My personal and professional travels of 2018.
It is already 2019 here in Bangkok. I woke up early to welcome a new day, new month and new year!
As it is a day off here, I have some free time to catch up with some of my emails, administrative issues and plans. One thing that I have learnt, in my work, especially in last year is that one should take plans with a pinch of salt. You may plan whatever you want, as long as you want, and something unexpected happens, and you just need to collect the pieces of your carefully thought-through wishes, desires, visits… I am set to have a very busy 2019, especially the beginning of it, but then again, who knows?
In January, I am planning to visit Mum and family in Nowy Sacz. While in Europe, together with Mum, we are also planning to make a short side-trip to Kyiv. If all works, it will me our first trip to Ukraine, and needless to say that I am very excited by the prospects.
From Poland, I am flying directly to Toronto, where I will spend a week with Tahir. We do not have precise plans for the visit yet, but I guess it will be a mixture of catching up, dealing with some of the administrative issues, and some excursions to nature, out of the city.
Upon my return to work, I am directly planning to go to the Philippines, where I am going to be visiting our programmes in southern island of Mindanao. Depending on whether we are successful getting our visas ready, we should also travel to Pyongyang of DPRK at the end of February/beginning of March. It will be a study trip to learn about opportunities of starting some disaster risk reduction projects. Again, as you can imagine, I would be so happy, if we could go.
In April, together with the rest of the folks from my organisation, I am likely to be in Brussels for our annual headquarter meeting.
Then, in June/July I am going to be packing my stuff up, and getting ready to move out of Thailand! I am still not sure which part of the world, I will be moving to, but I will definitely let you know, once the discussions are finalised.
During this first day of the year, I am also thinking about things that I would like to do better this year. There may be lots of things that I would like to change, but the major one is that I will try worrying less, especially about things that I have no influence over. Please hold me accountable, when you see that I am not delivering!
So while, I am not planning too much ahead, there are definitely some exciting prospects waiting for me in 2019!
It is the last day of 2018… Time for reflections of the year, but also time of good wishes to friends, family and people around you for 2019.
2018 has been a year of lots of happiness for me… It brought a resolution of my biggest, recent worry… FREEDOM FOR TAHIR, and his departure to Canada. Only for this, I am going to be remembering it fondly. There has been lots of challenges too, but these do not need to be mentioned… just remembered and learnt from.
Please, whoever you are, and wherever you are on this planet, I wish you, and the people that you care for, the best of luck, prosperity and happiness throughout the year!
I do hope that the next 12 months will offer us lots of exciting opportunities and experiences. I hope that I will be able to meet many of you, on the way…
Happy New Year 2019!
The tsunami in Indonesia wore me down. The mission there was difficult physically and emotionally, even if the trip to the disaster zone was short.
As it is the end of the year now, I am lucky enough to have some time off, and I do not need to run to the office right away. I am using this time to unwind, and get back to 'normal'. I have done this job for a long time, but seeing the total destruction of people's lives, houses, hospitals, schools, roads… does not fail to make me feel uneasy, sad and at times angry.
So yesterday, I treated myself with a walk, a long, long walk to Bangkok's China Town. I tried avoiding places, where tourists go, and got myself lost in narrow streets, often in places, where the time seemingly stopped running. The walk made the trick, and made me feel much better, even if at the end of the day, I had a small scare of the potential tsunami in the Philippines.
I hope that the rest of 2018 will be quiet… Now, gearing up for the New Year's Eve party that is coming already tomorrow!
Happy New Year, everyone!
I have arrived to Jakarta now, and trying to relax on my Christmas Eve at the hotel. It is a strange feeling to be here. The hotel is full of happy and cheerful people, celebrating the December festivities. Christmas trees, carols, decorations, smiling faces. It actually has a nice feeling.
Then, just 200 km away, to the west of Jakarta, around 400 people lost their lives yesterday due to the tsunami. I have just read the latest reports. The news is scary. Except the mind-blowing death-toll, hundreds of people are injured, many are missing and over 11,000 people are now homeless.
Tomorrow, together with our partners, I am hoping to make it to Pandeglang District, which is the most affected by the calamity, so that we can understand better what the needs are, and what should be done to respond to the basic necessities.
I guess, I am going to have emotional Christmas, but then somehow, I am glad that I am here and I have a chance to be working for the people in need of assistance. I am going to be trying to do the best job I can muster, to the best of ability of the organisation I work for.
When I have a chance, I will report on my observations from the trip to the disaster zone. In the meanwhile, wishing you all Merry Christmas!
Picture credit: Indonesian Agency for Disaster Prevention and Response: BNPB
Last night, a strong tsunami hit the islands of Java and Sumatra, following the explosion of the Krakatau volcano in Sunda Strait. As I am writing this, 168 people were reported killed, and hundreds are injured. There is also a substantial destruction in private and public infrastructure.
After the earthquakes in Lombok and Sulawesi, this is the 3rd serious seismic disaster in Indonesia in 2018. Tsunamis, volcano eruptions and earthquakes are common in the Southeast Asian country, but this year is particularly bad.
I am likely to be deployed to respond to this disaster, and getting ready to travel there tomorrow. It appears that this Christmas will be in the field, trying understanding the needs of the affected people and tailor the support that we can deliver from my organisation.
Christmas and holiday period is arriving!
May all of you have a wonderful time in coming days. May you have time and opportunity to experience peace and happiness with the people that you are care about.
Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to everyone!
The visit to the Philippines is coming to its end, and it is time to start packing again, and start preparing for a trip back to Bangkok.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Philippines this time around. The visit to northern Luzon proved to be inspiring. I was very pleased to see how our partners try help the victims of the recent typhoon to get back on their feet. Visiting solid projects that make difference to people who need assistance to recover from total destruction of their homes and livelihoods makes you feel happy and motivated.
The stay in Manila proved useful and interesting too. Meetings with colleagues over preparedness to disasters in 2019, as well as opportunities to explore the older parts of Manila have been great highlights of the stay.
Now, it is time to prepare for Christmas and New Year celebrations. This year, I will be in Thailand, celebrating with friends and colleagues in Bangkok. I hope that, it will be a quiet time, with opportunities to meet and cherish each other's company!
St. Augustin Church in Intramuros of Manila, the Philippines
I had a very good and inspiring Sunday. This time around, while in the Philippines, I was luck and had a free weekend. I decided not to miss the opportunity, and decided to do some sightseeing of Manila.
After talking to my Filipino friends, I decided to spend a day in Intramuros, an old part of Manila. It was the best choice I could have made, as the place is special. The narrow streets of Intramuros are home to wonderful buildings - small and big; houses, churches, shops and administrative buildings; run-down and renovated; all extremely interesting and beautiful. I love old cities, and experiencing old Manila was a treat. If you ever have a chance to visit this huge city, do not miss an opportunity! I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have done!
Here, you can find some pictures that I took during the walk in Intramuros (also pictures from other parts of the country, which I visited during this trip).
Bangkok from the air
I have done my check-in online, finished most of work that I needed to for this week… I am ready to fly. Tomorrow, I am travelling to Manila!
When in the Philippines, I will be visiting northern part of Luzon, which recently was hit by the typhoon and where we are supporting a humanitarian intervention to help the affected people recover.
I will also spend some days in Manila, where I am going to have a free weekend! I am already trying to work out some exciting plans for it. Then, next week, I will be busy with countless meetings in the capital. Together with my colleagues, we will be meeting with our partners and discussing plans for next year.
If all goes according to plans, I will be back to Bangkok, just before Christmas. I am certainly looking forward to my December trip!
A copy of a Christmas message to family and friends:
My December greetings may be coming a little early this year. I am travelling to the Philippines next week, and I will only get back home to Thailand, just before Christmas arrives, so it may be tight for me to write at that point.
Many of you are surely used to my somehow boring ‘end of the year’ messages. In many ways, I am very old fashioned (yes, some habits die hard), and as such, you will not be surprised to find this slightly too long message in your inbox, this time around as well! ☺ ❤️🎉☃️
When I think of 2018, without hesitation, what comes to my mind is a word ‘journey’. You know that I tend to travel extensively, but this year has been particularly rich in travels. I guess there are good and bad reasons for that. Some good ones involve visiting my family, and the people whom I love and care about, but then I have also travelled so much because of catastrophes and disasters, which I deal with professionally. Whatever triggered all this travelling, I genuinely enjoyed and cherished visiting countless number of villages, towns and cities across Asia, the Pacific, Europe and North America. Travelling exposes you to new situations, experiences, and people, and indeed I feel that 2018 has been particularly rich in lessons that has been provided to me. Now the time will show, whether I can be capable enough to take hints from all these learning? Here are some thoughts:
As I grow older, and lead my glamorous life, I acutely start feeling that I miss people around me. So I terribly miss my Dad, who passed away a year ago; I miss Mum, whom I do not see frequently enough, as she is thousands of kilometres away from me; I miss Tahir, who made my existence in recent years to be so fulfilling, but now, as we finally managed to ‘set him free’ and make sure that he is safe in Canada, I feel an uncomfortable vacuum whenever I get home to empty walls; I miss my wonderful family, people that I love and my friends, who are always there somewhere, but they are often too far… I could go on, and on. Yet, missing people makes you realise that it happens because they are dear to you, because they care for you and you care for them. In turn, it is a nice sensation and realisation to have. So that I am thinking to myself that it is okay to expose yourself to missing people, as long as you find a way to treat yourself and keep the people that are important to you around you, either by visiting each other, or by keeping in touch with them.
Being overjoyed with Tahir being in a safe place
Yes, 2018 has brought a final resolution, to the challenge and the problem that many of us have worked so far to deal with – ensuring that Tahir is in a safe environment, and able to live his own dream, the way that is far less constrained compared to anywhere else in the world. He has been in Toronto for quite a few months now, and he is doing well in adapting to his new country, new society and new lifestyle. You will all remember how stress we had been for months and months before he set his foot on that plane taking him out of Bangkok to Toronto. Through the support and work of so many of you, we made it though, and although, as I mentioned previously, I miss having him around me here in Bangkok, I feel overjoyed and happy to observe his new phase of life in Toronto. There are so many of you, across the world, who have helped in making his freedom to be a reality. I will not be listing people here, but please be proud of yourselves to have given Tahir a chance, and please rest assured that we will never forget your amazing kindness and help. Thank you!
Visiting friends and being visited
Living in a place, like Thailand, makes it easier to meet people. Many of you have visited me in the country in 2018, which has been absolutely great. Then, I also travelled to visit family and friends within Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Singapore, Poland, Slovakia, Portugal, Belgium or Canada (among other places). I appreciated and cherished all these moments, and I just hope that I will be able to continue meeting you in various places in years to come.
My work continues to make me happy, but also to challenge me. Again my work exposed me to multiple travels around places in my vicinity such as towns around Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, but also to more distant ones, such as the Philippines, Tonga, Fiji, Australia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or Belgium. As you know, I love my work, and I believe in what I do and what many of the humanitarians try doing in their struggle to assist people coping with crises around them. The darker side of this is that you get exposed to learn about things, which, at times I wished I was not aware of. Working in the biggest refugee camp in the world (in Bangladesh); dealing with a seemingly hopeless situation of the refugees in urban areas across Southeast Asia; witnessing unbelievable destruction of lives, homes, livelihoods, ways of lives of thousands of victims of typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, floods, or droughts make you shiver at times. At least, these make me shiver, and it is not only because these things are allowed to happen (or just need to happen – in case of some natural calamities), but also because, theoretically at least, there are solutions at our hand to limit people’s misery. Laws and regulations could be implemented to deal with slavery, to protect refugees, to give them a chance to integrate to their new homes; politicians could be brought to justice for forcing people to flee in a first place; readily available solutions could be applied to limit consequences of some of the catastrophes, or avoid them altogether. We could and should be doing so much more, but we choose not to. National pride existing in all of our countries, lack of empathy of politicians and large businesses international regulations, borders, red tape, religious fundamentalism make me feel that all what we can do is applying patches to problems rather than changing the way we treat one another… I admit, when you deal with these issues on daily basis, I sometimes get disheartened. But becoming disheartened, in a wired way, gives motivation too. After being upset, we try to reinvent ourselves, and this is when I try challenge myself to look at positives rather than negatives; or simply understand how my own drawbacks, biases, judgements, or lifestyle may be a part of the problem. I guess, it is pertinent to remind oneself that the change needs to happen within yourself, above all! 😉
And finally… the beauty…
Yesterday, a friend of mine posted online a link to an absolutely beautiful presentation of the national anthem of Finland. Mind you, the national anthems tend to scare me more often than not, as they frequently tend to underline superiority of some people over the others… but as I do not understand Finnish, I was not distracted by the lyrics and was able to appreciate an amazing musical performance. This very experience made me think of so many wonderful beautiful moments that I experienced in 2018… whether it was music, a walk in a park, a flower, an amazingly tasty meal, a sunset in Sukhothai’s ancient city, a night walk through cobbled stoned narrow streets of Obidos, crispy cold air in a snow submerged Mount Sniezka on Czech-Polish border, the new science museum in Warsaw, cramped and colourful Old Market in Dhaka, modern sky-scarpers of Singapore, a busker in Brussels, a flight over the beautiful island of Tongatapu, the beauty of Sydney Opera House, or charming wine yards of Ontario… All these help me appreciate that I am a part of this beautiful, even if troubled, world.
Thank you for all of these moments, and I am looking forward to more.
At last, I hope that you are going to have a wonderful December. If you celebrate it, have a wonderful and merry Christmas. If you don’t have a great holiday season! I wish you all a peaceful time with the people that you wish to be with!
A potable water supply system set up after a typhoon in Marawi in southern Philippines in December 2017
All arrangements are done and I am set to go to the Philippines next week. This time around, it will be a week in the country, during which, I will be paying a visit to post-flooding and post-typhoon humanitarian projects that we are co-financing. Looking forward to see how the affected communities are managing to recover from the disaster.
In the same time, I have already started looking at tickets to travel to Europe and Canada in February. The plan is that while in Europe, I will be visiting my Mum in Nowy Sacz, and then perhaps, we will also go for a short trio to Greece to visit a friend… Then when in Canada, I would be there to check on Tahir, and how he is settling in his new home.
Stay tuned, as more news will be here soon!
A view from by desk at home in Bangkok
It is a day off today in Thailand, and I am working from home. I am sitting at my desk, occasionally looking out at my window and admiring a nice view that I am lucky to have. As I do this, I am trying to get my head around what I need to do in coming weeks and months. The multitude of issues and challenge is substantial enough to make the task rather difficult.
I am now preparing for conversations with colleagues of diplomatic missions accredited to Thailand, so that we could work out a bit of a strategy on how we advance our support to UNHCR and authorities of the countries in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to provide adequate protection and minimum services to refugees in larger urban centres. Some of you, who know a bit of my work, know that it is a project that I have been following for a long time, and is very important to me both professionally and personally (more information and resources can be find under these links: Refugees in Southeast Asia; Movie about the Refugees in Southeast Asian urban centres: 'Everybody has Hope and Dreams'). The situation of the asylum seekers and refugees in the region is still dire and requires much more attention from the host countries and the international community!
I am also getting ready for evaluating the humanitarian responses to the crises created by the earthquakes and the tsunami in Sulawesi and Lombok of Indonesia. Both of the catastrophes caused a huge humanitarian challenge to millions of people in the area, and to the agencies responsible for providing assistance to the affected populations. Although, the responses are still ongoing, we already have lots of materials providing us some 'food for thought' on what worked, and didn't work during these interventions. We, the humanitarians, need to challenge ourselves constantly on whether we do everything possible to save lives, or help people cope with the overwhelming tragedies. These processes are never comfortable, as one always finds things could have been done better, could have prevented more deaths, could have helped more people. Lots of humanitarian work is about being critical to oneself. Have we spent the resources in right sectors, with right organisations; have we invested enough in preparing to disasters; have we appreciated the complexities of the local context; have we kept a good balance between using local and external resources? If one is serious about doing a right thing, one also needs to accept that these questions will always bother you, and there will always be stuff that you could have arranged and implement in a better way. As I mentioned, it is often uneasy to realise that we have not done 'the best', but it is the nature of the job. We need to go through the processes, to be better prepared next time. Examples of the response in Sulawesi and Lombok should be painful, we, the humanitarians, could have and should have performed better.
