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"Living at the UAB is like getting a second chance"
Every three seconds there is a person in this world who becomes a refugee, looking to save their life as they flee from war or a lack of human rights. The UAB has been working these past three years on several programmes to raise awareness and promote aiding refugees. The Festa Major was inaugurated with a speech by Maxwell and Ahid, two refugee students studying at the UAB.
Ahid: "Anyone can become a refugee. Now it affects us because there's a war in Syria, but if you look back in history you can see that anyone can become a refugee".
Since 2016, the UAB collaborates with the Catalan Committee to Help Refugees (CCAR) through its Solidarity Foundation (FAS) on a programme which has allowed to receive from 40 to 60 refugees a year and house them in the Vila Universitària. Moreover, the Government of Catalonia's programme for help to refugee students has led to the UAB housing three of the eighteen students from Lebanon participating in programme to continue their studies.
The UAB dedicates this year to migrant or refugee people, and the starting point of the year was the UAB's annual Festa Major, celebrated on 8 November with the presentation of the motto #UABrefugi, l’Autònoma acull and two refugee students reading the inaugural speech.
Maxwell from Nigeria and studying the master's degree in Political Sciences, and Ahid from Syria and scurrently studying languages, were forced to leave their countries. Maxwell has been living in Europe for over a year now and he arrived on a boat travelling from Morocco, a dangerous voyage which not everyone survived. Ahid arrived one month and a half ago from a Lebanese refugee camp. They now both live in the Vila Universitària residence hall, at the Bellaterra campus.
-What message did you wish to transmit to the UAB community with the speech you gave for the Festa Major?
Maxwell: I wanted to express how difficult it is for people here to imagine what it is to come to Europe from a country like mine. I came here to find a job and form part of society, to study, but I was not aware of what it meant not to know the language, having a culture so different to mine, being away from your family, not having work, etc.
It is a lot more difficult than anyone can imagine. A whole set of difficulties. Small things like the weather or food, for example, are so different. And one of the hardest things is the language. All together it makes it very difficult to find a job or obtain the official documents. I have friends in other European countries who say they feel the same. We do not understand the steps we must take to get an official document, for example. And at the end of the day, all these problems are just an addition to all the other ones we have when alone in a completely foreign place. The solution would have to include a better way of aiding refugees when they arrive.
Ahid: The message I want to give is that anybody can become a refugee. We are all human and all live in this world. Now it affects us because there is a war in Syria, but if you look back in history you can see that anyone can become a refugee.
-How do you envision your future after this experience?
Maxwell: Right now my priority is to learn Spanish. I think in Nigeria I could help to open the door for others wanting to come here to study. The way to do this would be to teach Spanish, because they would at least know the language when they get here and it would be easier for them. So, I would like to continue to study and then return to Nigeria. It is difficult to fit in here because I find the language difficult at the moment.
Ahid: If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you that I see no future, because after being a refugee in Lebanon, there seems to be no hope and no way to get out. It is very difficult. But after a while I see things differently. After my degree in Mathematics from the University of Damasc in Syria, I obtained another certificate as a refugee in Lebanon. You are supposed to conquer the world when you're young, but as a reugee nobody pays any attention to you. But I do feel like now I am getting ahead again in my studies.
-What solution do you see for this humanitarian crisis in Europe regarding refugees?
-Maxwell: One of the things that should be done is to offer more information about Europe in the countries we come from, because we idealise Europe and then, when we get here, we encounter all kinds of problems we were not aware of. We think coming to Europe is the solution to all our problems. And I also think that it is important for us to get training and learn skills directly in Africa, because the education level there is very low, and therefore we would not have to dream of coming here when we can have a normal life there.
Ahid: The solution? An end to all wars. That's the solution. But we know that will not happen. There needs to be improvements in how refugees are helped when they arrive, making it easier for them to feel accepted and at home.
-How do you feel here at the UAB?
Maxwell: JI feel very lucky to be here. It is a great opportunity to be able to live in this environment. Compared with the studies offered in Nigeria, studying here helps me a great deal personally. And living at the Vila Universitària is also a very important way to move forward: I am surrounded by professors, students, researchers, libraries, study halls, etc. I feel very good here, It is as if I were given a second chance.
Ahid: I came to the Vila Universitària a month and a half ago. I am studying Spanish and Catalan on campus. The people are very open and everyone is friendly, and that helps and makes you feel better. What I have realised is that language is very important to communicate with others, and that is what I am working on! If I learn the language quickly, my integration will be better and faster. But here at the UAB everyone is really very friendly!