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Podcast Episode 25
Ms Ashley Müller: Over the last couple of weeks, the world took note of days for remembrance and days for celebration including World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, and more. Last week marked World Refugee Day. We spoke with Adiba Qasim, a Yazidi refugee living in Switzerland to hear her story. Adiba is also a Young Leader in Foreign and Security Policy fellow at the GCSP in the Global Fellowship Initiative. And we hear a message of gratitude and hope from Ms Annika Hilding Norberg, Head of Peace Operations and Peacebuilding at the GCSP on International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
Ms Ashley Müller: Thank you very much Adiba Qasim for joining us with GCSP today, as we mark World Refugee Day 2020. This day is marked by the United Nations highlighting the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol to help and support refugees. What does Refugee Day mean to you and how does it affect you?
Ms Adiba Qasim: Well I would say that it's really great to have at least one day in the year that we can be reminded because a refugee is representing millions of other refugees over the world, we are not just a small minority. So, most of the time we are forgotten, so at least to be remembered on one day. I think it's great, and it means a lot to me. So I go back home, the day that I left home that day that I left everything behind me the other day, the other day, I was just thinking of what I've got from my home, basically nothing except the memories and there are millions of other refugees like me, who left everything behind. They just got some memories of their home country and they live and being a refugee was never a choice. And we never chose to be refugees. And I think that being a refugee is that, because most of the time we are seeing as weak people we are seen as small and we are judged by our status as refugees. But I would just say that a refugee is a strong person, a strong human being, a person who gave life another chance to live, who decided to change the future and to make a better world for the generations behind us so they can live in peace.
Ms Ashley Müller: Adiba, do you mind sharing, when did you leave your home and from where?
Ms Adiba Qasim: Yes, so, I am from Iraq, from a region in Northern Iraq, and on the first of August 2014, I was with my family who were sleeping on the roof of our house on a summer day. And at seven o'clock, we had to wake up and we had to leave home because of the Islamic State, they attacked our region and our town. So we had no time; we just had to hold each other's hands and to leave home. So at that time, we didn't know what was going to happen to us. We didn’t even know where we were going. And at that moment, I remember that I thought it's just one or two hours and I can come back. I ran away in my pajamas. I've nothing with me and the same with my siblings and with my parents. So then we had to go to another area and then crossing the mountains illegally and to arrive in Turkey where I became a refugee for the first time with my siblings, and my parents, and there in Turkey, I decided to put my siblings in a boat and to send them to Europe so they could find peace. I had no choice. And this is one thing that I always say. And also, the point where you say that “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” And I didn't put my siblings in that boat because it was safe, but because I had no other solution. And when I put my siblings in that boat, I had no idea if they could make it if they could not survive, but in the end, finally, they made it to peace. So all my family today; they are refugees, and we are all refugees today. So actually this is my second time being a refugee, I became a refugee in Turkey with my family, I sent my family to Europe, and then I decided to go back home hoping that I can change something. Because at that moment, I felt that I had lost everything. So now I will go back at least to change some small things. I had no more to lose. So I went back to my country and I never wanted to leave everything behind me to run away because it is very easy, so easy to leave everything and go to start a new life. Super easy. But then, for the refugees, it's the last decision because we try all other things to survive. When we have no other solution, when it comes to our freedom, then you run away. So I had to choose between days or freedom between death or running away. So, of course, I decided to run away again from my country for the second time. And it was very difficult, I left everything behind, I had to start from zero somewhere else, learn a new language, learn a new education, joining another community, but I didn’t know if I would be accepted by this community because of who I am, my history, my culture, and all of that. So I ended up here in Switzerland. I have been a refugee here in Switzerland for two years and a half, trying to do my best to change the world. Try to make a better place for the other generations behind us and because no one deserves to go through what happened to us, no one absolutely deserves to face what we face.
Ms Ashley Müller: The UN provides a whole bunch of statistics they say, every minute 20 people are fleeing war, persecution, and terror. But actually, statistics are statistics. In some ways, people just see numbers and people can get overwhelmed by numbers, but remembering those are people and people who have left behind livelihoods and family and homes and communities and lifestyles. You've made it to Switzerland, how can we learn to adapt our support systems and the realities that we live in here and how can we be more inclusive and accepting, what can we do?
