Listen to voices seldom heard

Friday 11, September 2009 Budapest, 11 September 2009 – Not too many people know that there are refugees in Central Europe who sleep with earplugs for fear of cockroaches creeping in their ears during the night. Or, that most of the refugees would need more efficient language classes and additional […]

Friday 11, September 2009

Budapest, 11 September 2009 – Not too many people know that there are refugees in Central Europe who sleep with earplugs for fear of cockroaches creeping in their ears during the night. Or, that most of the refugees would need more efficient language classes and additional training to make their already existing crafts practical in their new communities. It is usually hidden that their life is a day-to-day struggle for integration.

Every day, the media brings pictures about refugees on other continents to the European homes. But how do refugees live next door? How they cope with their problems and how they make ends meet?

Turning through the pages of the just published report on “How Refugees and Asylum Seekers Experience Life in Central Europe” will bring some of the answers. The sixty-page English language booklet, brought out by the UNHCR Regional Representation for Central Europe contains assessment of the circumstances of asylum seekers and refugees in seven central and south-east European states, complemented with charts and relevant statistical information, reflecting the situation of the second semester of 2008.

The publication is built on the results of the fourth annual assessment, providing a unique window to observe the daily lives of asylum seekers and refugees, their hopes and worries, the hardships and obstacles they have to cope with. It is also available in Slovene, while the Bulgarian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian and Slovak language editions will appear in the coming days.

Unlike governments, UNHCR or NGOs, refugees and asylum seekers do not have the possibility to express themselves publicly. It takes serious efforts by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, by national authorities and NGOs to reach out to these people and chart their daily life, their needs and problems. Almost one hundred of legal and protection experts, governmental specialists in refugee questions, advocacy and support group staff and volunteers have been engaged for at least ten days during the exercise. They took part in collecting and analysing information, but above all, they have listened to those, whose voices are seldom heard.

The report provides an assessment of the situation, which is based on the participation of the people concerned. It paints an accurate picture not just as it is, but more importantly, as it is perceived by those who live within the system of refugee protection.

It serves as an important reality check and it is especially valuable for those members of survey teams, who contribute to shaping the national refugee policies. Through the exercise, they can gain insight in the practical effects of their own policies and to see real people with real needs behind the statistical figures.

These days, the authors of the Report will start collecting data for the fifth annual exercise, aiming at further fine-tuning of the refugee protection in Central Europe. Hopefully, the results of the new survey will be translated in smoother functioning of the system of protection, improving the quality of life for its beneficiaries.

Zoltan Toth / UNHCR