugees”.

5. The best way to find yourself is to get lost in helping others. When did you become aware of your need and desire to help others? Do your family and your loved ones support you?

They say that your features are built up in childhood, and so it is:  the war in Bosnia broke when I was just a child. While other children waited to watch “Ushko the bear” on TV before going to bed, we waited for the news to see if our close relatives were still alive. My home was home to refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo, they were complete strangers, but still my family opened the doors to welcome them. Seeing the kindness my parents showed to their children, I think that was a crucial moment, and  is the reason why I felt called to help all people in need.

None of the activities I do would be possible without the support of my family. Especially my husband, Jasmin, which not only supports me in what I do but still, I’m constantly inspired by him to push even farther. Also I am very lucky to have wonderful parents and my brother and sister, they keep my eldest for days when I have to go abroad or when I work in a camp for over 8 hours. Indeed family and family values ​​are still cherished in the Balkans and these are a real blessing to any female activist.

6. You are a true inspiration for many women, an outstanding activist for the emancipation of Muslim women, and for their protection against any kind of discrimination. What is the current situation in our country? Are Muslim women still marginalized in institutions, in society and so forth?

Thank you for those kind words. Really I try everyday to be a good example for my 2 daughters, Amelia and Dalia, and for all the women in my life. I want to be the voice of unheard women. I want to encourage them to be proud of their femininity and of role that they play in society. Very often I hold lectures in mosques, in Skopje, to talk with women, to break stereotypes that see Islam as what holds women back. In fact, Islam does the opposite, but the Balkans is a place where tradition plays a key role in placing women in a box and saying that this is how things are. The condition of Muslim women is not exemplary, but current trends show improvement. Now they are educated and more emancipated and become proud of their role. Beyond the fact that their role is only that of being a mother and a housewife. However, their representation in institutions is not satisfactory. We still have much work to do on this. I think that it is your duty to stand up and make some room for yourself in society, instead of waiting for someone to give it to you.

7. You are the bearer of many changes, you break stereotypes on Muslim women with every action and behaviour. You have actively participated in numerous humanitarian projects, both nationally and internationally. Of all these changes aimed at improvement in different areas, what changes were you able to achieve, which of them is dearest to you, which of them would you be particularly proud of (one or more)?

My first big change was to wear the scarf, resulting in the fact that I was the only student wearing it in the Faculty of Law in Skopje. It was a big change for me, but also for the Faculty that responded to this change so fantastically. But I am especially proud of the initiative l Iaunched in 2007, when I asked for a change of the Law about ID cards, passports and other identification documents, for which Muslim women were forbidden to take pictures with head-scarves. The motion was successful, and the Ministry of Interior changed the Law and Regulations. After 50 years of injustice, the law was finally abolished. More recently we have been lobbying attempts, in numerous meetings, interviews held between May and June 2015, with MPs, to try to convince the Government to adopt amendments to the Law on Asylum seekers. They finally allowed transport for refugees and migrants around the country in a legal way. The pressure came as well from various countries and organizations, and on June 28 I was present at the Parliament when the committee gave its consent to the new law. These two changes had and still have a positive and lasting impact on thousands of people, so I am especially proud of them.

8. When all the world is silent even a single, confident voice, can be a very powerful sound. What are your next actions and what message would you like to leave to people who are willing or able to help others?

Very nicely said. Indeed, every voice is crucial and indispensable!

Currently all our activities are dedicated to the refugee crisis. At this time, as regards to my profession (legal consultant), I am on maternity leave but this does not apply to other activities.

For all people who want to help, I would tell them to get actively involved! Perhaps a small and insignificant action for us, could restore faith in humanity for someone else. Never underestimate good deeds, including the smallest ones. “Be the change you want to see in your life”, this way you can be the cause of the positive change in the life of someone else.


Interview for the magazine Portrait