Syrian, Macedonian and Albanian Women Share Their Experience with Migration

On 27 April, Legis organized the first public debate as part of its awareness-raising campaign on migration, under the title of “Migration through the Eyes of 3 Women”. The event was organised within the framework of the project "Building Bridges: Intersection of local, migrant and refugee perspectives".The public debate featured three brave women sharing their migrant/refugee experience (one ethnic Albanian, one ethnic Macedonian and one Syrian woman). Lura Pollozhani, researcher and Phd-candidate at the Graz University, provided а brief overview of the sociological and political aspect of migration, from a gendered perspective, also highlighting the challenges and benefits she personally came across as a young Muslim woman from Macedonia who migrated abroad.

Lura started her presentation with a short interactive exercise, during which participants were presented with a picture, which they had to interpret. While some participants interpreted the image as representing a young woman, others saw it as an old woman. The interactive exercise aimed to underline the different manners in which we perceive things, and the fact that the way in which we perceive things depends largely on how we are conditioned (including our background, educational system and society upon the whole). She added that on some occasions people even saw Michael Jackson in the image or some animals. Lura then also elaborated on common terminology and prejudice, what a refugee is, highlighting that refugees are people forced to leave their homes as they are fleeing their countries due to a well-founded fear of persecution, and it is something that is beyond their control – it can be anyone of us. She then drew a parallel with migrants, stating that while migrants are not escaping persecution, they might be escaping a difficult situation, such as extreme poverty, environmental disasters etc. – which still leaves them with no choice than to migrate. Lura pointed out that in both the case of a refugee and a migrant – the personal choice rarely exists.

“Migrants may not be fleeing due to a fear of persecution, however, the fear for one’s life is still there”.

For the first time ever, a Syrian refugee (in this case a young woman) spoke in public in Macedonia. Rama Estef is among the few Syrians who are currently staying in the Republic of Macedonia. Rama commenced her presentation by explaining that the main reason why she left Syria is the ongoing war and further elaborated on her journey through Turkey and Greece, as well as Macedonia.

”We often didn’t have electricity in Aleppo, so when we crossed into Turkey, all I remember is being happy because of seeing bright lights…”

Rama was among the last refugee groups that remained stranded in Macedonia when the Balkan route was closed. After spending some time in the Tabanovce transit centre, Rama started working with the Red Cross and obtained refugee protection status in the Republic of Macedonia. Rama explained how difficult the journey is for vulnerable young girls and women in particular who are forced to leave their countries, including the dangers they face in terms of unsafe migration. She concluded by stating that she is integrating well in the current society, is currently enrolled at a university and is well-accepted by Macedonians.

Cvetana Zafirovska was the final speaker, who as a young Macedonian shared her personal experience with migration. Cvetana elaborated that migration was not a matter of personal choice for her, but she was compelled to migrate temporarily due to the harsh socio-economic circumstances in Macedonia. She explained how female migrants who do not speak the language of the country they go to are especially vulnerable when it comes to being sexually abused and exploited, how she personally faced situations where she could have been harassed in this manner, but due to her speaking the language and having basic information about the official bodies that she can turn to – she managed to stand for herself and not to be abused in this regard. Although her experience was negative, she stated that she does not discourage young people from migrating – but highlights the dire necessity for safe migration, including researching the company, the conditions etc. in advance, being well-informed about one’s rights as a migrant and about the official bodies in the specific country to which a migrant can turn for assistance in case their rights are violated.

The debate concluded on a note underlining that while nothing compares to the ordeal that war refugees in particular are confronted with, similarities do exist among all people fleeing their country in search of a safe existence and life with dignity, whether they are labelled as refugees or migrants. When it comes to women and girls, the risks and hardships they experience along the road and within the home country are always specific, which leaves them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, harassment and modern-day slavery, especially when it comes to undocumented woman migrants/refugees who belong to a religious or ethnic group toward which there are severe prejudices in a given environment. Thus, specific mechanisms are needed for mainstreaming gender in providing assistance to refugees and migrants.

The formal presentations were followed by an open discussion and cocktail with questions and answers from the audience, which led to an animated discussion on legal and safe migration, as well as a further elaboration of the gender and class dimension in migratory movements.

This project was implemented by Legis with the support of the Capacity development for Selected actors working with asylum seekers in Serbia and Macedonia. The Capacity development for Selected actors working with asylum seekers in Serbia and Macedonia was established by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and is managed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.