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“First We Are Humans. Then We Are Refugees”

Consultation on Migration and Human Rights

For the third time in a row, the Institute for African Studies held a Consultation on Migration and Human Rights on 16 December 2016 at the Vič Asylum Home in Ljubljana. The Consultation had several objectives - to commemorate the International Day of Human Rights (December 10) and the International Day of Migrants (December 18), to keep the general public informed about Migration and Human Rights, and to exchange best practices, perspectives, opinions and experience between governmental bodies, international organisations and civil society.

The consultation was moderated by the Director of the Institute for African Studies, Eyachew Tefera, and engaged several local and foreign speakers: Tina Kotar and Maida Džinić Poljak (Ministry of Home Affairs), Robert Modrijan (Employment Service of Slovenia), Mbemba Jabbi (Jabbi Group, Ireland), Aida Hadžiahmetović (Slovene Philanthropy), Eva Gračanin (DIC Legitibra), Boštjan Slatnar (Institute for African Studies), and about forty asylum seekers residing at the Vič Asylum Home. The formalities were followed by informal conversations in a relaxed setting where the participants were able to sample dishes prepared by the asylum seekers themselves.

World Refugee Day

The Consultation on Migration and Human Rights addressed the following important questions relating to the protection of human rights.

Human Dignity

“I do not like that we use the word ‘refugee’ all the time. We are talking about human rights. First we are human. Then we are refugees.” - Asylum seeker.

At the very beginning of the open discussion, one of the participants raised the issue of categorisation and the usage of specific terminology when discussing human rights. The speaker emphasised the “human” factor behind the categorisation of “refugees”. He also highlighted the challenge of maintaining human dignity in specific situations involving asylum seekers, such as the poor conditions at the Aliens Centre in Postojna, the manner is which illegal immigrants are arrested and the expatriation of asylum seekers on the basis of (almost) forcibly taken fingerprints.


“Was it humane of them to decline an operation I potentially needed?” - Asylum seeker

A participant who had been denied a necessary operation that he potentially needed raised the issue of healthcare coverage in Slovenia. In the ensuing discussion, it was found that asylum seekers are only eligible for basic healthcare services and that additional services are payable. The discussion emphasised the challenges that this represents for asylum seekers.

World Refugee Day


Several questions were raised in relation to engaging asylum seekers and refugees into the Slovenian labour market. The speakers explored the possibilities and opportunities on this field (see “How to create and seize opportunities” below). Robert Modrijan of the Employment Service of Slovenia outlined which new programmes his organisation recently introduced for the integration of refugees into the Slovenian labour market.

Prompt Information on International Protection

“We do not receive all new information concerning our individual cases. We often have to go to various offices by ourselves to ask about such information.” - Asylum seeker

Another question raised by one of the participants was the matter of asylum seekers being kept up-to-date about the progress of their subsidiary protection status. Aida Hadžiahmetović of Slovene Philanthropy explained that asylum seekers are entitled to lodge complaints with regard to this at any time and that the Asylum Home and its representatives are obliged to respond to the complaints and find potential solutions to the matter at hand.

The Foreign Experience

Mbemba Jabbi of Jabbi Group, Ireland, made a brief presentation on the practice of integrating asylum seekers and refugees into the labour market in Ireland. He also noted that in comparison to Slovenia, asylum centres in Ireland are not as open to visitors. During the discussion, several speakers pointed out that it is not possible to compare the conditions in Slovenia to those of other countries due to specific economic, political, historical and social contexts. In relation to this, economic standards and LGBT rights were specifically addressed.

Creating and Seizing Opportunities

“You have the power in your hands, self-activation is important!” - Aida Hadžiahmetović, Slovene Philanthropy

An important topic that was raised several times during the discussion was how to create and seize opportunities in the host country. It was emphasised that in addition to the host country creating opportunities for migrants, migrants must also demonstrate their willingness to integrate and contribute to their new society, and a disposition towards self-activation. Practical opportunities, such as the need for translators for certain languages and specific solutions regarding meetings between asylum seekers and the Asylum Home management, were proposed.

“I do not like that we use the word ‘refugee’ all the time. We are talking about human rights. First we are human. Then we are refugees.” - Asylum seeker.

Overall, the Consultation raised several important questions about the protection of human rights, with a focus on the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. It also revealed that asylum seekers do not have enough information about their own rights and the rigidity of the bureaucratic system. The Consultation also proposed specific solutions to certain issues under discussion and emphasised self-activation as important part of social and economic inclusion in the host society.

The protection of human rights in its implementation constantly gives human rights new formal and non-formal definitions and forms. Importantly, consultations such as this one address this implementation by exploring the dividing line between bureaucracy and humaneness, and between humaneness and all the categories that have been created on the basis of the law.

About the Author

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Hana Alhady

Hana Alhady is a Project Co-ordinator at the Institute for African Studies and an invaluable member of our team.


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