Many of my best friends are refugees

Published: 27 October 2015 17:30 CET

By John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

Nastja Malek, 23, is easy to spot with her characteristic dreadlocks and a smiling face. She is helping to clean in one of the many huge white tents that are set up at Šentilj. This is one of the last places where people travelling through Slovenia will stay, before crossing into Austria just a few hundred meters from here. But before they cross, many of them will meet Nastja, a volunteer with the Slovenian Red Cross.

“I always try to smile, because the migrants encounter so many serious faces everywhere else. So for at least five minutes they will encounter a smiling face,” she says.

Together with other volunteers she assists the several thousand migrants who pass through Sentilj every day, offering food, water and hygiene items as well as donated clothing.

“Several of my closest friends are refugees,” she says. “When I got to know them, I began to understand how their life has been. It often made me cry because their stories are very tough. But it gave me a new perspective, and I just want to help them.”

More understanding and compassion

The prejudice that surrounds migration, she says, is a consequence of misunderstanding the situation in which people find themselves.

“Some say they leave a mess of garbage, but often there are no garbage cans. So where can they leave their garbage?” she asks. “And if they refuse certain kinds of food, people might think they are ungrateful. But the reason for that is that some foods contain pork, which many of them are not allowed to eat.” The solution is more understanding and compassion.

“Would I stay and maybe even fight if there was war in my country? If my basic needs were not met, I believe I would flee to safety too,” she says comassionate towards the difficult situation of the people she serves and listens to every day.