Then, continuing the thought of response to disasters, the responses to actual crises depend on how well you are prepared in advance. The preparedness involves so many things... One looks at what is already in place (finances, logistics, equipment, availability of specialists, infrastructure (hospitals, roads, water networks, airports, etc.,), existing laws, and thousands of other things) and try identify the gaps keeping in mind what kind of calamities we may be facing. Of course, one also needs to remember issues such as culture, religion, international relations of the region/country in question just to name a few things. Finally, we look at out own organisations trying to realise what we can offer, what we are good at, what our weaknesses are... Once one have some understanding of all these complexities, we try to make decisions on what we all need to do to improve, to make better, so that we end up in contingencies that have a chance to work, when the disaster strikes. Again, it is never easy, one can never think of everything... We will still try doing a bit of it next week though! We are about to kick-start our work on our own organisational preparedness to disasters in the Pacific Region, the part of the world that is extremely vulnerable to typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions or droughts. Most of these threats are enhanced by the ongoing climatic changes. Winds, drought are indeed more severe and more frequent in this part of the world, thus making our work to be more challenging and less predictable.
And finally, I shouldn't forget to get ready for the trip to the Philippines, where I am going to be helping my colleagues from our Manila office to plan our work for next year. Working in the Philippines involves lots of preparedness to natural disasters (volcanos, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, floods, etc.,) and to provision of services to victims of the conflict that has been active in the southern part of the country (Mindanao). It gets even more complicated when a natural disaster strikes in an area which is also home to flighting and conflict related displacement. Clearly, we will have lots of work ahead in preparing ourselves to what may be coming in 2019.
As all the work goes on, I will be informing you how things develop. Until that happens, wishing you a peaceful end of the week!
Refugees in Southeast Asia still mostly left without protection and basic rights to live in their new countries
I am really distressed and sad today. Some of my Pakistani friends and acquaintances, who are refugees in Thailand have been rounded up and thrown into prison recently. The only crime, which they have committed is 'seeking protection' from being persecuted for their religion in Pakistan. Sadly, even if they are officially recognised by UNHCR, as people, who need international protection, Thai authorities' policies do not grant them any privileges. On a contrary, in view of the law, they are considered as illegal migrants and, as such, are simply subjected to arrest in immigration detention centres (IDCs) for an indefinite period of time.
Some promises were made that the immigration laws of Thailand would be revised. However, so far, despite passing years, not much progress has materialised though. The tragedy is that no one has any idea on how to solve the problem. Refugees will not be sent to their countries of origin, as there is a risk that they would be harmed or killed in places, from where they fled (Thailand abides to non-refoulement policy). In the same time, they are not given any protection within the country. This creates a situation, where those, who are apprehended, are stuck in a legal limbo. It is not allowed to offer them services of any sort, and it is also illegal (rightly so) to deport them out Thailand. Bottom line is that the refugees and asylum seekers end up in detention centres (prisons) for a prolonged period of time (if not for ever). Perhaps slightly colloquially, there is no exaggeration by stating that people are left in prisons to rot, for no apparent and comprehensible reason. Tragically, we all know it, and no-one is able to do anything to prevent it, even if the solution is very simple (change the law)! Quite horrific, if you ask me.
On a personal and egoistic level, I am very happy that we have managed to get Tahir from this vicious circle, and that he is now safe in Canada. I would be getting sick from being worried of him now, were he to be in Bangkok at this point of time. However, even if he is safe, the awareness that many others are in this hopeless situation is very difficult to accept.
Clearly, together with some of my colleagues, we keep on talking to the authorities, trying to persuade for the law revision. Progress is very slow and things look grim though. Even grimmer, if you realise how bad the living conditions in the detention centres are.
The situation of the refugees is quite similar in most of the countries of Southeast Asia. Across the region, there are no laws protecting this group of people, and systematically very little is done to alter the reality.
As an immediate measure, I am trying to support some of the Pakistani refugees financially, so that they do not need to engage in risky survival coping strategies (meaning that they move out of their homes as little as possible), but I struggle supporting everyone. So in case, you would like to help out financially, please do get in touch with me, and I will suggest what could be done.
Picasso Hotel of Manila, the Philippines
Last month of the year has already arrived. I guess, like for many other people, December, for me, is a month of reflections. As the end of the month is marked by Christmas, and more free time (usually), I tend to think of the passing year, and things that happened in my life.
It has certainly been a very exciting and unusual year for me. Extremely busy and full of surprises, some welcome, and some less so. I will certainly be writing down some of these experiences and thoughts down in coming weeks, and will share with you.
But this year, December will be rather busy for me. I have just returned from Indonesia, but already preparing for the trip to Manila, and then to the south of the Philippines to Mindanao. This time, the trip will be a little longer (10 days), which should give me enough time to visit our humanitarian projects, but also spend some free time with my colleagues from the office, and some of my friends that live in Manila.
Before I get to the Philippines, I am going to have some guests here in Bangkok! Next week, my dear Polish friend Kasia will come over for some days. She is one of my most favourite people in the planet, so you can imagine that I am very excited to have her here!
Staying with Bangkok... When I am back from Manila, it will be time to prepare for Christmas and New Year's Eve. While, there are still plans to be made for Christmas itself, my plans for the last day of the year are already sorted. All thank to my kind and wonderful colleague/friend from the office, who is taking me along with her family to celebrate at Bangkok's riverfront. I have not celebrated New Year's Even for ages, and therefore, quite keen to experience the occasion!
So I have decided to refresh my website a little bit. The older version was outdated, and to some extent, difficult to navigate, especially when used by tablets, or smartphones. I hope that you will enjoy this version, as it is hopefully, a bit better designed and also 'nicer' to look at.
As time passes, I will be adding new functions to the site. However, I hope that the site is already adequately functional now. Enjoy the browsing!
Then, there is some surprising developments in Poland too. The Government of Poland was heavily criticised by the Ambassador of the United States in Warsaw for their attempts to silence the free media in the country. What is however really interesting in this development is that the criticism comes from the US administration that is much admired and loved by the present ruling regime in Poland. The authorities in Warsaw are stunned… and not quite know what is worse… a fact that they got criticised in a first place, or a fact that the criticism comes from Trump’s nominated ambassador. Personally, I am really surprised, and perhaps even shocked to admit that I am actually grateful to the US Ambassador to defend the freedom of speech in Poland… Who would have guessed that I would admit something like that? Life is indeed full of complexities and paradoxes.
As an update from Bangkok. I have just finished packing, as I am preparing for travelling to Indonesia again. I am off to Jakarta for three days tomorrow. It will be an interesting trip, as I will be on meetings with the Government of Indonesia, discussing the lessons learnt from the latest humanitarian response to the earthquake in Sulawesi.
As I get excited with movies, I am also preparing for a short trip to Jakarta in Indonesia. I will be travelling there next week, just for three days. It should be a rather interesting experience, as I will be meeting with some governmental officials to discuss the lessons learnt from the response to the humanitarian needs after the earthquakes in Lombok and Central Sulawesi.
Yesterday, I had lots of plans for Bangkok. I wanted to visit the China Town, do some shopping, and visit some friends. I ended-up sitting at home, unwilling to do anything that involved physical movement. So I slept, I wrote emails, and… I started writing, writing something that I felt I wanted to do. I am not sure what it is going to become. At the end of the day, it does not matter… what matters to me is that I need to write some of the stuff that is on my mind, even if no one would ever read it, or if no one would like it, or found it interesting. So I started this blog/book, which will I will work on; write and re-write, if needed; experiment; do things at my own pace; at the level that works for me. Things will be written for public consumption, but then, as I said: I have no ambitions that people would like to read it. Writing for the sake of writing, or for the sake of self-therapy! Should you wish to, you may access the work at this link.
I miss having Tahir here in Bangkok. I miss his company, his jokes, his cooking… I know… this is silly. So many of us, including myself, have worked so hard for him to successfully leave Thailand. Life is full of contradictions. So yes, I miss him terribly, but very happy that he is away in safety!
I am likely to stay in Bangkok, without flying for some days. Not too long, but I am happy not to have to move. I will then travel to Jakarta for 2 days at the end of November, and then visit the Philippines in December, just before Christmas arrives.
If all goes according to my plan, I will be visiting Mum in Nowy Sacz in February, and then will travel to visit Tahir in Toronto too.
No energy for further updates now. I am off to sleep!
My placement in Bangkok with my organisation is coming to its end. Under our employment rules, we are not allowed to serve in one location for longer than four years, meaning that after this period of time, we will need to be transferred to a new location, under the scheme that we refer to as ‘Rotation’. Although, there are some good chances that I would be able to secure a new post with my organisation somewhere else in the world (this should happen in the middle of next year), there is always a risk that something will not go the way expected.
In order to increase the chances of my job security, some weeks ago, I started applying for jobs in various organisations. One of the position that I applied for was a place in a UNDP’s roster for resident representatives (or in other words, a position of a country director). To my big surprise, I was short-listed for a post that and was given a chance to go through final stages of the recruitment process. So here I am, in London with some other candidates going through various exercises and tests that are meant to determine whether I could fit to the organisation.
I am here with a number of wonderful people, all of them much more senior than I am - ambassadors, members of national parliaments, directors of UN agencies… Frankly, I do not stand a chance to get recruited, given the caliber of my colleagues, but thing being written, I feel really happy to have met them, and given an opportunity to go through the interviews and exercises. The experience, and interaction with recruitment managers (and other candidates) has be enriching, and definitely has challenged my comfort zones - and one always should appreciate opportunities, such as this one, to learn.
So even, if I am unlikely to get an offer, I have enjoyed my stay in London tremendously!
The humanitarian response, despite heroic efforts of some organisations, is not adequate and is of bad quality. I have a strong feeling that the people are let down by their own government and organisations that are mandated to help victims of such calamities. My journey has brought me a very sad picture: both when it comes to destruction and human cost caused by the disaster, and when considering how poor the response to the needs of the people is. We should all need to answer some tough questions, what we are learning from these situations, and how we will be doing things better in the future…
I have take some new pictures in Sulawesi and Lombok. If you are interested to have a look, please click here to view the gallery.
Finally, I am travelling to London on Monday, and will be in the United Kingdom for 4 days. I will report to you, what I will be doing there soon, so please tune in!
It is very interesting to see the area that is rising itself from ashes. Here all my respect goes to communities themselves. It is the communities and regular citizens, who make things happen. Cleaning up, rebuilding, helping one another… all done by individuals without much help from institutions meant to be there for people. Amazing!
And today, I am turning 46… It is a great gift to celebrate your birthday with people of Sulawezi - reinventing themselves so beautifully!
When in Brussels, we discussed with my managers my options for my future postings with my organisations. In the middle of 2019, I will need to move, as I will have served in SE Asia for 4 years by then (the maximum that is allowed in one post). While nothing is decided and perhaps things will turn out to be completely different, the posting in one of the South American country was discussed! I would be very keen to work in Americas, as it would be my first professional experience from that part of the world. Let’s see what future holds! I will certainly inform you, when things become clearer.
I will be reporting here soon!
The calamity, so far claimed over 400 lives (the number will increase, as the search and rescue teams send in their reports) and injured thousands of people. The tsunami waves resulted in severe damages to private and public infrastructure.
The Indonesian authorities are now rolling out the search and rescue operations, as well as started delivering the relief to the survivors. My own organisation is now considering how we should support the people in need.
I will be reporting on how the situation develops. In the meanwhile, here comes the link to the images of Palu and surroundings after the disaster.
I hope that you enjoy this beautiful presentation. It can be accessed by clicking this link.
Not surprisingly, but sadly, women and girls are often those who are the vulnerable ones. They experience threats and abuse from their family members, from religious leaders, community members, from police officers, aid workers, gang/mafia members, administration officers, soldiers… you name it. The threats are essentially everywhere, on the way to get food rations, on the way to and inside the community shower/toilet, while collecting firewood for cooking, on the way to fetch water, on the way to a clinic… you name it. You may be harassed/assaulted brutally by soldiers, police in a very brutal and organised manner, but also in situation that you do not expect… while trying to walk on a less attended area to fetch water, by a sick-minded officer who would only let you pass a check-point, if you ‘return a favour’ at the back room, or by someone who would tell you that you need to pay in nature for getting your life-sustaining goods (food or medicines). Tragically, sometimes you are forced to sacrifice your child daughter into marriage, even if you know that this is the biggest evil that you can do to her, just because if you do not do it, your daughter, yourself and the rest of the family will be severely punished/beaten/refused a right to exist. I could go on and on with countless of other examples.
Although I know that there are good reasons for why this happens; it is clear that vast majority of these crimes against fellow humans (women) are committed by men. Yes, not all men have sick and criminal minds, yes men are subjected to inhumane suffering too - no doubt about it… There is however the uncomfortable truth here too: we, men, are mostly responsible for additional suffering of millions of girls and women on daily basis. This is true during humanitarian crises, but also in other situations - essentially in every part of the world, in every village, town and city.
When you genuinely realise the extent and severity of the suffering that we cause to women, it becomes overwhelming and unbearable. I actually am finding it very difficult to deal with it, as a man. I do not know where to start and how to make it up… Perhaps, the best way is to admit that I am sorry. I am genuinely sorry and I beg you, ladies, for forgiveness.
I wish I had a chance to view the movie to see for myself how the author presents his views, and I would be really interested to follow the debates that are likely to become very heated. I will certainly follow all of this on the internet.
For those interested, here is a link to the synopsis of the movie in English language (surely, the movie will be available with English subtitles sooner rather than later).
The trips to visit Mum in Krakow and Tahir in Toronto went extremely well. I had lots of fun spending time with folks that are dear to me, and even if the visits were very hectic, I managed to recharge my batteries to the fullest.
The reflections from the trips will follow in this blog soon, so please watch this space!
As I start my trip, I am confronted with a new challenge. Someone appears to have stolen my identity and uses it to take bank credits on my name in Poland. Considerable amount of money has been stolen from me… Scary thing is that credits were taken long time ago, but I only found out yesterday. The lawyer is on it, and she has started taking steps to fix the mess, but it is extremely stressful, and completely ruined my finances for now. The lesson is, never trust your banks - they seem to be able to sell your personal details, which are then misused.
Although setting off for holidays, I am not very happy at all.
In order to ease the situation at least a bit, together with my colleagues we were looking at projects that we could support and aim at helping people cope with poor access to water, food, sanitation, shelter and education. While we realise that our support is a drop in the ocean, I am glad that we will be able to work with the affected communities in coming months! We are moving ahead with giving financial support to two projects for the displaced by the conflict - so that they have minimal life sustaining services available until the fighting stops and they can safely return to their homes.
As usual, my trip to Tonga was related to a humanitarian catastrophe - this time caused by the cyclone (Rita) which hit the country around 6 months ago. Together with a colleague of mine, we went to visit the emergency and recovery projects that our organisation funded, but were implemented by Tonga Red Cross and local NGOs, and to understand how helpful our intervention might have been to the survivors of the cyclone.
