Fundamental Human Rights are not Privileges

Volunteer Words
November 30, 2020
2 min read
Jennifer Mittag

Usually I do not write a diary, but for some reason, I felt the need to do so just after my time volunteering in Northern Greece. Back home, I quickly realised that it is not only a good way to process my experiences for myself, but that it can help others better understand the situation for refugees in Greece and how much depends on the work of small NGOs that do so much to make the situation a little more bearable, more humane.

Now I'm back in Germany, moving into my shared flat, starting my Master’s, meeting my friends and pursuing my hobbies, just like I was doing before. But something is different. I find it hard to put this feeling into words, this feeling of not having deserved all of this, of not having done anything for all these privileges, this feeling of injustice.

To see what young people my age, families or even unaccompanied minors have had to go through to live in inhumane, absolutely intolerable conditions, to be in the  constant state of waiting for years. Waiting to get through the notoriously unresponsive Skype hotline to register as an asylum seeker, waiting (often, years) for their asylum interview, waiting months for the decision, then, for those who do receive refugee status or international protection, more waiting until their residence permit is finally issued. And even then the nightmare doesn’t end. There are still so many obstacles, bureaucratic and structural,  that prevent refugees from settling into society and becoming economically independent.

The work of IHA is based on fighting against this hopelessness, on allowing reality to be forgotten for a brief moment. Through activities and workshops, IHA not only tries to make everyday life more dignified and bring together different groups, but help empower refugees to integrate into Greek society and prepare them for the future. IHA’s Info Hub helps refugees find work through its professional development courses and support with the application process and job searching. Talking to people who actually found a job with IHA’s support and seeing how happy they are, is overwhelming. Being reminded of what an impact you have on someone else's life is naturally, at first, a positive feeling, but it’s also frightening when you consider what would be lost if this support no longer existed and how much is  dependent on your own work.

Jenni (second from left) in the Lagadikia Community Centre)

Fortunately, IHA is not alone in its efforts and its vision of a more welcoming Europe. It is fascinating to see how many small organisations, local and international, join together in a network and support each other wherever possible. The  dedication and commitment of all these helping hands is overwhelming, especially considering that this work is done on a voluntary basis and should not be taken for granted. But unfortunately, this is exactly what happens...

The importance of the work of grassroots organisations cannot be understated. As governments and the international community are failing in their obligation to protect people in need, so much depends on the voluntary and independent work of small organisations, many of which have few financial resources. This should not be the case with so much at stake, the responsible institutions cannot look away and simply hope that small organisations will take care of the people they leave behind.

Human rights and dignity should be guaranteed for every human being, everywhere in the world, and always. It made me sad to see that this is not true for refugees living in Greece. Perhaps this is why, when I returned to Germany, I felt that I did not deserve these privileges, although I know now that this is the wrong approach. While being aware of privilege is important, the fundamental question should not be how I earned these privileges, but why others do not have them.

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