What inspires a young woman from USA to come to Bulgaria and how her stay here determines her next destination.
How did you come in Bulgaria and how did you decide to work for CLA – Voice in Bulgaria?
After working with refugee communities in the United States for several years, I was interested in understanding the issue of refugees’ vulnerabilities to human trafficking. In the process of doing background research on this field. I came across the International Center for Migration Policy Development’s (ICMPD) Trafficking along Migration Routes to Europe: Bridging the Gap Between Migration, Asylum, and Anti-Trafficking report. This comprehensive paper contextualized the problem of refugee trafficking in the Balkans, and specifically in Bulgaria. I used this report as a starting point to learn more about the gaps, needs, and challenges that exist in the identification, referral, protection, and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and how these oversights put refugees and irregular migrants at risk. In an effort to learn more about Bulgaria’s response to these challenges, I contacted the report’s Bulgarian researcher—Radostina Pavlova. Radostina is on the board of CLA-Voice in Bulgaria and she serves as the organization’s project manager and legal expert. Through this correspondence, Radostina directed me to many other resources on this topic and introduced me to CLA’s ongoing projects and initiatives. I was interested in contributing to these efforts and in learning from the CLA team—it was not a hard decision! My work and research in Bulgaria, and in particular with CLA, has generously been supported by the Christianson Grant.
What did you enjoy the most during your internship?
Definitely the people! Both the CLA team and the clients have been such positive forces during my time here.
What was the most important thing that you’ve learnt?
I have learned the importance of providing comprehensive support to refugees and migrants. Legal aid in isolation is not as effective as when it is paired with social and economic support. CLA’s case management programs combine mechanisms for legal aid, financial support, social guidance, and psychological support together and I’ve seen the importance of this multidimensional approach.
What were your main challenges?
It was difficult for me to reconcile the positions of the State Agency of Refugees (SAR) with the experiences of the migrants and refugees. Many of the clients had come from very dangerous situations and continued to be in unstable and vulnerable positions within Bulgaria, yet the State Agency of Refugees seemed to discount these realities and reject asylum cases. It was challenging to offer optimism and support to families that had been suspended in the asylum process for years as they appealed decisions, reapplied for status, and faced social and economic instability.
How long did your internship in Bulgaria last?
I have been in Bulgaria for just under nine months.
What impressed you the most during your stay in Bulgaria?
I was struck by both the CLA team’s dedication and the clients’ resilience. I was so lucky to be surrounded by a team that was committed not only to direct service, but also to the broader advocacy efforts that aim to create institutional change within the Bulgarian asylum process.
Say three words to describe your impression from your work here.
Challenging, rewarding, and thought-provoking.
How would you continue the sentence ”The rights of migrants and refugees are … “
The rights of migrants and refugees are essential as the world faces major displacement crises.
What is next for you?
I will be staying in Europe to continue working in the field of human rights with an international research and advocacy NGO. My time at CLA heavily influenced me to continue working in this field and I am very excited for this new opportunity!