The trip was very interesting, but involved some mixed feelings. On one side, our partners clearly did a good job and were clearly able to help thousands of people to stand back on their feet (rebuilding private houses, family rain-water catchment systems and restoring livelihoods of the family farmers), but on the other side, we realised that the overall system failed many of the residents too. The authorities may have restored electricity grids, fixed the roads, but let down some of the poorest families and many individuals to overcome their existential hurdles. Altogether we saw some families (supported by our partners) receiving decent boost to help them recover and thrive, but also learnt that the communities which were supposed to be reached by the authorities, were more often than not, neglected. Tragically six months since the calamity, some people still live in plastic sheeting tents, and literally struggle to find means to buy food.
Like in many other occasions of this sort, the trip to Tonga prompted a great deal of doubts in my mind. Trying to rationalise why we chose a group of people over other group of people (given that there was no funds to help everyone) is a difficult process. Yet even worse is that we (the whole system, rather than just my organisation) was certainly able to help everyone, if all agencies responsible had acted in a more responsible manner (essentially, deliver on their promises and commitments).
Now, as I prepare to travel to the Philippines tomorrow where I will be visiting projects meant to help the recovery from the devastating floods which hit Luzon, I am fearing that I may experience an uncomfortable deja-vu, with some individuals receiving help and others less so.
In terms of ‘lessons learnt’, the most challenging task for us comes later: we all need to figure out how we do a better job in a future. Lots can be done with relatively little money - the trick is to work together with as little ego as possible. Wish us luck!
And here comes the link to the pictures from the trip to the Pacific.
Later, after the visit to the Pacific, I transfer to Bangkok to repack and will continue immediately to the Philippines. The northern part of the country, Luzon is severely affected with very extensive floods. Again, together with my colleague, we will be visiting the affected communities to ensure that our support is well spent/used there.
After the Philippines, I am going to start my holiday. All should be very exciting, as I am planning to visit my Mum in Krakow and then travel to Toronto where I will check on Tahir and visit my dear friends there!
I will be reporting from various places, whenever I have a chance! ☺️
Finally comes the message that I have wanted to write to you for a long, long time. Tahir is safe, sound and well in Toronto 🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦!
Last weeks in Thailand were difficult, and the detention was very tough, it really was and we are very proud that Tahir cleared it with so much courage, grace, patience and dignity. Very well done!
On the other hand, the departure from Thailand was much easier (logistically) than expected. Here I would like to underline how wonderful and helpful were the staff members of the IOM (International Organisation for Migration). Not only they were professional, but extremely sensitive to the needs of their ‘clients’ (there were some other people, who were resettled with Tahir – on the same flight out of Bangkok). I have lots of appreciation and respect for them!
Next impressive anecdote was at the airport of Toronto. When the Canadian immigration officer asked Tahir whether he had ever been arrested or committed a crime, Tahir confirmed. A puzzled officer looked to his computer again, and did some more research. He then pushed back: ‘but our files indicate that you had no criminal record’. Tahir then explained that he had been detained by Thai immigration for being illegal in Thailand. When the officer heard it, he just smiled and reassured Tahir that it was not his (Tahir’s) fault and this was not considered a crime, but rather an act of abuse against his rights to be protected. He also asked him not to ever answer ‘yes’ to the question like that in the future (in posed again by anyone). In the eyes of Canadian law, Tahir was innocent and did not commit any wrongdoing! Isn’t this a wonderful story? One needs to love Canada!
Another great thing is that as he got processed at the airport, he was handed over a document confirming that he held a coverage of the state health insurance. I need to admit, this really made my eyes teary. For the first time in his life, Tahir holds a right to free, comprehensive health care – something that many of us take for granted. How wonderful!
We already talked a few times, and Tahir is happy and recovering. He will soon start exploring his new city and country with his new friends and new friends to be made. Here again, I am very lucky, as I will have a chance to have a glimpse of how he is doing – I am arriving to Toronto to visit him – and his sponsors (my dear friends) on 11th September.
I would like to finalise this happy message by once again thanking you for all what you have done, and doing to support us in Tahir’s journey to freedom. You have touched my (and I guess Tahir’s) life in the most amazing ways. Thank you!
Tahir will now need to face new challenges – arranging his new life, becoming independent, getting a job, going to school... Some of these things will be hard, but above all extremely exciting and adventurous too!
While I will update you occasionally (I promise, less frequently now 😉), you are welcome to directly be in touch with Tahir. Should you wish to do so, please get in touch with me for his contact details.
Warmest regards and hugs to all,
On an exciting side of life, today I confirmed that I will be taking a week of holidays in October. The plan is to travel to Portugal and with Mum and my good friend from Poland. I am very much looking forward to it!
The earthquake in Lombok of Indonesia has kept us busy. With over 100 people being killed, hundreds injured and ten of thousands homeless, we are trying to support the local authorities and Red Cross to mobilise resources to respond to the needs of the people. Sad times for people of Lombok and Bali - hopefully the recovery and reconstruction will be happening as smooth as possible.
It is eleven days left for Tahir to leave the IDC and travel to Toronto. I still worry about him, but good news is that we are managing to visit him daily, and we manage to get him supplies of food and other goodies to make him as comfortable as possible while detained. The detention is not tough for Tahir only. Other detainees are seemingly far less comfortable situations. Most of the people do not get support that we are trying to provide to Tahir, and worse so, many do not know how long they will be detained, and whether they will ever be able to leave the IDC. Things in Thailand are bad these days. The police are extremely active these days in arresting ‘illegal’ migrants, and the refugees, although are not targeted become the 'collateral damage’. The police do not see any reason not arrest a refugee, even if officially recognised by the UNHCR. Those refugees who are caught are brought to the IDC, and they stay there indefinitely. They are not being deported back home (as Thailand committed itself not to deport UNHCR card holders - even if it does not recognise the card itself), but they are not left to carry on living normally and are kept imprisoned. Extremely disconcerting!
In Canada, the preparations for Tahir’s arrival are ongoing too. Our friends in Toronto have already made arrangements to get his language evaluated by the governmental agency dealing with education. This will allow Tahir to get admitted to public educational institutions (suitable to him) free of charge! Fantastic news. The second great news is that our friends are making arrangements to register him with the health authorities, so that he can his health insurance. I am very excited about it, as it will be for the first time in his life that Tahir will be insured!
Back here in Bangkok, I am preparing for 2 professional trips. Right after Tahir departs for Canada, I am hoping to be able to go to the Philippines to follow up on some of our projects there (helping victims of severe flooding, and victims of forced displacement related to fighting in the southern part of the country). Shortly after the visit to the Philippines, together with my colleague, I will be travelling to Fiji and Tonga in the Pacific. Similarly, the trip is to ensure that the humanitarian intervention that my organisation has supported is going well (helping victims of the cyclone). While in Fiji, we will have some meetings with various organisations specialising in responding to disasters in the Pacific region. The meeting with these organisation is to discuss how we can better support their work.
Seems like some busy weeks are coming.
It is still 18 days to go to Tahir’s departure to Toronto. Considering the circumstances, Tahir is okay. Many of us here in Bangkok have a chance to communicate with him daily. He seems cheerful and in good spirit, even if he is a bit tired due to sleep depravation (there is no enough space for everyone to sleep comfortable, so inmates need to take turns to sleep for a few hours, and then make space for other people to sleep). The inmates are friendly and they all spend their time by playing cards, and watching TV. They occasionally have a chance to exercise a little and play soccer at the IDC’s yard.
With regards to actual preparations for his departure to Canada, we are pretty much ready. Clothes and basic stuff to get him started in the new country is bought, and ready to be delivered to the airport, when he eventually goes in the middle of August. Tahir is also receiving his official 'Canada Orientation’ briefings that are delivered to him at the detention centre by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) on behalf of the Embassy of Canada to Thailand.
It is one of the most stressful time that I have recently experienced, but I also have to say that things are not as traumatic (at least for a time being) as I expected them to be. We do have some contact with him, and we gather that although the conditions at the IDC are horrible (by any standards), the inmates that he is with are allegedly friendly and kind people. They all seem to supporting one another, and there are little signs of abuse happening.
So things are horrible, but Tahir seems to be hanging on well. Please keep your fingers crossed, as we wait for his departure from the country.
I have to admit, I, and Tahir for that matter, may have been a little emotional recently. Success with Tahir’s resettlement visa for Canada, confronted us with a situation, when we needed to say goodbye to each other. Although Tahir is not scheduled to travel to Toronto until 15th August, yesterday, he needed to turn himself in to Bangkok’s immigration detention centre (IDC). Refugees in Thailand are not recognised by the authorities, and despite a fact that the United Nations encourages countries to extend protection to people such as Tahir (being recognised as UNHCR refugees), Thailand chooses to treat refugees as illegal migrants (since they do not possess valid visas to stay in the country). A part of being an illegal migrant in Thailand implies that one cannot leave the country without being officially punished. The consequences are severe: high financial fine, and an obligatory detention (3 weeks), and eventual ban from returning to the country for at least five years. Bottom line, for Tahir it means that before being allowed to reach his free life in Canada, he needs to serve his imprisonment - however cruel this sounds. So with a heavy heart, and with the feeling of gross abuse of justice and fairness, Tahir had been saying his good byes to all of us, just before reporting to the IDC in Bangkok, so he could start his last piece of ordeal before he is allowed to be set free. Although I am revolting, I will not explain why I consider his (and not only his) detention to be grossly unfair. Instead, I would rather reflect on the amazing friendship I received from Tahir within last 4 years.
We are both perfectly different in so many ways. Tahir coming from one of the most disadvantaged parts of the Pakistani society - disadvantaged to the point of being oppressed. Oppressed to the point of needing to run away from Pakistan for his life, as many wanted to kill him for being born to a religion that they do not like. His disadvantaged status has also had another major impact on his life: lack of education. He only graduated from 4 years of primary school - the rest of his schooling was not possible, as his family kept on fleeing from one place to the other, so that they are safe from harm that other people wanted to induce to them. As time passed, Tahir’s life continues to be filled with examples of suffering and humiliation - including, his most recent years in Thailand. His arrival to Bangkok, in search of safety, cost him a great deal of a sacrifice. During first years of his stay in the country, Tahir fell prey of being a victim of slavery; beatings and severe abuse; humiliation from criminals, police, or even regular residents that treated him poorly; fear of being detained and being sent back to Pakistan; hunger and malnutrition; fear of not knowing what the future may bring for him; fear of not being able to live a fulfilled life - ever; and fear that his life is doomed, and worse so, a conviction that he does not deserve any better, merely because he is ‘a worthless Ahmadyyia from Pakistan’ - a trait that he obviously thought he would not be able to overcome.
On the other hand, there is me… over-privileged, white male, with fantastic education, great career, amazing lifestyle, being able to travel the world, and receiving an automatic recognition of ‘being trustworthy’ simply because of my ‘status’, my EU passport, my skin colour… and other advantages that I have not really earned, but received by being born into the society and the country where I come from. Yes, I may have got some hurdles in my life; yes, I may even have worked very hard… However my issues have been always been solvable, and I have never ever needed to worry about my very existence.
Then we, the two very different people, met. Two people of completely different experiences, nationalities, background, culture, using different languages, having different approaches to religion, one being young, the other one being middle aged… A strike of luck, a pure coincident, caused us being in the same place, at the same time. One was on the street begging; the other one was in a restaurant overlooking the very same street. One was full of despair, hungry and seemingly hopeless; the other one was enjoying his favourite shrimps and soda water with lime, planning his next overseas holidays… One was poor; the other one was affluent. Yet, against the odds, these two started talking, and against the odds they have continued talking for all these years! Yes, Tahir has become my best friend, he is the best friend I have ever had, and possibly, I will ever have. Our friendship has become so special that some people assume and speculate that we may be a romantic couple!
I am not sure what and why things happened the way they have. All what I know however, is that Tahir challenged me, and challenged my values to the very core… He made me realise of my arrogance, and my privileges in very practical ways. Before meeting Tahir, I might have been conscious of my lucky life and how unfair the world around me was, but in all honesty, this was all very theoretical and non-threatening. Meeting him changed a lot in my life. Slowly, patiently and gradually, Tahir started teaching me how to slow down; to appreciate little things and moments; to appreciate what I have; to notice other people around me and appreciate their ways of perceiving the world. Tahir also taught me to be less scared and less judgemental of the others, even if, they may be different from me or from the people that I considered as my friends. Importantly, he taught me to trust other human beings, and trust them against the odds. He showed to me that it is absolutely okay to be hurt, and it is okay to be cheated by others too: his wisdom given to me was that it was better to give credit of trust to those around you, and possibly get disappointed, rather than allowing your fears winning over you, but potentially overlooking wonderful moments with fellow humans.
Now, my best teacher has left my life in Thailand, and is preparing for his freedom in Canada. When we talked to each other for the last time, hours before his detention, we were both clearly emotional. This is when Tahir told me that he was very grateful to have met me, and that he did not know how he could thank me for giving him a new life. Yet it is me, who owes my life to him, at least, if not more, in the same way, he thinks he owes his life to me. Just like you, I do not know how to thank you, Tahir, for all what you have done and you continue doing to me. I am the luckiest person on earth to have met you and I will always be grateful to you for looking after me, for being my teacher and for being such a kind person, without conditions. I am thrilled of the opportunities, the future may bring to you, and I just hope that the last harsh experience that the Thai authorities have prepared for you will not be too difficult to handle. Thank you, my friend. I will miss your company dearly!
And who says that boys do not cry?
On Monday, I am travelling to Jakarta in Indonesia for two days, where I am going to be participating in discussions over future of urban refugees in the country. Discussions will be held with UNHCR, but also members of civil society, NGOs, UN agencies, diplomatic community and members of the Indonesian Government. I am quite looking forward to it, and hope that we will be able to advocate that refugees and people in need of international protection should not be seen as burden, but given care and attention so that they can thrive and become independent fast. Keep your fingers crossed, so that the conversations go well.
I will be back to Bangkok on Wednesday, say hello to Tahir again, and prepare for a trip to Bangladesh, where I am going to go on Thursday for 2 weeks. As in previous months, my trip to Dhaka is related to supporting our humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis. It is also, when I am in Bangladesh, Tahir will go to the detention centre… It will be hard not to be with him, but then, I have managed to arrange a widespread support for him (from many of our friends) who will be visiting him daily, when I am not here.
I should be back to Bangkok at the end of July, and the plan is that I will be both visiting Tahir in the IDC (until he leaves), and also bid him a farewell at the airport on 15th August!
Next 5 weeks will be definitely stressful and lots of changes will happen around here. A good thing is that all the changes are for the best, at the end, and this keeps me happy and going. In any case, keep your fingers crossed for the time to fly fast!
I have been dreaming to be able to write this email for so many years… Now, the dream is becoming a reality. Tahir has been granted his refugee resettlement visa, and he will be travelling to Canada 15th August (provisional date of his flight ticket).
There are so many of you that made this joyful day possible to arrive. We would like to thank you for being a part of this amazingly difficult but also enjoyable journey for everything that you have done. We would not be able to get here (really mean it), had it not be for your support. While there are so many things that you have done for both of us, I would like to list just a things for what we are we are grateful (so you realise how much you have done):
- Continuous support and belief of my mum and dad and reassuring me that supporting Tahir in his efforts of becoming a free person is the only right thing to do!
- Continuous support of Tahir’s parents in Pakistan for showing trust in me, and supporting us in in the ways that they could in their circumstances. Very grateful for continuous prayers and best wishes that they offered for the cause, for Tahir and for me!
- Continuous support of our multiple Thai and foreign friends living in Thailand, for trying to find ways to make Tahir’s life a bit safer and more bearable and for giving us encouragement when things were very low and depressing!
- Wonderful support of friends in Pakistan for showing Tahir that not everyone in Pakistan is against the Ahmadis and that there are many, many wonderful people in Pakistan, who oppose hatred! A special and big, big thank you goes to my Pakistani friend, whom I used to work in my organisation for helping us arranging practical things that we needed to deal with in Pakistan (and our eternal gratitude for helping Tahir’s mum in need)!
