During the first year of the project, EPIC partners have spoken with 700 people from different backgrounds in 11 European cities. The objective? To learn more about practices of inclusion and responses to displacement across different European cities as well as to uncover the different notions of integration.
In this article, we share the particular testimony and story of one of our many participants.
A 19-year old newcomer who, fleeing war, travelled first to Turkey and then to Croatia with the support of some local organisations. After two months in a reception centre in Kutina, a town in central Croatia, she and her family came to the nearby city of Sisak.
For her integration means ‘that you can integrate yourself and your culture with them, but not forget your culture’.
What is missing to make integration even better then?
‘People’s patience towards us, but also our patience. For integration one needs to be patient, that is one thing’.
After overcoming her preconceived fear of not being accepted by her new neighbours as she actually was, she discovered a warm community where many people are willing to help and where she can contribute with her skills in return.
Keep reading to learn more about her story and her experience
What is your connection to integration, migration and integration practices?
- Integration is very important to me. When I came to Croatia, I had the opportunity to go out more and socialise and meet people. Here I could go anywhere, to the mosque, to the library, anywhere. And through meeting people, I had the opportunity of getting help. And that’s why integration is important to me because I will get to know them and they will get to know me and then, when I would work and have a job they would create some image of me. So far, I haven’t had any bad experiences with people, no one has turned me down or anything like that.
How did you come to Sisak, tell me.
- We were in Turkey and then we applied through organisations there that we wanted to move somewhere in Europe and we got Croatia. We came to the shelter in Kutina, we were there for two months and then we came to Sisak.
What was your biggest challenge when you first came to Sisak?
- If someone will not accept my scarf. I had expectations because they told me how it was in Europe on that issue and I thought they would not accept me. But then I saw that no one refused and that everyone accepted it. The other challenge is that I need to start studying.
How did you get over those difficulties, challenges?
- I realised through hanging out with people that the scarf was not a problem and that we are all similar. Time has shown that I am the same like them, I want to study, to understand things. That’s why it’s not a problem anymore. And the fact that I tried to speak Croatian, the desire to learn it. I have shown that I want to get closer and be like the people here in Sisak. I’m the one who didn’t turn them down.
What is the difference here in Croatia, in Sisak, from those other experiences, for example in Turkey?
- It was a little easier in Turkey since we were in the camp there. Everything was inside the camp, the school, everything. It was easier because we had people around us who we could ask to if we needed anything. We didn’t have to integrate into the local community because the only people around lived in the camp like us. I didn’t have to learn Turkish because there were only Arab people around me who spoke the same as me. Yes, now this is harder when it comes to integrating into the local community. In Turkey, Arabic is a bit more common and people know or use it more and it is not strange. There is no Arabic in Sisak and then we have to learn Croatian, and the problem is that we don’t have that much time to learn the language. Having two or three months is not enough to learn a language. There is a lack of support from. When I was in Turkey I was learning Turkish at school, but I never used it outside of school. Here when I learn Croatian I immediately try to speak it. I just miss more of those support schools here because in a year of learning the language and speaking, I would learn a lot. Another thing that was very difficult for us as a family is that there were 10 families in Sisak and 8 of those 10 left Croatia. And only for two families the State cannot make equal integration services and a course language as they would for 10.
Do you tell some of your friends about how you are in Croatia and if so, what do you tell them?
- I talk about how I have friends here with whom I can share if some difficult time comes and they help the whole family. We have a friend here, sometimes a neighbour helps us. And that’s what I tell my friends there. We talk about how warm the people here are because they went through the war and then those people can figure out what we went through who came out of the war. These people are more humanitarian and help more. The people in Sisak are better there than the people in Germany I would say. They are very kind, warm to us, greet us every morning regardless of religion and there is no discrimination against religion here.
Did you have any expectations before you came to Croatia and did it coincide with what awaited you here?
