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On September 18, 2023, the public discussion “The Next Generation of Sofia Citizens” was held at the American Center of Sofia Library, organized by Sofia Development Association, with the participation of representatives of various refugee communities, Sofia Municipality, the UNHCR, the Bulgarian Red Cross, NGOs and students from Sofia.

Our guests and speakers were Valentina Solodkaya, who fled the war in Ukraine to Sofia; Rodi Namo, who was also forced to leave his home in Syria because of the war in his homeland; Fay Eshkevari from Iran, a journalist and women’s rights advocate; Eric David Holsey from the USA, who found his way to Bulgaria because of his love of history and has been talking about our country’s past on his blog for almost ten years. Special guests were also the students from the National School of Finance and Economics in Sofia, who in June this year won a hackathon organized by Sofia Development Association and dedicated to the topic of inclusion and integration of refugees. Photographs taken by Alexander Aleksov from the same high school during their school campaign were exhibited in the library.

Discussion moderator Yuriy Valkovski prompted our guests to reflect on the questions what does it mean to be a Sofiyaner? Is it easy to love Sofia? Favourite and less favorite spots in the city? Of course, the city looks different in the eyes and hearts of each of the “new” Sofiyaners. For Fay Eshkeveri, the urban environment is both welcoming, but also in certain spaces limiting. Sofia’s parks and the opportunity to interact with different people, have access to arts, sports and entertainment within walking distance is of utmost importance to Eric. Music and dance make Rodi Namo smile and are one of his ways of making new friends. The feeling of freedom and safety, of being able to go out on the street without fear, and the ease with which children make new friendships, make Valentina Solodka’s life meaningful today.

There are challenges in the path of the new residents, it was made clear by Boris Cheshirkov (UNHCR). Challenges both in terms of the development of the city and the integration of refugees. Nevertheless, there is a growing network of people and organizations that partner to welcome and support refugees. Specifically, Sofia Municipality has created many new forms of support and opportunities for integration, one of which is the Bureau for Information and Services for Third Country Nationals.

In the end, the participants in the discussion united around the idea of Sofia as an “open city”, as Malina Edreva, chairperson of the Standing Committee on Education, Culture, Science and Cultural Diversity at the Sofia Municipal Council, aptly put it. A city in which we must continue to create conditions and opportunities for dialogue and exchange between different communities and different cultures, without fear and without prejudice.

The discussion “The Next Generation of Sofia Citizens” takes place in the framework of the project “Support for the Development of Integration Policies and Services for Refugees in Sofia,” funded by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency in Bulgaria. We will have more discussions and meetings with people who have chosen Sofia and Bulgaria to be their home. To get involved, follow our posts on this website, on the SofiaLab website, and become part of the Viber group through which we share news and event invitations.