- Amazing Ahmadiyya friends/refugees in Bangkok for giving us advice on how to lead a life of a refugee in Bangkok safely, how to overcome the injustice with a smile and for teaching me humility that there are always things that one can do to make things a bit better!
- Continuous support from refugee professionals in Thailand for giving us advice on how to keep Tahir safer and preparing us for interviews, helping us with applications, etc…
- Amazing support from our Australian friends for doing an incredible work in trying to resettle Tahir to Australia. Australia may not have worked out for him, but your determination and amazing commitment filled us with hope, and love. A big, big and special thank you goes to our special friend, whom I used to work with and who did not hesitate to offer her unconditional help, the moment that we thought there was a slim opportunity to bring Tahir to the country. We may not have succeeded, but we will never forget all the wonderful passion and encouragement!
- Amazing support from our Polish friends for doing exactly the same as our Australian friends tried doing – with a very, very special thank you going to the Catholic nun, who decided to stand for Tahir and advocate for him in front of various institutions; to the amazing lawyer from Warsaw, who tried helping us overcoming legal hurdles in whatever way he could (free of charge), to journalists of Wiez magazine, who made Tahir’s case being known to the people of Poland and for believing in us until the end; to many friends that proved that overwhelming anti-refugee paranoia in Poland is far from being universal!
- Support and commitment from our Swiss friends (especially one family), who decided trying sponsoring him to come to Switzerland and supported us throughout the process. It did prove too difficult to get Tahir to Switzerland, but we are grateful for your compassion and support!
- Continuous and amazing support of my colleagues and friends in my own organisation. I can’t express enough how grateful I am for you bearing with me, listening to me when I was low when I was stressed, for making me smile, for helping me arranging my professional life in a way that I could still look after and support Tahir throughout all these years.
- Continuous support of hundreds (I mean hundreds) friends globally for helping us meeting financial needs for lodging Tahir’s application to Canada, for continuously expressing your solidarity in multiple ways, for not giving up on us, for giving us advice, for visiting us here in Thailand and making us feel appreciated and supported!
- Finally, a very, very big THANK YOU goes to our multiple friends in Canada! I can’t express how profoundly grateful we are to our Tahir’s application sponsors – 3 wonderful couples, who did not hesitate creating the legal entity/group (called Group of Five) that has been responsible for piloting Tahir’s case in front of Canadian authorities and took the responsibility to look after his well-being when he finally reaches Toronto. You have been instrumental in making this dream of making Tahir a free human being come true! A big, THANK YOU goes to Tahir’s teacher – who has worked with him for nearly a year now – preparing Tahir (over Skype) for his arrival to the country (teaching him English, helping him grasping Canada’s culture, and the country’s peculiarities).
As his departure from Thailand is slowly becoming a reality, I can’t resist reflecting about all these things that have happened within last four years. If there is anything more that I can write is that I am sure that Tahir will be a great resident of Canada and I think that Canada is lucky having him, the same way as he is lucky to go to Canada. I know that when he is allowed to walk free, he will do all what he can to contribute in making our world a little better for all of us! Things will still be tough and difficult for him, we know it – but I am sure that he will just do great. Once again, thank you ALL for making it possible!
Sending you all warmest regards and hugs,
Roman (and Tahir)
Right after returning from holidays, I will be travelling to Jakarta, where I will participate in the UNHCR advocacy/awareness raising event on urban refugees living in Indonesian cities. UNHCR will show the movie featuring lives of the refugees in the country, which will be followed by the discussions on what we can all collectively do to make the lives of the refugees a bit easier and more bearable. As the event will be attended by the officials from the Government of Indonesia, we hope that we will all be able to engage in some good conversations that may lead with policy changes that will be beneficials to those who needed to flee their homes in search of safety and protection.
After a considerable amount of time in Dhaka, I am now back to Bangkok for a little over a week. While being here, I managed to have my medical check-up and start planning a possible departure of Tahir from Thailand. We are still not there yet, but with the Embassy of Canada advising us that his case is now having a final review by the resettlement officer, things may go very fast, and we need to be prepared for things to be developing within days, or weeks.
I am feeling very tired these days… too many things happen too unexpectedly and fast. I am therefore glad that I will have a week off at the end of June (after returning from Bangladesh). Together with Tahir, we started looking at the map of Thailand planning what we may want to do. It may well be one of the last trips in this country together, if he indeed departs for Canada soon!
It seems that I will carry on being involved in Bangladesh programmes for a while, that is until we manage to recruit a new person for whose position I am filling in (Head of Office for Bangladesh). That may take additional 6 weeks or so - meaning that I will spend considerable amount of time in Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar - with some short trips to Bangkok (to make sure that I provide a minimum attention to my ‘usual’ tasks in Thailand, and that I check on Tahir).
Talking of my responsibilities in Thailand, I am travelling to Bangkok on 12th June, so that I can participate in a panel discussion that is going to be arranged by UNHCR on the situation of the refugees in Bangkok and other cities of the country. The discussion will arranged for members of the Thai government, international community, and civil society organisations. The idea is that we will try to open up discussions that we would like to end up in a massive changes of legal framework in Thailand that would legalise the asylum seekers/refugees in the country in one or another way. While this is a professional engagement, the issue is very dear to me because of Tahir. It is Tahir that made me understand and appreciate how incredibly difficult on every level the lives of refugees in Thailand are… and it is him who motivates me to push for the needed changes in the way that I can from my own professional and personal perspective. I will report on the event next week.
Tahir is in the middle of his medical check-ups/vaccinating. He is now ready with the investigations, but still needs to receive some vaccines. He is scheduled to finish all on 20th June. Once all is completed, his medical file will be sent to the Canadian authorities for their evaluation. Then we will be waiting for the final decision on his resettlement, and hopefully for the date of his travel to Canada!
I look forward to hearing from you in one or another way. You may always reach me via this email: firstname.lastname@example.org, in case you wish to do that!
I hope that this email finds you well!
A few months have passed without news from here, so I thought that it was time for a short update from me.
I will start off from some potentially positive news. A little over a week ago, Tahir was approached by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and invited to attend his medical check up, which took place a few days ago. A fact that IOM got in touch with him suggests that Tahir’s criminality and security checks (related to his resettlement to Canada) had been successful (Canada does not ask IOM to perform medical check-ups before these checks are completed successfully). Our understanding is that the medical check-up is the last step, before the final resettlement offer is given. Although, we have not secured the final resettlement decision yet, we are obviously very, very happy. If all goes according to plan, the Canadians should have all results of the medical tests around end of June (the medical procedures actually take time, as they involve obligatory vaccinations that are administered over the period of 4 weeks). After the receipt of the medical results, the Canadian authorities will need between 4 to 12 weeks to issue Tahir’s travel documents (assuming that he will have a positive decision). That means that we may see Tahir packing and travelling to Canada in August/September! ❤️❤️❤️ Please your fingers crossed that all goes well!
While we are optimistic about the resettlement progress, we are slightly worried about Tahir’s mum. She has been ill for some years, but recently her health deteriorated. We are not sure at this stage what the health issue is, but she stopped walking. Getting help that she needs is quite complicated. As you may remember Tahir’s family belongs to a Muslim religious minority that is called Ahmadyyia. Unfortunately, the Ahmadis are subjected to a severe persecution in Pakistan (very reason, why Tahir needed to flee the country), which manifests itself in various ways. Access to medical services (especially for a poor and illiterate woman, as Tahir’s mum is) is constrained too. Fear of not being accepted by the doctor, lack of money, physical distance to a decent health facility all contribute… This is why Tahir’s mum has never been able to visit a proper specialist and has not been diagnosed properly. However, like in many seemingly hopeless situations, there are amazing people that are willing to go an extra mile or two to help! Together with some wonderful friends, we started looking around to see how we could find someone try finding the sources of illness and suffering. The people that we connected with have been absolutely amazing and helped us find some of the best facilities in the province where Tahir’s mother lives. Not only this, we managed to find a doctor that has already called his mum and reassured her that she was going to be safe and comfortable with her. She also agreed to make all necessary tests without charging any consultation fees, and committed that she will try to be as helpful as she can be. Not only this, our Pakistani friends promised to help us in making all transfers of funds that may arise (there may be some expenses beyond the consultation fees) during the process! Clearly we are so grateful and happy to our friends (they know, who they are)… A BIG, BIG THANK YOU! Mum is scheduled to travel to hospital, most probably on Thursday. Please keep your fingers crossed that we figure our how to help her, and that we will be able to actually make Tahir’s mother a little bit better!
Professionally, I have been heavily involved in Bangladesh projects for quite some weeks. As you may know Bangladesh hosts nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, and is home to the largest refugee camp in the world (if you are not aware of it, please google up ‘Kutupalong mega-camp&rsquo. Working on this crisis is a real emotional drain. The level of misery and suffering that the Rohingya and Bangladeshi host communities go through is so immense that is difficult to describe… Visiting the camps, reading about the challenges, and then trying doing something that would at least minimally eased the situation is a roller-coaster. One day you are happy with very small successes – that may be important at a given time, then next moment you get depressed when you realise that these small advances actually do not solve the overall situation and are not going to end the sources of the crisis. The humanitarians may be successful (to a smaller or bigger degree) in providing basic life sustaining services – or even successful in actual saving some lives, but we are absolutely not equipped in fixing the problem. It is the mighty and powerful world decision makers that need to make the change happen. Sadly today, in my mind, we do not see a lot of signs that the change will come, which means that the most likely scenario is that we will see the crisis continue for years to come.
Personally, I have restarted my Portuguese lessons. I have skype lessons with my new amazing teacher, who is based in Lisbon. I am enjoying them tremendously, and always look forward to them. The lessons are not only stimulating, but make me feel happy about having my little place in Portugal!
I am trying to plan some of my holiday movements for next months, but it proves to be challenging, as we still do not know when exactly Tahir may be able to travel Canada, and there are still quite lack of clarity over how much of my time I would need to invest in supporting our Bangladesh projects (which involves frequent trips there). I hope however that I will be able to travel to Europe (Poland and Portugal) sometime soonish! I guess that I would also travel to Tornonto too, so that I can make sure that we all welcome him in his new country, when the time is due!
I miss hearing from you! Please do forgive me not being in touch often enough. I guess my age is catching up with me, and I do get tired quicker than some years ago 😉.
Sending hugs to all of you! Roman (and Tahir says hello too)'
Staying with Tahir: his mum, who is in Pakistan, has become ill. We do not know what the problem is, but she can now hardly walk, and her condition is getting worse. Being a poor, and an uneducated person from a religious minority does not make things easier to help her. Access to medical services is limited. This is mainly out of fear that one will be mistreated, if the doctor, nurse, etc., will find out what one's religion is (which is not that unlikely). Also poverty and consequently, lack of education, makes you more vulnerable, as you do not know what your rights may be. Tahir’s mum for example, was already brave enough to visit a doctor in her little town, but all what the doctor did was giving her multivitamins, even if it was clear that she was seriously ill. He just did not bother helping, and only wanted to make sure that he receives his fees. She was obviously too shy, or possibly even unaware that this was not fair, and that the doctor simply did not do a good job (either intentionally or not). Bottom line is that we wasted lots of time, before we found out that nothing was done to investigate the source of her problem, and that she was not treated adequately at all. It all resulted with her health deteriorating further (while taking her multivitamin pills). We do however, potentially, have some reason for hope now. A very good friend of ours, who is in Pakistan started helping us out in admitting Tahir’s mum to a very good hospital in Lahore (not far from where she lives). She reassured us that Tahir’s mum would be well treated, and the doctors in that establishment are all open minded, and do not mind treating patients of various backgrounds and religion. Not only this. They also said that they would not charge us for the service and would do whatever they can to help, until she feels better! She should be admitted to the hospital still this week, and hopefully, soon we will be able to plan what we could do to make her feel a little bit better! Watch this space for more updates, as they are likely to come soon!
Finally, just a day before I was about to leave Dhaka for Bangkok, I had a small incident in Bangladesh. When I had my lunch, I consumed a hard object that somehow ended up inside my sandwich (as it turned out, it was a small nail/hook). I will spare you all the drama and details, but just mention that the whole situation ended up in emergency endoscopy and colonoscopy and two days in the hospital. Luckily all ended up well, and I am now in Bangkok recovering and getting better!
What a week!
Each time it rains, I am also getting scared though. Just 300 km south of Dhaka, we have one of the largest concentration of refugees in the world, living in camps that are among muddy and sandy hills. As you may expect, there is no proper infrastructure to withstand bad weather. Each rain session there potentially means floods and landslides - which can kill people, block roads - and thus access to basic services, and compromise sanitation systems - contributing to a possibilities of spreading diseases such as cholera… We are bound for the disaster in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. A part of optimistic me hopes things will not be that bad, but the optimism is based on nothing but wishful thinking. Things are very likely to be bad, and we may be experiencing emergencies within emergencies… Scary indeed.
I am going to be travelling to Cox’s Bazar and visiting the camps this week. The main reason for the visit will be an attempt of understanding what else we all could do to minimise the suffering of people, when the bad weather becomes a reality in the area.
On another note, we are still waiting for the news from the Canadians with regards to Tahir’s security and criminality clearances. I still have not managed to control being anxious. I wished so much that we already have some answers!
You may well remember that Bangladesh is home to around 1,000,000 Rohingya refugees, who keep on fleeing persecution from their home authorities. The Rohingya treatment by the Myanmar authorities is widely documented and presented by various international and local human rights groups/organisations - most of them accusing the Myanmar authorities for committing major crimes against humanity (in some cases, even accusing the authorities to being guilty of committing war crimes).
Yet, the Rohingya in Bangladesh still suffer a lot. Despite a fact that the authorities of Bangladesh are trying to do what they can to help, having 1,000,000 people who are desperately poor, arriving to the country, which faces lots of issues relating to overcrowding and extreme poverty of its own residents, is overwhelming, to say the least. So the work of the humanitarian agencies working in the camps is still mainly focusing on trying to find solutions to help the refugees and the indigenous population of Bangladesh to simply survive. When I write ‘survive’ I genuinely mean it: it is about having access to water, food, basic health, basic sanitation… It is not yet about bringing comforts, we are really talking about bare necessities.
Even if working in camps around Cox’s Bazar is often depressing, I love being there, and I truly enjoy working in Bangladesh. The misery that one witnesses in the camps also displays a different side of humanity: it shows how wonderful the humans can be to one another in desperate situations. Perhaps, from my perspective, it sounds arrogant to write (as I do have anything I may possibly need to lead a comfortable life), but seeing people sacrificing themselves to support one another, gives hope that we are still capable of being kind to one another, even in an environment that is seemingly hopeless. So, as I am a bit scared of what I am about to experience in Bangladesh. I am full of hope and enthusiasm too.
As usual, I will write about what I experience soon. Until this happens, sending to all of you my sincere regards!
The week here has been filled up with hundreds of reflections and sighs such as: ‘oh gosh, this is such a beautiful place’, or ‘my goodness, I can’t believe that I am that lucky to be able to call this place my home’, or ‘I love Portugal’, and so on and so forth… Goes without saying that I am really happy to have made this country my base. The people here are really friendly, it is spectacularly beautiful, peaceful and comfortable in the same time. There are hardly any criticism that I can think of at the moment. Portugal really seems to be working for me.
Except shopping for furniture and items that I need to make my life comfortable in my new place, I have made sure to spend time walking and driving around my neighbourhood and vicinities around Óbidos. The town itself is just spectacular, but all villages and smaller municipalities are all gems - very often undiscovered by large scale tourism, and thus retaining lots of old and traditional charm. It is difficult to put in words how beautiful the area is, so I thought that I would encourage you to visit this gallery with my pictures, so that you can have a little taste of central-western part of Portugal.
