Luise Druke: We Should Give Refugees Hope
Dr. Luise Druke met Milena Hristova, Editor of Novinite.com and the News.
Q: Which were the reasons that prompted the introduction of the Academic Refugee Studies Initiative in Bulgaria (ARSIB)?
A: It goes back to an evaluation exercise, which we were doing last September in all Central European countries. We measured how much of the input of the last ten years in building the asylum system between the EU and UNHCR has fruited, looked for the gaps and what we have to strengthen. When we brought together all the conclusions, representatives of the State Agency for Refugees stood up and said that progress has been made, but in the future the people who work in this sector should be better prepared. They suggested that the subject is introduced in the Universities in the different fields in an interdisciplinary way.
It is the implementation of that recommendation of the Central European evaluation of competency development of institutions and capacity building in the refugee field that we have developed the initiative in building up the contacts with the academic coordinators in the eleven universities. As co-teachers and training people we were able to win experts both from governmental and non-governmental institutions and UNHCR colleagues. We have also tried to bring in people who are working in the field.
Q: What are your impressions of the response to the idea?
A: We had a teaching tour to Burgas, Varna, Shoumen and Rousse and have seen quite an encouraging response and interest both on the part of university lectors, faculty deans and students. Where we have the most vivid response with those specialists of third, four-year law students for whom this subject was not entirely new. We always have to keep in mind the audience and adapt our teaching style. This will be teaching both academics and scientists but also practitioners in the field. We have to have the good mixture of academically thinking, but also practically oriented people. The refugee field is a fundamentally human endeavour and it reflects all human needs.
Bulgaria has made a lot of progress in the first ten years of building up a national asylum system. There are very tough requirements that will have to be fulfilled when Bulgaria enters the EU after 2006. The initiative seeks to help Bulgaria get 400-500 qualified young Bulgarians for its challenge in European and also NATO integration for the European institutions and another 500-600 in its own public, national, regional and municipality administrations.
Q: ARSIB is a unique initiative for Europe... and the world?
A: Yes, it is unique for the whole world. I am not aware that some of my colleagues have had the time to develop such an initiative, though we are also very busy in Bulgaria. The good news was that Macedonia did not produce the big refugee flow many feared, Afghanistan has not yet and hopefully will not create an emergency requirement that will focus all of our energy towards this response.
Q: How are the lectures, included in the program and gathered together in one collection, are tailored to the specific situation in Bulgaria?
A: The choice will be left either fully to the professors or they ask us for help. The course can be either elective or mandatory. In some universities the course will be a mandatory course in the framework of the faculty of law. Then you have standard requirements, look at the international law, EU law and make a comparison with the national law and the national refugee law, etc. We have to admit that the refugee field is new for Bulgaria. The curriculum depends on the field of study.
Our priority is the integration and reception that people, who are coming to Bulgaria's border, don't get sent back. If they are sent back this is a clear violation of international law. Once they have come in and gone through the procedure and proven their case that they stays her, learn the language fast, get familiarized with the labour market. We are very pleased that the first Refugee institution was set up last June, very much with the help of the Bulgarian Red Cross and the Agency for Refugees. What we should do is give these people of sense of hope.
Q: The Academic Initiative is a good example of your cooperation with Bulgarian institutions. Which are the most memorable examples of productive cooperation for you personally?
A: It goes back to my first week in Bulgaria when we prepared the International Conference for Integration. It was the first time in my 23 years before in UNHCR that governmental people came over the weekend to work and prepare a conference. These are very encouraging moments who are creative, make suggestions, do things.
Q: In your address on the World Refugee Day you said that refugees should not be viewed as a problem only and they make a positive contribution. How do you see the role of refugees in Bulgaria?
A: Refugees, of course first need a proper legal status. Then they also want to work and look after themselves. They have proven a million of times, that they themselves are perfectly able to make the best and other people. We have to trust refugees they have capacities and give them not just hope, but also a hope. Because where there is no hope there can be no endeavour What is of course also desirable that they can become ultimately taxpayers, and the governmental entities in Bulgaria, such as the Agency for Refugees have been operating, with initial UNHCR's assistance a very effective integration center , also with the great help of the Bulgarian Red Cross.
Q: Which are the most serious problems for refugees in Bulgaria?
A: The most serious problem is access to protection and this does not apply just for Bulgaria. The abolishing of internal border control and reinforcement of external border control are prescribed in the Schengen and Amsterdam Treaty, and Bulgaria will have to comply with those requirements. Another problem is the increase in human trafficking and smuggling.
Q: What changed in Bulgaria since you took up the position of the UNHCR Representative in Bulgaria?
A: It is the commitment that Bulgaria can only win from Euro-integration. It is now a very tough process, but in a matter of five or ten years, this is going to be another place like Greece or Portugal, where I worked in the 90s and observed a similar development and progress.
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