THE UNBULGARIANS: EHLIBEJTE MEHMETAJ, ALBANIA

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Since her family's arrival in Bulgaria in 2004, the 24-year-old Ehlibejte has graduated a Bulgarian school. She volunteered in the Bulgarian Red Cross Refugee-Migrants Service, and now works for the Council for Women Refugees in Bulgaria. There, she helps migrants to integrate, adapt and deal with the Bulgarian administration. She is fluent in Albanian, Turkish, Bulgarian, and also speaks Arabic and English.

How did you arrive in Bulgaria?

We left Albania in 1998 and initially went to Turkey. Then my father came to Bulgaria and was granted refugee status. We came here through the procedure for family reunion, in 2004. I was 14.

Have you experienced any special treatment in Bulgaria because you are a foreigner?

When I started school, it was very strange because I didn't speak Bulgarian. But here came something positive, my classmates helped me a lot to learn the language. I was in the 9th grade, in an ordinary high school, my younger brother was also there.

Have you experienced discrimination in Bulgaria because you are a woman?

No, never. I don't look like a Muslim woman from the Arab world. But we have had such cases in the Council for Women Refugees because some of the women refugees look different – they wear a veil. Harassment happens all the time. In one case a veil was forcefully taken from the head of a woman, and she was abused with obscenities shouted at her.

Is there something unique about the Bulgarians?

I haven't thought about that, I have been living here for such a long time that now I feel I am a part of everything which is Bulgarian. I cannot say there is something uniquely Bulgarian. But I like the calmness of the country, a pleasant contrast with Turkey, where there are so many people in the streets, so many eyes watching you.

What surprised you in Bulgaria when you arrived?

Oh, it was so cold! We came here in July and everything was normal, but we didn't get out much as we didn't speak the language yet. But when winter came, it was so cold that I was shocked and started to wonder if I'll ever be able to live here. Winters are mild in Albania and Turkey, and here I found myself in knee-deep snow. But I am getting used to it.

Do you have Bulgarian friends?

A lot. I met them at school, at work. I meet new people all the time.

Do you celebrate any Bulgarian holidays?

I am a Muslim, but in Albania different religions have always lived together and people of different religions have celebrated their feasts together. Our family continued this way in Turkey and in Bulgaria. I have so many Bulgarian friends. They visit us for our holidays, and we visit them for theirs.

Do you have a favourite Bulgarian feast?

Not really.

Do you plan to stay in Bulgaria?

I have been here for 11 years, and this, in a way, says that I want to stay here. But if someday an opportunity appears for something better somewhere else, well, I will leave. But for now I don't have any plans. I am here.

Do you feel Bulgarian?

I am already a Bulgarian citizen, and this makes me a Bulgarian. For me, nationality is not important, what matters is that we, different people, get together well. I have the chance to feel a part of Bulgaria, and this makes me Bulgarian.

EEA GrantsThe UnBulgarians project is conducted by the Free Speech International Foundation and supported by the NGO Programme in Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area 2009-2014

Read 3289 times Last modified on Tuesday, 15 March 2016 13:31

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