But all what is good needs to finish. I am now slowly preparing to go back to Thailand and then off to Bangladesh soon after. Despite loving it here, I am looking forward to be meeting Tahir soon, and checking on how he is doing there. I am already travelling on Friday, so I guess that my next update will already be written in Asia.
Look forward to Portugal very much, however short the trip there is going to be. There will be pictures and reports, so keep following!
Dealing with forced migration and other humanitarian issues in the regions has made me very, very tired. I am now ready for a break and recharging batteries. Luckily, my holidays start this weekend!
I will first spend 3 days with Tahir in eastern Thailand’s Rayong. A quiet town on the seaside. Then, on Monday evening will depart for Vienna, and then later to Lisbon. From Lisbon will take a car to my beloved Obidos! I will spend in Portugal around 10 days. You even can’t imagine how happy this makes me!
So even if quite exhausted now, looking forward to, hopefully, some nice and relaxing days ahead. Then, I will submerge in Bangladesh, but this deserves a separate post altogether.
First of all, some of you know that we have had some positive development on Tahir’s resettlement on Canada front. After many, many months of waiting, around 10 weeks ago, we received an email from the Canadian authorities urging Tahir to report to the Embassy of Canada to Thailand for an interview. Obviously, this made us extremely excited, but also nervous, as the above mentioned interview, in many ways, one of the two most important steps of the resettlement process. The interviews are meant to confirm that decisions of granting an applicant a right to resettle to Canada are justified, and cross-check information that applicants provide in their applications are actually truthful and genuine.
Although, Tahir and I were quite confident that things should go well and right, given that Tahir’s case is genuine and had been explained in various documents of the application pack, we were also nervous. Being a bit of a drama queen myself, I immediately was able to work out at least 10 catastrophic scenarios what could possibly go wrong, with some options including Tahir’s not being able to get to the embassy due to being unlucky and falling sick, or being detained by the police, or having a really nasty interviewer, whose job was to make Tahir nervous, and find any excuse to turn his application down.
The interview went on for hours… during this time, Tahir did not have access to his phone, and obviously could not communicate with anyone outside of the embassy. As you rightly guessed, I was in absolute panic, and started considering whether I should actually call the embassy to enquire what was happening to him. Luckily, when contemplating some of the stupid actions, Tahir called. His voice sounded happy, which filled me with joy. As I later found out, the interview was very thorough, but extremely friendly. After many, many questions, Tahir was told that the interviewer was satisfied with the answers, and that he should now be awaiting a call for an invitation for his medical check-up – which, de facto, meant that he was successful! There was a lot of joy that followed that evening!
After all of the excitement relating to Tahir’s interview, I was called to travel to Fiji and Tonga in the Pacific to help assessing the humanitarian needs caused by the cyclone that hit the region. While hoping between the islands of the two nations, Tahir was called by the Embassy of Canada again and was asked to visit them for taking his biometric data, which will be used for his vetting and then possibly for his travel documents. The appointment was fixed within a few days, and cleared without any major issues.
So the status for today is that Tahir’s case seems to be accepted for his resettlement to Canada (provisionally), and the final decision will be taken based on his successful clearance of terrorist, security and health vetting. We understand that the actual vetting procedure has started and are now anxious to hear about the outcome sometime soon.
Assuming that we have a positive answer from the Government of Canada, we will be able to start the actual resettlement preparations. Here, we know that there are going to be new and not-so-nice challenges from the Government of Thailand (the Thai authorities are not too keen on letting people go, if they have ‘overstayed’ their visas), but we will be able to overcome them, even if some prospects are not nice at all (I will write you an email on this on another occasion).
On an optimistic note, you should appreciate to read that one of Tahir’s friend (in a similar situation to Tahir) recently managed to arrive to Canada. He was a refugee from Pakistan and he was an Ahmadi, and was sponsored to Canada via the same channel that we are using. He applied for resettlement some months before Tahir, and all things worked for him. As he arrived to Calgary in early March, he is feeling very, very cold, but also equally happy ☺.
So, lots of positive developments, but yet still more challenges to come. Please keep on supporting us, as wonderfully as you have done so far, and on our side, we will keep you updated with the news. You all guys know that without you, and your encouragement, we would not be able to get that far. We both genuinely thank you very, very much, and humbly ask to keep on giving us your strength, advice and all forms of support!
Finally, for many of you, April is a time of festivities, so will be May. Please have the most wonderful time with your families and friends!
Sending hugs and best regards,
Roman and Tahir
Then, finally I got a bit clearer what my plans will be for next two months. It appears that next week, I will be at the HEAT course (see the earlier post), and then will go for a short mission to southern part of Thailand to visit some of the refugee detention centres in Songhla Province. After a busy end of March, it is a holiday time in early April! The plans is that I am going to spend most of my time in Portugal, but also a day in Vienna of Austria, and some days here in Thailand (right before reporting back to work). In the middle of April, I will be deployed with a mission to Bangladesh again. I will be between Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar for a month. As you all know, I have a very soft spot for Bangladesh, and I love the country very much, so it all makes me quite happy.
Some busy time, filled with lots of travels ahead! Will be reporting and taking pictures. Hope you all have a good weekend, which is just about to start!
Worrying about things that I cannot change makes me stressed out about things that are far less important, and easy to deal with. I am for example confronted with a possibility of being deployed in emergency in Bangladesh. Decisions are however not taken, and there is a bit of unknown, where I am going to be next week, or month. Normally, I would not be that bothered with it, in fact, I actually enjoy this kind of lifestyle, where things change and things surprise you, but now this unknown makes me feel uneasy and worried. Perhaps it is ageing, or perhaps I am experiencing what a lot of people with dependants do? Perhaps I just worry about a well being of a person who, I know, is vulnerable and needs my support for some time to come? Whatever it is, I am feeling a bit miserable.
There is some very good news too though! My trip to Tonga a few weeks ago seems to have resulted with some extra funds to the people affected by the devastating cyclone that hit the country. It is now official that we are supporting our support to the humanitarian response has gone up from €100K to €400K! This really makes me happy, as I am convinced that many communities in this small country do need some quick aid until the reconstruction programmes of the Government of Tonga will eventually reach the people.
Perhaps, the news relating to our programmes in the Pacific should be a good lesson: it is better to focus on positives at hand, rather than at stressful unknowns that have a chance to turn out to be positive at the end.
As the night approaches in Bangkok, I would like to wish you all a very good week!
As I still have images of ancient temples in my mind, I am preparing for a busy week, a part of which will be a trip to Jakarta, where I am going to go on Wednesday. As I mentioned previously, I am going there to ponder about access to victims of humanitarian disasters in countries of Asia. More on this, right after I am ready with my meetings, at the end of the week.
After returning from the north, I will have a busy week. Monday and Tuesday in Bangkok, finalising technical details of my trip to the Pacific, and then on Wednesday off to Jakarta of Indonesia, where I will be working on issues relating to urban refugees in South East Asian countries, and participate in talks with colleagues from International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) on humanitarian access across countries in Asia. Very interesting and important, given that more often than not it is difficult to reach people in humanitarian distress. Lack of access often relates to physical obstacles (blocked roads, lack of transport, etc.), but also to lack of willingness from authorities to allow humanitarians witness the suffering of the residents they are in charge of. We will be discussing how to go about such obstacles in an effective and safe way.
We do have some more progress on Tahir’s application to move to Canada. When I was in the Pacific, he was invited to collect his biometric data, so that he could later be issued travel documents: one more step towards the end of the process!
In the meanwhile, greetings to everyone!
In order to seed up the humanitarian response to anticipated needs that people of Tonga and Fiji may have, I am set to travel first to Suva and then to Nuku’alofa tomorrow.
I am likely to be in the Pacific for around 10 days. I will therefore not be going to Mongolia for a time being.
Depending on my access to the Internet, I will be reporting my whereabouts and experiences, as the mission goes on.
The other day, I was thinking about his potential prospects in Canada. If he makes it there, it will surely be exciting, but also difficult. Settling in a new country is always complex. Surely, there will be lots of exciting experiences: learning new culture, meeting new friends, getting to know his new country. But then, there will be frustrations too: needing to catch up on so many levels, needing to make decisions on how involved he wants to be with his community versus embracing and opening to people from other communities and cultures, dealing with loneliness and homesickness. There may be financial worries, and many other challenges, Despite all these, I hope that he will be allowed to go trough all these exciting and frustrating stuff, free from a fear of hatred for whom he is, or he is not, not needing to worry about not being considered ‘legal’. He deserves it this privilege the same way that all the other human beings do.
So the waiting game continues, while we keep our hopes for his future high.
On another note, I am preparing for my work related travel to Mongolia. I will be travelling to Ulaanbaatar, and then to the eastern part of the country next Sunday. While in Mongolia, we will be looking at the impact of the project that we support and that is meant to help the nomadic communities of herders to better cope with severe winter weather hazards (known as dzud).
I really needed some time in the island, so that I could think of plans for next few months. Tahir’s potential prospects of resettlement will bring lots of work in coming weeks, some stress, lots of changes, and hopefully lots of joy at the end. We need to prepare for all of this really well.
The beginning of the year brought us some changes into our work too, so I was strategising my work priorities too. I will now be focusing less on particular countries, but then will get involved in policy and advocacy work that will involve the whole region of South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific. Much of my work will go to issues around forced displacement, refugee movements, and disaster risk reduction and response to disasters. Serenity of Ko Si Chang was somehow helpful to look at all the challenges with some peace of mind, and allowed to re-charge the batteries.
Now, it is time to start preparing my next professional mission, which is likely to be Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia!
I am also preparing for my next mission to Mongolia. If all goes according to the plan, I should be travelling to Ulaanbaatar in February. I will however write about these plans a little bit later. Today, it is time to celebrate Tahir’s success!
The island is precious. It is big enough not to get bored, but still cosy and not overdeveloped and overcrowded. Definitely, one of the nicest places in the country, which I have seen so far. We are taking lots of pictures, and will soon post them for you to admire!
Another excitement is that Tahir received a message from the Embassy of Canada, inviting him for an interview - the next important step towards his potential resettlement to Canada. The interview will take place still in January. We are a bit nervous, but hopeful! Keep your fingers crossed!
So I woke up to this nice 1st day of 2018, and now planning with Tahir, where we are going to take our guests. This is a rather pleasant start of the year! I shall definitely report, how the visit goes! Happy New Year everyone!
While worried with the state of our planet, I subscribe to the spirit of the SG’s appeal, and hope that it is not too late to act to have our planet saved for all of us to live peacefully and prosperously.
2017 was full special. It was not easy, but it was special. I am not sorry that it finishing, and I hope that 2018 will be much better to all of us! Happy New Year!
P.S.: The map shows my travel interactions in 2017 (at least the ones that I undertook by plane).
P.S. 2: Very excited that my Icelandic friends and Mum are coming here to Thailand next week!
All in all, I need to drop plans and start packing to travel to Mindanao tomorrow. We need to assess the damages quick, so that we can channel the funds to organisations that provide humanitarian assistance.
A man has to do, what a man has to do…
This year, I am going to spend my time in Bangkok, and celebrate the holidays with family and friends there! The Christmas weekend will be easy going, with lots of food and chats at home, but also at my friends’ place. Together with Tahir, we will also travel out of Bangkok a bit.
While there are not immediate plans for the New Year’s Eve, lots of excitement should happen in early January. A friend of mine Marta with her daughter Bebba will make it to Bangkok all the way from Akureyri in Iceland, and then, a few days later, my mother will join us from Nowy Sacz of Poland too! We will spend considerable amount of time together - enjoying each other’s company and exploring the beauties of Thailand!
I am am happy to get excited by the prospects of being with people that I care about and love, also to counter-balance all the negative experiences that I have in relation to world’s politics. The news messages that reach us from the politicians back home in Poland, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Middle East or really worrying statements coming from the United Nations General Assembly (yesterday, I had a feeling that the world’s politicians are gearing up for the WW3, when listening to reports coming from New York) make me really upset. So I was just thinking to myself that now it was more important than ever to appreciate small moments of our lives enjoy time that we have left with people that are important to us.
I hope that you all have some good plans ahead of you!
Christmas is just around the corner and then New Year is coming soon after! On this occasion, I would like to wish you all a very, very peaceful, and relaxing holiday with people that you love and care about and doing things that make you happy! Merry Christmas!
I also would like to wish you a very successful and prosperous 2018! I hope that the New Year will bring you satisfaction and that you will all have some of your dreams come true! May 2018 be filled with great people; personal and professional projects that you are all proud of!
2017 has been an eventful year for me, with November bringing sadness of my dad’s passing away. I will miss dad terribly, but I am relieved that he will not need to suffer pain anymore. May he rest in peace!
The year was also full of other experiences – many of which were wonderful, while the other ones less so.
I guess the most exciting one was a fact of succeeding buying a house in Portugal! After months of searching, and administrative hurdles, I finally can call myself an owner of the property in Obidos. I should actually write that I am a ‘co-owner’, as the house that is owned with a very dear friend of mine – and it is the project that we both participate in! I hope that as time goes on, you will all have a chance to visit. The place is big enough to have guests! Obidos and the surroundings are really spectacular. The municipality is situated just 70 km north-west of Lisbon, and is easily reachable from the airport. It is a medieval town that is registered by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage sites. It is just stunningly beautiful, and you can appreciate some of pictures here: www.obidos.pt (there is an English version of the site as well). The surroundings of Obidos are equally exciting, with some spectacular nature and architecture. When you add splendid weather, great food and wine… the place becomes completely irresistible! I really hope, you would be able to come and visit!
Another piece of good news relates to Tahir. You may remember me writing about it already some weeks ago. After a long period of waiting, we found out that the Immigration of Canada has granted his official sponsors (referred to as Group of 5 (G5)) a right to resettle him to Toronto. This is not yet a final success, and there is still some work and lots of waiting to be done, but essentially what the decision means is that the G5 is authorised to sponsor Tahir, given that Tahir successfully manages to go through a vetting process. The vetting process to which I am referring to, will include the Canadian authorities conducting an interview with him in Bangkok, as well as checking whether his UNHCR refugee status is real. They will also need to verify whether Tahir is not a threat to Canadian security. Tahir would also need to undergo his medical examination, and finally wait for his travel documents to be processed. Still sounds like a lot of work, but the vetting process is less stressful than actual waiting for the decision on whether he would be allowed to be sponsored at all. Things still can go wrong, but then we are hopeful that we will okay in getting him to Canada eventually. This should be the case, given that everything what we claimed in his application is genuine. We all hope that we will be able to see further progress on his case in 2018. Please keep your fingers crossed for Tahir and us! Once again, I would like to thank you with my whole heart, for the support that you are extending to us to help us secure Tahir’s better future! You are all wonderful!
My work has been a source of immense satisfaction for me, albeit many dramatic situations that my job confronted me with. I kept on travelling extensively around Asia and was involved in various projects: with work in Mongolia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar and Bangladesh all being in the focus of my attention. Perhaps, the experiences around the conflict in western Myanmar and the massive exodus of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people to Bangladesh requires some special mentioning from me. Suffering of Rohingya and passionate attempts to help them by countless others in Myanmar, Bangladesh and other parts of the world are both horrific and wonderful in the same time. When we all celebrate during this holiday period, let us spare a thought on fate of the refugees or displaced in all corners of the world. The displaced are too often marginalised, and their needs are misunderstood by many of our governments, media outlets that we use, various organisations and societies that we are parts of.
October 2017 was also marked by an opportunity that I was given to participate in an excellent training/course in Colombo of Sri Lanka. The training was arranged and conducted by UN OCHA team (in cooperation with other organisations) and dealt with issues relating to provision of effective humanitarian response to victims of catastrophes (whatever the sources of such catastrophes may be) by both civilian and military actors. You may easily imagine that mandates of civilian aid agencies and military organisations are often conflicting… So, it is necessary to set up clear rules on how to work together to be able to deliver aid that is effective, but also sensitive to needs of all those who need them. The course explored just that. An excellent and inspiring exercise that should become a necessity to all of us involved in humanitarian work in a professional manner.