- I learned to adapt to the situation and I learned it from my mother. I had no expectations. I didn’t set some dream or goal so as not to be disappointed afterwards. When we come to a local community, we then have the opportunity to present ourselves and then we try to get to know them. We sat in front of the building and greeted people. So we met a lawyer who stayed with us every day and greeted us and hung out with us. The mayor of Sisak people heard about us through the organisations.
What did you learn the most when you came to Sisak?
- I learned to be responsible. That’s the most I’ve learned. When we came here, we were like babies, we didn’t know the Croatian language, and now we are growing up here and we need to learn to be responsible.
What is integration for you?
- Constantly trying to get the people you come to, to accept you. That you can integrate yourself and your culture with them, but not forget your culture. When we were in Turkey and when we found out that we were coming to Croatia, we searched on the internet for videos or something about Croatia. The first thing we learned was that there was no discrimination. That was enough for us because it was the most important thing to us. We calmed down over that. During our stay in the shelter in Kutina, we met people from different organisations, security guards who worked there. And we thought, if these people are good, then I guess other people are good too.
What was the biggest obstacle to integration?
- Well, we didn’t know what was waiting for us. Will they accept us, but then when we realised there was no discrimination, it was easier.
What helped you the most?
- Security. There are no limits to the security we have here. Here people show that they want us too. People say: you are a new person, let’s find out what you have new and what is your experience, what you know, share it with us. Here I met a man through an organisation who helped us. One evening I was in the hospital with my sister and a woman friend of that man who works at the hospital tried to help us and make us comfortable. We had a really good experience in the hospital.
What do you think is the most important factor?
– That acceptance and help from people.
Then would you tell that Sisak is an open or closed city for accepting migrants?
– It’s very open.
Do you think that the situation with the corona has affected the integration of you and your family in Sisak?
- It’s not. Even more people were interested in us, but it delayed some things a bit. They checked with us what we needed from the store so we didn’t have to go out and they brought it to us. Others cared even more about us. But it was a little bit difficult for the younger sisters at school. It affected them because before the corona they normally went to school and played almost all day with other children. And now with the corona, they are on the laptop every day. Otherwise, they would learn more Croatian because they would be more in communication with other children. Parents lacked communication with parents at meetings. They had a very nice experience because the people are very warm and they accepted us as a family.
Do you know any integration practices in Sisak? Do you use anything as a family and are they useful?
- There is one organisation that does workshops, and that is in constant communication with us, so we solved different things thanks to them. The Islamic community in Sisak also helps a lot in our integration and we are connected with them. Now there will be a computer workshop soon. Other organisations also have health insurance and first aid workshops.
Did you work for any integration practice?
- I also volunteered for an organisation. I helped with translation for Arabic. I felt like I wanted to stay here and then I realised I needed to offer something too. When we notice that people here have some motivation and desire and effort, then we also want to offer something to them in return.
What did you learn from helping others?
- I have volunteered in Turkey before and I know that this experience of helping people is very nice. I learned how to help others. And then these people encouraged me to be a nurse when they saw I could help.
What is missing to make integration even better?
- People’s patience towards us, but also our patience. For integration one needs to be patient, that is one thing. Another thing is that the people you grow up with and go into integration with give you the strength and support to have someone you can ask for advice. It makes it a lot easier when you have a relationship with your family. For my age, at 19, I was able to integrate, but I don’t know of other people who don’t have family support, how they do it. New life in any country needs patience and needs strength. Not everything you want will come right away.
Is there anything you do that helps you integrate?
- I am helped by a group on Facebook in which there are other young people who are disappointed in the country in which they are. And they talk about their experience during integration. I learned that everyone has their own story and that helps. For example, a man told how he did something to make it work, or that he did something to go to study. Everyone has their own life story.
Are integration practices inclusive or exclusive here?
- Well, they are good, but more time for learning the language should make the communication better.
What would you say to other young people who are like you and come to Sisak?
– To invest all their strength in succeeding in everything they will do when they come.