Ms Adiba Qasim: I'm very realistic, I speak from my experiences. So it's one thing. Normally they say that when the refugee arrives in a safe country to the host community, everything is over now it's the beginning of a new life of peace. But actually no, it's for us isn't is the beginning of a new war, a new challenge. And because we are not accepted, we are most of the time we are refused by host communities and then if I talk about the situation in the refugee camp, and we are forgetting those people in the refugee camps, I mean, I arrived at the safe community today, I'm in a safe community and then there are millions of refugees who are dreaming to be where I am today and today, I am a student at the University of Geneva. I am here In peace, it is great. But there are also lots of challenges for me because I am seen as just a refugee, I'm not seen as a human who I am, my culture, my history, and everything behind, I'm just seen as a refugee. And just one little thing. I applied for asylum in Switzerland and more than two years and a half and I am still not accepted or not refused. So I am in between because it's really an unstable situation for me, it is a question of stability. And I am following everything according to the law. But I don't know if I am accepted or I am refused, you see. So it's quite challenging. And then those most of the countries they think they are hosting half of the world of refugees, but actually no, they are only hosting a few members of those refugees, compared to how many refugees we have in the refugee camps and in unstable areas and for many years and the generations who have grown up in those camps, so.
Ms Ashley Müller: So we need to really change our mindsets, I think is a clear message that I'm hearing but also as you said, everyone is a human being and they need their security, there's stability that is that needs to be brought into consideration to be living in limbo for two years. I mean, what is your hope, what comes next for you?
Ms Adiba Qasim: So it's really complicated to me, I would just hope that that one day all refugees can really live with dignity and with peace and to be accepted and to be respected because this is something that most of the time we don't see even when we go through those refugee centers that are like horrible things happening that no one talks about it even in those safe countries. In Europe, I will not talk about one country in many countries, refugees, we are really suffering by not being respected, I would say our dignity. And this is something that I want to really see in the future so that everyone lives in peace and in dignity and all the voices can be heard. This is really something that I am hoping to see.
Ms Ashley Müller: You are an activist, you are a female empowerment leader in your community. No matter where you go, you inspire, you speak to people's hearts, you do everything you can to build people up instead of tear people down. And I think that someone like you is essential in the world. Where does your strength come from? And how do you remain at peace with yourself?
Ms Adiba Qasim: So I grew up in the war in Iraq, in my country, and in Iraq I am from a minority, but actually, we've always been rejected, and I haven't seen peace in my country. I mean, this is something when I arrived in Switzerland, everything was very hard for me. I couldn't integrate into this “peace society” you see what I mean. It was really hard for me because I have never been in a calm country. So it took me so much time to integrate into it because I'm growing up in war and I don't know what will happen to me tomorrow. I'm leaving the moment and this is exactly me. Every day we live for the day, there was no future, and for the fact that I had no right to go to school in Iraq because of the war again, and it was super challenging. So then all those difficulties, they create something in the end, but I was even when I was a very little girl, I was always hoping that one day I will be different one day I will be able to change and then life was never easy for me. It was always taking from me rather than giving to me. Basic rights, I couldn't have them naturally. I had to fight for every single thing. Every single thing I have to find that I was born with no rights. I was 19 when we left home and I, the fact that I became responsible for my parents and my four siblings, so I had to work. I had to feed them. I had to learn languages to be able even to represent my community. And I lived in a refugee camp in Turkey in 2014, where I became a refugee for the first time. So I would be going, like I was not speaking English. I would be going to the garbage and getting like cigarette packets and coming and writing sentences to be able to speak to the international organisations when they were coming and visiting us, to the media to tell the world what had happened to us. Your question was where I found the strength I mean, I ran away from my home just 15 minutes before ISIS/Daesh arrived in my village. So if I was 15 minutes late I would be among those women who were kidnapped and killed and taken as sex slaves, etc. So also, like I had to say those feelings between guilt and luck at the same time, feeling guilty for the fact that I have free will actually every other one were taken, but lucky for being alive and being able to shout and to open people's minds about what had happened to us. So sometimes I've been invited to talk about leadership, where it comes from and how to be a leader and I don't know. It's not something that you’re really creating. It happens naturally because you have to face it if you have a challenge. So all those bad bad things, all those wars, I used to create myself, I used a war I used the bad experiences, to create a message and to travel we need to tell the world what has happened. And I find it as a risk responsibility as well, not just for my community, but for representing other people and other young girls who are in the refugee camps.
Ms Ashley Müller: In the last couple of years, you've now I mean, I've seen you, you've spoken in front of the UN. I mean, you have been part of a full community of global changemakers. It’s amazing to hear your story and to see what you've been able to do, what has come your way, and the opportunities that you've taken now to have a platform and a message to share. What else do global leaders or decision-makers, policymakers, what do they need to hear?