There are so many other things that are worth mentioning and reflecting on, but perhaps I should stop here with those few highlights that I have written about. Perhaps, I should just underline that 2017 has been marked with lots of amazing friendships. I also experienced support from many, many people from various parts of the world and walks of life, which is really fantastic and encouraging. I should only hope that 2018 will be equally lucky and somehow happy.
Warmest regards to all of you, wherever you may be in the world,
After returning from my Dad’s funeral, I had a rather busy time at work, but also lots of things kept on happening in my personal life. In Bangkok we had a visit of Paula - one of Tahir’s resettlement sponsors. We had a chance to spend some time together and travel within Bangkok and Chonburi. What was the best is that Tahir had a chance to get to know here a bit more, which is important, given that he is likely to interact with Paula and her family and friends, when he finally makes it to Canada.
I am still trying to come to terms with Dad’s departure. It feels numb often, and I keep on being worried about Mum a great deal. She seems to be doing okay, but I keep worrying. Great news is that she is coming to visit us in Bangkok soon, and we will be able to spend time together.
There are some exciting news from work. It seems like I will start following programmes in Tajikistan, Kazakstan, Kirgistan and Turkmenistan in 2018. I am really thrilled and excited. It will be challenging, as I know relatively little about this part of Asia, but also very exciting, as I will hopefully be able to learn a whole lot about new places!
Hope you all have a great time preparing for Christmas and New Year!
I remember learning about my father’s death, right after I visited one of the refugee camps for the Rohingya people in Bangladesh (fleeing violence in Myanmar). When I was there, together with my work colleagues we had a chance to learn about the fate of some of the Rohingya ladies, who bravely gave us their account of what had happened to them before they reached the camps of Bangladesh. One of them explained to us that the soldiers came to her little hut in western Myanmar, killed her husband with a machine gun, took her little baby boy, smashed his head against the stone, then threw him in a fire. After all these horrors she was gang-raped and ‘allowed’ to go. Yes, I realise that what I am writing is an extreme that most of people will never experience, yet… this happened to a woman, to a human being that we talked to just days before my own father’s death.
I still do not know how to comprehend the story of the woman, whom I did not know, but touched me so profoundly and the story of my father passing - the man that was dear to me and I loved. War and peace, privilege and destitution, wealth and extreme poverty…
So I am sad, and I am saying good bye to my father whom I loved, and to the Rohingya man and the baby, whom I have never met, but are somehow important to me too. Rest in Peace Good People! So long, until we meet together!
I will be busy on my return. Things have piled up, and I will need to plan a trip to Myanmar and the Philippines. Then, I also have some TV interviews to be done in Bangkok - in relation to our project supporting refugees in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Together with Tahir, we will be welcoming some guests too. First of all, our Canadian friends (who are also Tahir’s sponsors for the resettlement to Toronto) will come in December. Then in January, my mother from Poland will come, and also a dear friend of mine from Iceland, whom I studied together ages ago in Denmark. Really exciting and excited by it, and definitely look forward to it and will be reporting on all these activities here in this blog.
So we are travelling around Jelenia Gora, Karpacz and parts of northern parts of the Czech Republic, as well as eastern Germany. We visit places that he enjoyed himself and he always wanted to go.
I am writing this post from Karpacz - a beautiful spa town in Silesia region. Tomorrow, we are off to visit Dresden in Germany, where we will try visiting the town’s Christmas market.
Hope you are all doing well!
Feeling incredibly sad to be travelling home and to know that I will not meet this man, that we are not going to crack a joke together, or get frustrated at the politicians. Feeling sad that I will not hear from him that he was proud of my work, and what I do. Then I also feel a sense of a relief. Last few weeks he suffered tremendously. The cancer indeed conquered his whole body, and it was very painful to see him suffer so much, knowing that we could not do much. It is good that he does not need to feel pain anymore.
Finally, I am excited to be able to see Mum and spend time with her, and make sure that she remembers that I love her beyond reasonable and beyond words!
Life is good. It is sad at times, but life is good!
Thank you for being my Dad. The man, who has cared for me, who looked after me, who believed in me - always. Thank you for being a part of my life, for your kindness and for your amazing sense of humour. I will always miss you, I will always love you - in my own and my special way.
Rest in Peace my dear Papa Maciek!
While there is no doubt that the refugees should be allowed to go back and live peacefully in places that they love and cherish, like many humanitarians working on both sides of the border, I worry. I worry a lot, and here is why:
Given the unspeakable violations of basic human rights that were committed in Myanmar, it goes without saying that most of us simply do not trust the intentions of the authorities of Myanmar. We just do not understand, what has changed that people who have been so badly treated by its own government will all of the sudden be welcome with open arms? Call me over-suspicious, but this worries me a lot.
All repatriation process should be voluntary, safe, dignified, and people should be allowed to go to the places of origin. While the parties to the agreement (Myanmar and Bangladesh) state that this is going to be a case, there is no details on what will be done to ensure that the process is just that. A lot of us know that refugees are not willing to go back, as long as Myanmar would not grant them a right to unconditional citizenship, and would allow the community to refer to themselves as ‘Rohingya’. By any stretch of imagination, this is not going to happen. What will happen then? Will Bangladesh be forcing people to go against their will and fear of further prosecutions in Myanmar?
I even do not know where to start when it comes to issues of safety and dignity. It is just inconceivable how these would be assured with the level of hatred and condemnation that the Rohingya suffer in Myanmar. Our worries are even greater, given that no international agencies such as UNHCR (responsible for issues relating to refugees well-being) are allowed to participate in the process. Are the intentions of the parties to the agreement really genuine? If so, why not allowing the scrutiny of the international body that could oversee the process?
The deal has a potential backlash to the well-being of those who may not be repatriated for whatever reason. Will the authorities allow for delivering aid to NGOs and the UN agencies to people who would choose not to go, or will the refugees be ‘punished’ by being left without assistance, if they do not cooperate.
Finally, given that the deal is between the two countries and does not involve the international community, I wonder where the resources for the dignified repatriation will come from. Who will pay for the transportation, who will provide for food and water to those travelling. Where would the funds come from for rebuilding the burnt houses and infrastructure, who would pay for helping people to rebuild their livelihoods and businesses? Who will look after the orphaned children, old or disabled? For the return to be safe and dignified, we need to think about this.
All in all… I am not optimistic, and I worry that once again, the politicians play with lives of those who are the weakest and defenceless. I wished that the future proved me wrong though!
After a week spent in Bangkok, I will be travelling to Portugal for a quick visit home in Obidos. While, I will need to be involved in some administrative work, I am looking forward to chill out for a bit.
Together with Tahir, we are getting excited, as December is likely to be marked with a visit of 2 of his Canadian resettlement sponsors. I think, it is so great to know that he will have a chance to get to know and interact a bit more with people that will support him, when he finally reaches Toronto.
Finally, I will also be travelling to Myanmar in December too. Clearly, the visit is related to the Rohingya crisis too.
It appears, December we will not slow down in December!
Thank you for being this wonderful woman, who always and unconditionally loves and supports me.
May you have the most wonderful day! May your dreams come true! Happy Birthday!
As you can imagine, we are all very busy preparing the visit. I will be travelling to Cox’s Bazar myself to offer any support that the visit will require. Of course, this will be done with the rest of the team that I work with.
I really hope that the visit will spark some additional attention and will help us in the response to the crisis. I shall definitely inform you how we have managed. In the meanwhile, more on the visit can be found at this link.
Right after Christmas, I will have more holidays to be taken. The plan is that the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 will be together with Tahir and other friends based in Thailand. Isn’t it nice to plan your breaks?
I am likely to be travelling to Cox’s Bazar soon, and once there, I will be able to have some first hand experience on challenges that need to be met by all of us to make sure that people have basics to survive and live in dignity.
Before I report further, I encourage you to spare a moment and read a little on the Rohingya crisis. There are plenty of resources available online.
As my visit to Sri Lanka coincided with my birthday, I decided to treat myself and take a weekend off sightseeing Colombo and some costal villages south of the capital. It was the best thing I could have done… The country is magnificent, nothing short from being breathtaking, and the Sri Lankan people are just wonderfully nice. If you ever have a chance to visit the place, do go! Should you wish to see some pictures from the visit, you may do so under this link.
When in Sri Lanka, we got some good news from the Canadian authorities on Tahir. We received the confirmation that his application has officially entered the vetting process and is now under consideration of the Canadian High Commission in Singapore. While it is difficult to judge how much time it will take to process it, my guess is that we should hear an official answer on whether Tahir will be resettled to Canada or not within next 10 months. Seems long, but when you take things in perspective, it is an exciting development.
The end of the year will surely be busy. In two days, I will be travelling to Dhaka in Bangladesh, and then will also likely to spend some time in December in Myanmar. Both of the visits relate to the Rohingya crisis. I also plan to take my remaining 10 days of holidays before the end of the year, and if this works, there are some potentially nice plans ahead… May go to Portugal again, but also will spend some time in Thailand travelling around the country with Tahir. Some of Tahir’s sponsors from Canada are likely to visit Bangkok too, which will give us a chance to spend sometime together!
I am guessing that my next post will be from Bangladesh. Until that happens, stay well wherever you may be in the world!
Archives (27th October 2017): Civil Military in Humanitarian Action Training in Colombo of Sri Lanka
NGOs and armies are not natural allies necessarily, yet it is often obligatory for organisations that are as different as they are to coordinate to deliver effective and fair aid to people in distress. Humanitarian organisations’ mandate usually responsibilities them to serve the needs of the victims/most vulnerable regardless of the status of the person in need (political affiliation, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), whereas armies, more often than not, serve the interest of the governments that fund them. Sometimes the mandates of NGOs and interests of governments may go together, but this is not always the case. The training is meant to help us understand the differences and synergies of the two types of organisations and train us in bringing them in service of those who need their attention.
Really excited and look forward to next week!
In case, you would like to learn more about some basic issues relating to Civil Military Cooperation, the basic materials and resources can be found on this link of UN OCHA website.
Visiting parents in Poland, and then going to Portugal with mum to experience the newly acquired house in Obidos were definitely the highlights. Short trips within Helsinki, Bardejov and Brussels were also extremely nice.
I am taking my plane to go back to Bangkok today. While I am enjoying Europe, I am looking forward to be going back to my Asian home.
In case you are interested to check out the pictures from the trip to Europe, you may find them under this link.
It is already some weeks without any news from us, and it is time for a short update on what happens in Tahir’s life.
The positive news is that Tahir has already started his lessons that are meant to help him in catching up with his high school education when he eventually makes it to Canada. He follows weekly online/Skype tutoring, and additionally he does a great deal of homework throughout the week too. After some initial difficulties, which he encountered while adjusting to his new responsibilities, he now enjoys studying and is very eager to learn! While he is excited, I am very, very grateful for this opportunity, as I am aware that the more he accomplishes now, the easier it will be for him later.
Except his studies, Tahir engages with some of his hobbies. From previous emails, you already know that he is a very keen fitness fan. He uses the gym on every possible occasion, which sometimes is twice a day! While clearly, this is a great thing, I need to admit that he puts me to shame and makes me feel very guilty. I do very little sports myself.
Recently, we discovered that Tahir has a natural talent for taking amazing photographs. He has never been trained on picture taking, and he does not own any professional equipment either. All what he has is just a simple automatic camera and a mobile phone… Despite this, some of his photos are inspiring. Very artistic: he manages to capture moments that make you look at things around you with a different perspective. Many who look at his pictures are continuously impressed, so and so that I decided to look for someone who could help him learn more about photography. We are very lucky here, as one of our neighbour is a photography enthusiast himself, and he decided to commit that he would work with Tahir – so that he could learn some practical tricks on photo taking, and learn how to edit the images. He (the neighbour) already advised to me what camera we should get for Tahir (good quality, but yet economical) to get him started… We will be shopping for it soon. This is really exciting!
When it comes to Tahir’s resettlement, there is no official answer from the Canadian immigration office on Tahir’s application yet, but we do have some potentially good clues. Just a few days ago, the immigration service got in touch with Tahir’s Canadian sponsors, and enquired some confirmations relating to his application. What is even a better piece of news is that the number of his application is now visible in an online tracking system! This signifies that his case is now officially under consideration, and that we should be expecting to hear some sort of an answer from them relatively soon. These expectations are based on experiences of some of the other applicants that we know… What happened in their cases is that once their applications ‘appeared’ online, they received their preliminary decisions on their resettlement to Canada soon after. Although we are far from being where we want to be, and things may not necessary work as we would like to, if we are lucky, Tahir should be able to get the decision on his resettlement application within next 4 to 8 weeks. Assuming that the Canadian authorities would send us a positive decision, Tahir’s case would then advance into a vetting/verification phase. This stage signifies that the overseas services of the Canadian government (diplomatic missions here in South East Asia) would check whether all what Tahir claims in his application is actually truthful. The vetting process (and also the medical check-up process) is likely to go on for around additional one year. This sounds like a lot, but is actually not too bad and this period is far less stressful in a sense that we already know that Tahir’s resettlement to Canada is approved and would take place given that we would be able to demonstrate that all inside the application is the truth. Bottom line is that you all need to keep your fingers crossed now! We are approaching a very important step in the process for relocation to Canada!
I am very, very nervous about the outcome of the application, potentially more so than Tahir himself. Primarily, I am very concerned that the answer would be positive, but also worried about the timeline… I would very much like to remain here in Thailand until Tahir leaves Bangkok to safety. But because the process takes time, I may not be able to succeed in this. I may indeed need to be leaving my present working assignment before his case is processed. I will not be able to stay here forever, as my job requires some mobility from me. It is a bit stressful to me, but I remain positive and optimistic about it. If all goes well, things should work just fine, and Tahir would be on his way to Toronto before I leave Thailand for another assignment somewhere in the world.
Life for most refugees in Bangkok continues to be really hard. Recently the Thai authorities imposed new tough regulations on employing people with work permits only. From January 2018, the police are instructed to impose very hefty fines (up to 10,000 USD) on employers that hire people without permits. We already hear that most people are unwilling to take the risk of ‘illegal’ employment of foreigners. This is going to hit the refugees especially hard. Many will not be able to keep their jobs (even if these jobs are usually poorly paid), which means that even more people will need to engage in very risky ways of surviving. People will have no choice but to consider working in sex trade, or drug trafficking, or would fall prey of slavery work. This is heart-breaking and very frustrating, especially that we personally know many of people who may be victimised (as they live on the edge already now). I feel a bit depressed about it, as I feel that I can’t do much to stop it and give a helping hand to all those who need it. It is very sad. Keeping this in mind, I appreciate your help that you have extended (and are extending) to Tahir, so that we can ensure that at least he does not need to be subjected to these potentially horrific experiences. It is perhaps only one person, but it is one person that you have managed to give hope to and to keep out of depravation. Thank you so much for this support and for whatever else you may be doing to help!
Sending you all my very best regards and greetings!
Except the story of Tahir, the readers can also learn a bit of my view on humanitarian work and the humanitarian challenges that the world faces.
The article can be read under this link in Polish. I will however translate in to English too, and soon post it here, so that those who do not read Polish could read it too.
The results of the survey are not a surprise for me, but I still feel devastated by my countrymen. I feel sad that we cannot and do not want to distinguish between victims of wars and persecutions and migrants and are readily happy to assume that refugees and asylum seekers are responsible for security threats.
Responsible acceptance and integration of refugees is a challenge, and difficult, but an overwhelming hysteria and lack of compassion of an ordinary Polish person to people who need help disgusts me. Subconsciously, I keep on hoping that things will get better, but each time I read news from Poland, things just appear to be worse.
