Continuing from the previous article with the stories of Sarah and Mohammed from Yemen, today we will meet you with those of Ashraf from Afghanistan and Muaz from Syria, people with refugee backgrounds who found asylum and more importantly a home, on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. Coming from different parts of the world, they managed to start their lives here again and now they tell their stories about how they got here, what they are doing, and the difficulties they have gone through in order to show a good example to people who are in a similar situation and are looking for peace and a normal life in Bulgaria.
1. Tell us about yourself, where you are from, how you came to Bulgaria, and how you decided that this would be your new home.
Muaz: My name is Muaz and I am from Syria, I am 28 years old. I came to Bulgaria in 2014. After the war in my country, I decided to leave it and seek safety and protection. Like all refugees, the most important thing for me was to reach a safe place and live in peace. For me, Bulgaria is Home, where I can live and work, be an active person in society, live with others in peace, feel safe with them, and work for a better future for us all.
Ashraf: Hello, my name is Ashraf and I am 29 years old. I was born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. I arrived in Bulgaria at the end of 2016. Here I found the peace and tranquility I needed and I am proud to now call it my second home.
2. Tell us about your job – what do you do, was it difficult to find, how do you feel among your new colleagues?
Muaz: I work as a customer service specialist in the capital Sofia. About the difficulties of finding a job. It was very difficult! Qualifications, experience, general economic conditions, and language were a hindrance, but in the end, I found a good job, I feel good and I hope everyone finds something. As for my new colleagues, they are the people who support me in life and work. We always try to solve the problem, no matter how complicated it is, and in the end, we feel satisfied with what we do.
Ashraf: I currently work at the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria as a social mediator. Here I have met exceptional professionals with whom we use every opportunity to build a brighter future for Bulgaria and society.
3. What, in your opinion, are the biggest difficulties refugees face in the process of their integration in Sofia?
Muaz: In my opinion, some of the biggest difficulties that refugees face in their integration process in Sofia include language barriers, cultural differences, limited access to education and employment opportunities, social isolation, and discrimination. These challenges can make it difficult for refugees to adapt to their new environment and fully participate in the society to which they have moved.
Ashraf: I think the biggest difficulty that people with a refugee background face is language. After that are cultural differences and discrimination. For myself, I can add that I have a degree in computer science from one of the private universities in Kabul, Afghanistan, I speak English, Dari, and some Pashto, as well as Turkish and Bulgarian, so finding a job was not as difficult for me as it is for many other people with a refugee background looking for work here.
4. What do you like most in Sofia and in the country?
Muaz: The pleasant climate and the friendly atmosphere. Others appreciate the country’s cultural heritage and the opportunities for business and education.
Ashraf: In general I like the nature in Bulgaria. I like Sofia because it is a fast-growing European city with a very rich history and culture. But I have to say that the thing I like most here is the peace.
5. What recommendations would you give to the institutions working with refugees to improve their activities?
Muaz: To improve refugee assistance and services, institutions must conduct thorough needs assessments, empower refugees in decision-making, provide comprehensive support, prioritize mental health and cultural sensitivity, foster collaboration, prioritize education and skills development, offer legal support and protection, work toward long-term solutions, and monitor and evaluate programs for continuous improvement.
Ashraf: I would recommend that they continue to help people in need by making the procedures a little bit lighter. It would be great if there were more opportunities for qualification and vocational training, as well as creating more and more accessible free Bulgarian language courses.
In several consecutive articles, we present the initiative “Socially Responsible for Integration”, which is implemented by the Sofia Development Association (SDA) within the project “Support for the Development of Policies and Services for Refugee Integration in Sofia”. We will present to you the employers’ opinions, their experiences, best practices, and difficulties they face in carrying out this noble but difficult task. We hope their example will encourage other companies and businesses to give a helping hand to people who are forced to leave their homes and have to start their lives again in a foreign country. You can read more about SDA and the project at www.sofia-da.eu. The project is funded by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.