Ms Adiba Qasim: So I made it to peace, today here I'm in Switzerland and for the fact that I learned languages, to speak in my fourth language and I learned languages and most refugee camps in this journey and I'm able to speak I no longer have fear inside of me because of what I faced. So I had to speak and speak until I made it and today I made it to peace. I am in Switzerland, I'm able to meet people, I'm able to talk to people. But what about the other million refugees there in the continent, the refugee camps or in the IDP camps, no one hears their voices, I am here I made it, I made it. But what about other refugees everywhere all over the world? What I would say is that their voices need to be here that we need to listen to them more. And then I cannot represent them. I cannot represent all those people because their voices need to be here. They are living in refugee camps. They're facing so much. And there is a lot going on in the refugee camps with the fact that there is no education there is no that there are no opportunities for the young people to go forward in their life and that that will create a fairly difficult future for the whole generation for the whole community. So I always say that we need to listen to those people and then in the refugee camp, if you cannot get them out of there and you bring them to a peaceful country, at least provide them with some education, I’m talking about school about scholarships, about providing like a platform where they can really improve in languages or go to the universities because that's the only solution that I think we need to know. So then they can rebuild their communities then they can make a future for themselves by themselves. Maybe the UN cannot alone do everything, all the other international organisations cannot do everything by themselves. So the refugees should always be part of this organisation that cannot be taken into their future. We need to hear their voices, we need to hear the voices of refugees. And we because they're all like me fighting for the future. They're all like me they want to speak but they are known to listen to them
Ms Ashley Müller: Thank you Adiba, I wanted to leave you with the chance to share any final thoughts. This year on World Refugee Day with the UN the theme is every action counts, but what kind of actions can we take here, at least in Switzerland and maybe in Europe as well? What kind of actions can we take?
Ms Adiba Qasim: If I have one message to fall for other young refugees all over the world, I will tell them to stay positive. To stay strong. To keep your dignity, to be who you are. Never afraid to say that I'm a refugee. Say it loudly and be proud of who you are. Because you are one of the strongest people in the world, who gave life another chance to leave who is fighting to change the future and who is fighting to make the world a better place. This is my message for all the young refugees all over the world because we can make it and together we can change it for everyone now just to review these for everyone who listens to me, I would say together we can change and if each one of us to a small part we can definitely see a change. And sometimes I've been questioned if the people in the peace societies and these countries can also be part of the peacebuilding. And I would definitely say yes, together we can do it, we both need each other and we refugees alone cannot do everything by yourself. So we need you together and to build something better.
Ms Ashley Müller: The theme of International Day for UN Peacekeepers this year was Women in Peacekeeping. Our Head of Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, Ms Annika Hilding Norberg shares a message of hope and gratitude.
Ms Annika Hilding Norberg: Ladies and gentlemen, today we honour and pay tribute to the incredible men and women peacekeepers serving in missions all around the world, often in the most hostile and harsh environments. Despite the sometimes grueling impact of COVID-19, they stay committed to protecting and supporting fellow human beings. There are 95,000 UN peacekeepers, serving humanity today, almost 4,000 have died while helping and preventing fellow human beings from dying. Our hearts go out to the families, the friends and the colleagues for their sacrifice and for their loss. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which aims at recognising and empowering women to be able to contribute to peacemaking, to peacebuilding and to peacekeeping, on an equal footing with men to share the burden, but also to share their expertise, their capacities, and their perspectives. So today, it's also a time for celebration to recognise progress. Take UN policing, for example, many of the women, most of the women serving the UN missions today, do so in their most complex and dangerous missions. There's one mission where the whole leadership, the political, the military, and the police are all made up of women. So it's extraordinary. There's a long way to go, that progress is being made and we at the GCSP, we stay committed to supporting Peace Operations and peacekeepers to our work and programmes. And in particular today, we want to pay tribute to our men and women peacekeepers and the GCSP global alumni community. Thank you for your service. Thank you, we honor you, and we respect you. Thank you for your service in support of the ultimate goal of building a better future. On behalf of the GCSP, thank you
Ms Ashley Müller: Thank you Annika Hilding Norberg
Ms Ashley Müller: That's all we have now for today's episode. Thank you to Adiba Qasim for joining us along with Annika Hilding Norberg. Listen to us again next week to hear all the latest insights on international peace and security and don’t forget to subscribe to us on Apple iTunes, follow us on Spotify or on SoundCloud. Until next time, bye for now.