The only consolation that I am able to find at this moment is that I have decided to move out of the country permanently. Our stand, as the society, on refugees (read: lack of basic human solidarity with those who need it) does not allow me to be associated with Poland - however painful it may be at times. And no… no argument (related to security, or losing the cultural identity) that has been formulated so far managed to change my opinion so far. I understand that we worry about safety, but I fail recognising how punishing those who are already punished would make us safer and better people at the end. I just really do not get it.
The main reason of the visit was to learn about urban refugees in Indonesia. Like in many countries of the region, Indonesia is home to many people who needed to flee their own countries to seek safety from wars or various persecutions in their homelands. UNHCR estimates that there are around 15,000 refugees or asylum seekers in Indonesia. Considering the size of the country and its large population, the number is actually quite small - but then again these 15,000 people have substantial humanitarian needs and are desperate for protection and some attention of the worlds. Most refugees are from Afghanistan (Hazara people). There are also many who came here from Myanmar (Rohingya) and Somalia. Generally all of the refugees would prefer to get resettled to Australia, Canada, US or one of the EU countries, but these hopes are not likely to materialise, given the pressures for resettlement of refugees from the Middle East countries. So people are here to stay, but Indonesia is not prepared to host them. The country does not have a sufficient legal framework, infrastructure, nor funds to be able to look after their refugees appropriately. Then encouragingly, the government is willing to change all of this, as it realises that it is responsible for its guests, and more importantly the population is generally quite open to the idea of hosting and helping those who have come there to seek safety (how refreshing in the world of today).
So I went there and talked to colleagues from various UN agencies, the EU and the Government of Indonesia to decide how we could join forces to make a tangible difference for the refugees in the country. Lots and lots need to be done, but the willingness is there, so there is some hope. We just need to act fast, as people cannot wait. They need help urgently.
Here in Bangkok, things are good. Tahir keeps on studying for his Canadian high school diploma. It is just a beginning, so lots of energy and work in front of him, but this is really exciting to know that he has started. Yesterday, we worked on his English homework. Tahir tried understanding the meaning of ‘synonym’ and looked for synonymies for various English words. It certainly was fun!
I am preparing for a trip to Mongolia. I should be departing soon. Now getting ready with my paper work, and next week, I will be trying to fix my detailed schedule! So happy to be going there soon.
Finally, I feel a bit more Portuguese! I managed to settle my first ever income tax in the country. Now, I feel that I started contributing to the society of the country that I am calling home!
The fighting that started in Marawi started at the end of May 2017, and so far has claimed hundreds of lives and missing, and produced over 350,000 flee the war zones. Marawi is reported to be completely ruined, and when the war finishes, it will need to be rebuild from a scratch. Rebuilding cities is not an easy task and takes forever, so clearly the question remains: how we will be able to take care of the thousands of homeless people, who had lost all their worldly possessions? When visiting Iligan, I did not have any impression of that anyone knew the answers to this questions. The humanitarian response to the needs of the people was poorly organised and extremely chaotic. A vast majority have not received any help, and are in a desperate state. They need clean water, food, clothes, and a safe shelter… none of which is readily available. Diseases are spreading and the health services are not coping. Truly shocking and saddening!
A purpose of my visit was to establish what my organisation could do to help out. While we do have clarity of what should be done, we are struggling with resources. There is just not enough money to do anything meaningful at this moment. It seems like the humanity is unable to cope with the amount of crises, and is closing its eyes at people who suffer and desperately need saving. A paradox of our times, I would say. The world of plenty that we live in, is also the world of arrogance and lack of compassion.
There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people among the refugees, just like in any other group of people - whatever these groups may be. Refugees however are being confronted with extreme situations that many other people do not face. They are confronted by losing the fundaments of feeling safe and secure, by hatred, often physical pain. They are take away, what most of other groups take for granted. ~Refugees are also people who struggle buying acceptance of the societies of their new homes - thus needing to deal with their own vulnerabilities, but also vulnerabilities of their hosts… Hosts, who may be having a powerful advantage of ‘being at home’, but who, like the refugees, have their own strengths and weaknesses; who can be wonderfully generous, but also horribly cruel, or perhaps scared.
Although personally, I have been dealing with refugees and displaced people throughout my entire professional life, it is the last 2 years that have transformed my own understanding of the complexities of problems that refugees face, but also complexities that need to be overcome by their hosts. All of this is happening thank to Tahir - a young Pakistani refugee that miraculously became a reality in my life.
The appearance of this young gentleman has put my life upside down in the most wonderful and scary way - quite literally! Ever since we met, Tahir had been teaching me humility; has been bringing an overwhelming joy, but also an extreme stress, sadness and fear… Quite conflicting feelings that some may discard as exaggeration. Perhaps true, but this is how I really feel what Tahir’s existence in my life is.
Let’s take it step by step though… I met Tahir a little over 2 years ago. Freshly arrived to Bangkok, coming to start a new phase of my successful career. After having spent some traumatic years in the war-torn South Sudan, finally I was coming to Thailand - about to embrace the place where I could enjoy work and have a good quality of life, the place where I could forget about misery and suffering of people… I just rented my beautiful new flat, settled in my wonderful and comfortable office… Life was good… nothing could go wrong! Then one day, I was having my luxurious lunch, and here he was… outside teh restaurant, sitting on the pavement: malnourished, with helpless face, seemingly scared - young man - obviously asking for whatever the by-passers could spare, so that he could buy at least a little bit of food.
Until today, I am not sure what made me approach Tahir, what told me to start interacting with him, what made me invite him for a lunch together. Whatever it was, it changed my life - for ever… It brought Tahir, a person that since then, became a part of my family.
Time passed and we needed to learn trusting each other, needed learning overcome our own presumptions.
So I had to learn that what Tahir was telling me was not an attempt to abuse a stupid Westerner, who had fallen for a story of a poor refugee; I had to learn that the most incredible stories that he had gone through were actually real rather than a part of some horrible war movie. I needed to understand that this incredible suffering was really experienced by him: by the person standing next to me. I also needed to learn that some of my actions were shocking to him: offering him a cappuccino in Starbucks exposed him to a stress of experiencing that a price of a cup of coffee was an equivalent of his monthly budget for food. I needed to learn that when he said that he was afraid of people - he actually meant it. I needed to learn that when his face looked uncomfortable in situations that I thought were normal - meant his immense stress for reasons that I would not understand. Finally I needed to learn that he was getting attached to me and somehow dependent on me… the experience that I did not know…
On his part, Tahir needed to learn a whole lot too! He needed to learn that I did not mean to intimidate him by having my lavish lifestyle. He needed to learn that even if I may have had so much more that he had in terms of material goods, I was not a better person. He needed to learn that despite being financially privileged, I was vulnerable too - perhaps for reasons that were trivial to him, but nevertheless, very much real to me. He also needed to understand that when I was offering my friendship to him - I meant every word of it, that it is a friendship for good and for bad. He then needed to learn to be patient with me; and what is so important to me - given my physical disabilities, to assist me in a way that I did not need to feel ashamed not being so fit. We both needed needed to learn that we genuinely were saving one another.
There is no doubt that meeting Tahir was one of the best thing that could have happened to me.
The appearance of Tahir made me experience so many other unthinkable things… I learnt about the cruelty of systems and regulations, but also about amazing and selfless support of so many other individuals.
Soon after I got to know Tahir, we decided to try normalising his legal situation. We thought of numbers of options: trying to legalise his stay in Thailand; trying resettling him to Poland, Switzerland, Australia and more recently Canada. In practical terms, this meant reading of thousands legal documents, frameworks or articles; endless discussions with lawyers, politicians, NGO workers, friends, journalists It meant writing countless amount of letters and emails… Using all kind of approaches: from being reasonable and sensible to being over-dramatic and trying to put people to shame…
Dramatically for me, The story of Tahir taught me that the country that I loved - my native Poland - could be the most cruel and heartless nations of all… a realisation that I find difficult accepting until today. Learning that my own people, the tribe that I come from, the place that I thought was dear to me, turned its back to a human being that is so desperately in need of help and protection.
Then, there were hundreds of wonderful people too! Dozens of friends of mine that opened their heart and accepted Tahir as their friend. Dozens of people supporting Tahir financially, helping planning his potential resettlement to Poland (when we still believed it was possible), Australia, Switzerland and Canada… I got to know people that decided to go an extra mile and do amazing things for him, even though they never had met him. They were doing it just because they felt inspired by his story and decided that he had deserved attention and another chance.
One refugee has managed to bring all these positive actions from so many: from people who are religious, but also those who are atheists; from journalists, lawyers, or nuns and priests; from people of all races and various nations of ALL earth’s continents, from people of different sexualities; from the wealthy, but also those who are much less so; from men and from women; from older ones and from young kids! The most importantly to me, Tahir made me realise how wonderful my own family was… especially my parents, who offered to him an unconditional invitation to join our family…
On a sad note, meeting Tahir made me realise that despite all of this effort from so many… we can achieve so little… It made me appreciate that if so many people are needed to lend support to just one refugee… there is little hope that, we, the humanity, would ever be able to find effective solutions to the remaining 66 millions…
There are so many other things and experiences that I should and could write about. The point however is that Tahir made my life special in the most amazing way that I could never have expected and hope for. True: he also made me scared and worried more than ever - this is however human and a part of our lives.
Writing this, we do not know whether we will be able to offer to Tahir opportunities that he deserves, whether we will be able to make his life a little bit more acceptable. While I remain hopeful that the future will bring some positive resolutions, I am so scared to contemplate what we may need to consider, if some of our plans do not work out…
Happy World Refugee Day to all of you!
The travel from Poland to Thailand went well. Still jet-lagged quite a lot, but as I arrived to Bangkok on Saturday morning, there is some time to catch up with sleeping and resting before making it to the office tomorrow.
We have some additional information from the Canada Immigration suggesting that they are starting handling refugee applications of September 2016. Tahir’s application was sent in November, so there is some hope that they will start looking at it relatively soon. We are so anxious… please keep your fingers crossed.
It seems like I will not be returning to Bangladesh anytime soon (at least not for a prolonged amount of time), and as of now, I am returning to my previous responsibilities of looking after South East Asian countries. While I will miss Bangladesh, it is a comforting thought to be able to spend more time with Tahir here in Bangkok.
Finally, there is some positive news coming from Nowy Sacz. Dad is feeling better - far from being well and perfect, but so happy that he seems to be suffering far less than just a month ago.
So I will be here until Friday, and then back to Thailand again soon after.
Another piece of good news is that the first instalment for a house in Portugal was transferred yesterday! This is fantastic news, and I hope that we will be able to secure the house that we want to buy soon! Viva Portugal 🇵🇹 😍! Really excited with this development.
Despite all of this, we have been drifting apart. Although it is not just a matter of last few months or year, the recent developments in Poland have pushed my levels of acceptance of xenophobia to the limits. Month by month, I hear the speech of hatred towards foreigners, gay, non-Catholics, non-Whites coming not only from common people, but from Catholic Church leaders and politicians holding the most prominent functions in the country. I hear claims of Poland’s superiority over the others. I see the growing acceptance to organisations promoting the white supremacy. This makes me sad and scared. What I find the worse is that our Prime Minister, our President, various ministers of our government keep on verbally attacking and demonising all sorts of minorities, and keep on blaming them for all evil imaginable. This has hurt me and has made me feel uncomfortable. Week by week, month by month my passion for Poland has been evaporating. I have tried ‘fighting’ these negative feelings, I have tried challenging myself, tried explaining to myself that ‘I am biased’ and that ‘perhaps I exaggerate’.
Then a day before yesterday, Manchester happened. Sad and tragic event for all of us in the world. And as so many people try to calm the emotions down, try coming to terms and heal, our Prime Minister unequivocally points her finger at refugees: suggesting that opening your hearts to misery of victims of wars equals weak character and is an invitation to terror.
I appreciate the fears, I appreciate a fact that governments have responsibility to keep us safe, but I can’t accept victimisation of the most vulnerable and the defenceless. I despite lack of courage to show leadership and solidarity with those who need to be helped. We have responsibilities to fight terror, but we cannot fight terror by imposing terror onto others.
The speech of our PM completely broke me. It broke me beyond repair. However little pride that I had left in me for being Polish was taken away from me yesterday. 24th May 2017 changed me, it made me lose any sympathy for Poland, it made me lose my willingness to give this country another try. Yesterday, the words of my PM made me feel unwelcome and unwanted by my own country.
It hurt, but it made me feel better too. Understanding that Poland is not a place for me, made me feel liberated to some extent. I thought that it was better for me, and for the people that I so much disagree with to part and try finding peace away from one another.
Many of my family and my friends will remain in Poland and I will surely be visiting them so I can cherish their lives. I may even be forced to return to Poland, as I will not be able to arrange my home elsewhere. It may well be, but Poland will never feel home again.
While I wish all the best to the country that offered me opportunities, that looked after me, that helped me grow, it is time to say good bye.
It is time to try doing whatever it takes to start arranging a new place. Surely, it will not be easy and perhaps it will not be possible, but I am determined to succeed. I have now decided to become a voluntary refugee and wii try making some foreign land become my home. I hope to find peace somewhere and I hope that Poland will be prosperous and successful too.
It is good to be back home here in Bangkok and reconnect with Tahir. Lots of exciting prospects with his educations are coming up, and it will be nice to be able to participate in these in one or another way.
At the end of the week, I am travelling to Europe again. I will spend a week in Belgium (for work) and then 6 days in Poland, where I will be visiting my family. As my dad is now in hospital, I am especially looking forward to seeing him soon!
The house that we were interested in Portugal was bought by another person, we have just learnt. Shame, as I was so eager and excited about it. Now, we are going to be pursuing a possibility of buying the second choice house. Still in Obidos, still wonderful, but clearly not as wonderful as the first one!
Poland does not fail depressing me. Recent celebrations of national constitution just mercilessly expose that nationalism and xenophobia are strong in the country. This places scares me, and disappoints me. I feel hurt by my own country.
I am clearly sad today.
As you might have seen in this gallery, the visit to Portugal went really well, and we are now trying to finalise all the paperwork to buy the house. It is not finished yet, so I should not be too excited, but I find it difficult not to be! I will certainly inform you the end result of this excitement!
This week, hopefully, I am going to write a longer update the latest developments in my life, and certainly a paragraph or two on the latest news relating to Tahir.
Yesterday, I made a mistake and spent lots of time reading Polish newspapers. I nearly got sick. I do not recognise my own country. I am ashamed of being Polish. Hatred towards refugees, hatred towards people of Middle-East origin (and some others) scares me. I can’t and do not want to accept it. I will not accept it, even if this means that there is no place for me in my own country. Feeling so very sad!
As expected, the incident caused a great deal of panic. But interesting, the panic was mainly exercised by the expatriate community. Foreigners complained, immediately imposed bans on movements, some cancelled plans of going to the airport. The usual thing that many of us would do in so called ‘the West’. On the other hand, the reaction from the locals was starkly different. Most decided not to pay much attention to what has happened. People did notice, of course, but decided to not get terrorised by those who want them to feel scarred. When confronted about the attack, my Bangladeshi friends would just nod their heads, and would simply ask about my plans for the weekend. ‘There is no point in worrying’ - they underlined. ‘The guy is crazy, they are making arrests now, and we need to hope for the best’ - most underlined. ‘By worrying, you let them achieve their goals, and you take so much of your happiness away from yourself’. ‘What’s the point?’ - someone else added.
Some of you are aware that I am very fond of Bangladesh, and like the country very much. When I wonder about why that may be, I think that it is the people that make me happy here. When dealing with Bangladeshis, things are simply and uncomplicated. People seem genuinely happy and are extremely friendly. The experience of yesterday, underlines it so clearly. I am sure that there is a lesson or two that we, the Europeans’ could learn from Bangladesh. Appreciating the moment, and not giving in to terror are just some of those!
In the meanwhile, together with one of my Polish friends, we are looking at buying property in Portugal. We have now identified a few houses, and will be viewing them in April. Once we choose, what we would like, we will then be trying to overcome all administrative hurdles. Hopefully, by the middle of the year, we will be able to have our property there!
In April, together with Tahir, I will be touring Thailand too. I have got some holidays to take. Some free time, is a good opportunity to explore a bit of the country. We have not decided what we are going to visit yet. I am guessing, we may be trying to visit the northern parts.
Today, still in Bangkok, but on Tuesday, I will be back to Dhaka. Shortly after my arrival to Bangladesh, I shall be visiting some of the humanitarian projects that we support in Chittagong Tract Hills and later in Cox’s Bazar.
I am travelling for a week to Bangkok on Friday. Looking forward to check on Tahir and his well being there. He seems energised, after our recent visit of his sponsors from Canada. It is already 4 months since we filed an application for his resettlement to Canada. Still long way to go, but we are hopeful.
I am now in process of dealing with my first personal tax declaration for Portugal. So excited to feel that I am really a resident there! It is already one year!
A very good friend of ours, Paula, has just arrived to visit us from Canada. Paula is one of Tahir’s Group of Five sponsors for his refugee resettlement there. Her visit gives an excellent opportunity for two of them to get to know one another… which is crucial, given that we hope that sooner rather than later, we would be able to finalise Tahir’s departure for Canada.
I have also been very active and busy professionally. Together with my colleagues from my own organisation, and with colleagues from our partner organisations were finalising lots of plans for our projects in Bangladesh, but also in other countries in South East Asia. Perhaps hardly surprising, lots of our attention will go to humanitarian issues relating to protection of refugees’ across the region. We are also going to work on some projects relating to increasing capacity to respond to disasters in large urban areas, such as Dhaka, Ulaanbaatar, or Manila. Quite fascinating!
The changes in refugee resettlement policies of the Trump's administration are translating to thousands of human tragedies in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia (among other countries). Many refugees, who have been in these countries for years (mainly refugees fleeing religious persecution in their home countries) are affected. Hundreds of people were getting ready to depart to the USA, after being promised by the American Government that they would be resettled there (following all vetting procedures). The new regulations have put the lives of these people in despair. No one knows whether the promises will be kept, and no one knows when there would be some clarity over what would happen next. Needless to say that those refugees who have not been qualified for the resettlement yet (but hoped to be chosen in the future) are also affected. Lots of work is needed from all of us, including the governments of the host countries to decide what would happen to these people. Regardless of political and economical considerations, we need to remember that it is unfair to keep people in a limbo. We need to find a solution on what next… and it is regardless of whether the option of the resettlement to the USA is on the table or not. In any case, I find the decisions of the US administration towards those who have been promised the resettlement to be utterly unfair and heartless. Countries should honour their commitments, and only make changes in policies, however tough, in a way that do not undermine trust in agreements. Very unfair, especially that such behaviour comes from a government of the country that so many people still look up to.
I also managed to get some of my personal life’s logistics sorted in Dhaka. Finally found a small apartment, where I will be able to live comfortably while in the country. The apartment is not far from the office, and is quite small, which is perfect, as it will be easier to make it feel cosy.
But I am actually writing this post from Bangkok. Arrived here a day before yesterday, and will stay for around 10 days. While in town, I will be busy with working stuff, but of course, I will also have a chance to spend time with Tahir. Great news is that next weekend, one of Tahir’s Canadian sponsors is coming to Thailand, and it will be a great opportunity for them to get acquainted a bit better.
Finally, yesterday we visited a nice ethnographical museum in Bangkok, not far from my flat in the city. Really a nice place. We took some photos, which you can find in this gallery.
Living in Dhaka during some security concerns have some advantages. As I am not allowed to move around the city too freely, I tend to spend a considerable amount of time in my flat. This in turn, allowed me to do some reading and writing. I decided to create a mailing-list that I named: “Friends of Tahir”. The list’s members are the people who contributed financially to Tahir’s resettlement fund, and all those who are interested in his fate for whatever reason. I then wrote the first ‘official’ update to the group. This made me happy, as when I was writing, it made me realised, how much work we have done in our efforts of helping Tahir out, and also how many amazing people are involved in trying to find a solution for him in one or another way. While, I can’t post all the details of the update here online, friends who would like to receive the last update, or get included in the distribution list, should write to me on my email, or alternatively to this email address: email@example.com.
Hoping that you have got a peaceful weekend and then week ahead of you!
It was a really good break. I needed time to reflect on some of the developments that my life has brought and have managed to recharge the batteries and get ready for 2017.
Once again, I would like to wish you all the most successful year! I hope it will be a prosperous and happy one for all of us! Happy New Year!
Reaching home was wonderful though. Mama right away decided to spoil me with delicious food. Papa made sure that I had some nice drinks, and my brother’s family made sure that we had the most wonderful and traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It was very, very nice!
Today, I am meeting with some high school friends, and later in the week, there will be more encounters with friends too. The time here will be busy, but in the same time exciting!
Before returning to Bangkok next Sunday, I will also make sure to do some shopping and will stock up on some delicacies that one cannot buy in Asia. All in all, lots of fun in Poland so far! You are welcome to follow on some of the images, at this gallery.
Here comes my short Christmas/end of the year message:
It has been a very hectic year for me, but I am sure that most of you could claim the same! Lots of depressing stuff happened, but then lots of amazing and wonderful things too. 2016 has definitely not been boring! It is easy to keep moaning and complaining about things, so I will not do it, instead I would like to focus on a few things that really worked for me well!
Progress with Tahir’s case – though not success yet
The fantastic news is that Tahir has officially been awarded with the UNHCR refugee status. While this is not the end of his struggle to start a new and fruitful life yet, it is an important step forward. Being recognised as the refugee by UNHCR opens some opportunities for regularising his life. Together with countless amount of friends, we are looking at available options in various places. As we do not have guarantees of any positive outcomes yet, I will refrain from giving you more details at this stage. I would however like to thank all of you, who have supported us in the ways you only could – by helping with writing applications, by supporting Tahir financially, by giving us your encouragement and strength not to give up! I consider your support to help Tahir the most important and wonderful happening of this passing year, and we will always be grateful to all of you for what you are doing! Big, big thank you! Finally in this matter, in case any of you had more ideas on how we could help Tahir – either with regard to his resettlement, getting more qualifications (like online schooling/courses), we will be the most obliged to hear from you.
The year of 2016 has definitely been marked by my efforts of learning Spanish. Carlos – my teacher from Mexico took a challenge to make me learn another language, which at the age of 44 becomes more difficult. Good news is that a few months ago, I managed to pass my official language exam at the level of B2, which suggests that I can communicate in the language in the level that allows me work in it relatively easily. Thank you Carlos for doing it with me! Really appreciate it!
Travels for work
2016 has been filled with many travels around Asia and Europe for work. I promised that my email would not be too negative, so I will only mention that some of these trips made me extremely sad, given amount of senseless injustice and suffering of the communities that I visited around Asia. On the positive side, I should mention however that some of these trips brought interesting new projects that are helping the most disadvantaged victims of humanitarian crises in a few places around South East Asia.
Sri Lanka and Portugal
I also managed to explore new places that I have not seen before in my life. Finally after years of trying to get there, I managed to visit Sri Lanka. I spent there a great week, learning about the history of this amazing place, and visiting sites all over the central and southern part of the island. I should definitely recommend to anyone visiting this gem. Wonderful people and beautiful place to visit.
Then in the beginning of 2016, I officially became a resident of Portugal! It is a very exciting project for me. Portugal is a beautiful place, and I am so much looking forward to making it a permanent home for me. I have officially managed to get most of my paperwork done, and I already hold my Portuguese social security/tax number, an EU residence permit, I have my bank account there, and a place to stay. Now, the next step is to buy a small property there, which I would then start making as my home. I hope that this will become a reality in 2017. While open to all parts of the country, so far, it appears that I may be looking at getting settled in the historic town of Obidos. Look it up on the internet. It really is beautiful.
Finally, tomorrow I am about to fly out to Poland to visit my parents, family and friends for Christmas. I have not been home for Christmas for many years, and I look forward to spend time with the loved ones soon!
At last, but not least, I would like to wish you all, the most wonderful and amazing holiday season. If you celebrate Christmas, may it be the magical time for you, your families and your loved ones: Merry Christmas. If you do not happen to celebrate for whatever reason, I would like to wish you a very nice and peaceful time – hopefully with some days off, so that you can recharge your batteries.
For 2017, I would like to wish us all that it is less troublesome and more peaceful time for all of us. May we all find strength and courage to understand each other, and to reach out to people that we may differ with… I think that we all need it in 2017. I wish you all that 2017 is full of love, happiness, personal and professional advancement to you and your loved ones. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
You may have read that there is a severe crisis in Myanmar these days, where Rohingya minority is being subjected to torture, killings, extortion, rape, humiliation and are prevented from enjoying basic rights (including access to health, schools, livelihoods, etc). The suffering of the Rohingya people is extraordinary, and no wonder that many decide fleeing their villages and look for safety.
Bangladesh receives majority of those who flee. As Bangladesh itself in not a wealthy country, clearly the influx of thousands of people is a substantial challenge for the nation. There are many agencies trying to help, and doing anything possible to meet the basic needs of the refugees and the host communities, but operations are sensitive and difficult.
I am slowly getting adjusted to my life in Dhaka. Things are slow, and lots of my personal logistics is still not sorted. I have severe movement limitations (no transport), which in Dhaka is a major issue, as the public transportation is far from reliable. Then again, it is a very interesting city and lovely people around, so all in all things are good.
Tahir seems to be holding well in Bangkok on his own. He has enrolled to a gym, and allegedly goes there every day. Except doing some exercises, he is also meeting new people, which is good, as he feels a bit less lonely, as we wait for outcomes of his resettlement applications.
Good news is that I am travelling to Bangkok on 11th December, and will spend some time with him, before travelling to Poland for Christmas.
I am still in the hotel, as it is not yet clear where I will be staying in a longer run. This has got some advantages - I do not need to worry about some of the practicalities, when leaving in a flat alone, but then, I would like to start functioning ‘normally’ soon, so I am looking forward to having my own place sooner rather than later.
I am getting up-to-the-speed with the programmes and work. Very interesting briefings, but sadly, lots of horrific problems of poverty, marginalisation, human suffering. When I listen to issues that our projects are dealing with, I get uneasy and slightly discouraged, as there are so little solutions that we are able to offer. In any case, it seems like I will not be bored in here, and the job will be very interesting, even if surely, it will be depressing and challenging too.
I will be here until 11th December this time around. Then travelling back to Bangkok to do some work there, and… winter holidays will start. Together with Tahir, we will first visit some resorts in the southern part of Thailand, and afterward, I will fly to Poland to visit my family for Christmas. A busy December ahead of me.
So far, Tahir seems to be doing good on his own in Bangkok. I worry about him a bit, but there are no reasons really. He should be just fine, and hopefully by no time, we will see his departure out of Thailand, so that he can restart his own productive life. In the meanwhile, we will keep him busy with studies, and exercises at the gym. Tahir appears to enjoy his work out, so he has just joined one of the Bangkok’s gyms.
So, I am off to Dhaka in Bangladesh this Tuesday. Also, I have just booked my tickets to go to Poland for this Christmas break. As far as I can recall, I have not been to Nowy Sacz for Christmas for 4 years. I am pleased that I will have a chance to visit my parents this winter though. Christmas celebrations at your parents’ place are somehow special!
Tahir’s resettlement application is already with the immigration office in Winnipeg. We have got some provisional indication that it would take around 12 months to get the answer. Should this be true, this is good news. 1 year is a long time, but then again, given that we have already waited for such a long time - it is not that bad, after all. We just need to hope that there will be no surprises and that we will be successful altogether. Also, in order to keep Tahir busy during his waiting time, we will try enrolling him for some courses that would allow him to quicker graduate from his high school education, when he eventually makes it to Canada. There are some online options, and now we need to explore those and see whether they are feasible for him.
Sadly, we are experiencing quite a lot of population displacement in western Myanmar. The ethnic misunderstandings result in localised fighting, which in turn causes lots of people to flee their homes. While most of the people are displaced within Myanmar, more and more flee to Bangladesh too. The fears are that this trend will only become worse in weeks to come. Clearly, this will keep me busy in the country.
I am guessing that my next post will already be written from Dhaka. While, I am a bit sad that I will be leaving Tahir behind for some weeks, I am equally excited of a chance to visit Bangladesh - one of the nicest countries that I have ever been to.
I am very excited to be going to Bangladesh soon. It is already 10 years since my last visit to the country. Both Bangladesh and the world around it has changed a lot. With raising extremism everywhere, I understand that there are more security risks there, but then, I am sure that the average people are as wonderfully sweet as the Bengali people can be. All in all, I am very excited to go, even if the mission will be difficult.
Still trying to cope with the new emerging world order that we are witnessing. Trump in the US, dramatic changes in the Philippines, tensions between Pakistan and India, the war in the Middle East, collapse of peace talks in Columbia, political instability in Ethiopia and elsewhere in eastern Africa are not optimistic. The crisis, whose consequences are likely to be catastrophic to all of us, is looming. I have been thinking of how the world is going to look like in a few years, and whether I will still be able to see it myself. And while, I have the gloomy feelings for short and medium term future, then it occurred to me that at the end of the day crises also offer opportunities. Yes, they may be painful, and extremely dramatic, but it also seems that humans are unable to avoid them. So, as we head towards problems, I just hope that the better world will emerge in the post-crisis reality. Clearly I hope that the changes that we are about to see will not be dramatic from the security perspective, but my mind is slowly coming to peace with an idea that we may be heading towards a very dangerous and bumpy ride as human race. I will just try to enjoy the present day as much as I can, and try to concentrate on small things that make me happy and act positively where I am able to do it. I feel that I need to do it for myself, and for the people around me, as I have started being far too negative, which is clearly not fair to anyone, myself included. So, my commitment is that I will worry less, and enjoy the small moments more.
Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. She is turning 70! She is clearly the most wonderful woman that I know and I am so very happy to have this formidable lady as the person who made me the way I am. Thank you Mum! Thank you for who you are and for what you represent! Happy Birthday!
November is filled with anniversaries for me. It is also a month of my name day, and more importantly a month of both birthday and name day of my mother. Lots of reasons to celebrate!
It is now official that on 22nd November, I will be travelling to Bangladesh for 3 weeks. I am excited to go there, as the projects that we run in the country are very interesting. Also, I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Bangladesh. The place is so nice and the people are so friendly. Definitely looking forward to be going there. The arrangement is that I will be working between Bangladesh and Thailand for some months to come. While I will spend most of my time in Dhaka (and other locations in the country), I will also be visiting Bangkok once every month. This will allow me to catch up on my regional duties, and on the personal level to make sure that I visit Tahir regularly.
Writing about Tahir, we have some small reasons to celebrate. After lots of administrative work, and lots of convincing, we managed to submit his application for a resettlement visa to Canada. Now, we just need to keep our fingers crossed, and hope that we will receive some positive news from the Canadian authorities. This will take a while, but still excited with the progress.
We also managed to identify some lawyers in Australia, whom we approached to seek their help in re-submission of his application there. While waiting for the news from Canada, we will now be working on his new application to Australia.
It is still raining a lot here in Bangkok, but we are slowly approaching to the end of this year’s rainy season. Soon, it should become a bit dryer. December and January are some of the nicest parts of the year. It is not too hot yet, and it is dry… Looking forward to it!
Just watching CNN, and realising that we are heading into the next catastrophe. Without a doubt, we will have Trump as the next president of the United States. I would not be that bothered, except that the US is a global power after all, and his election will have the major consequences for all of us, regardless of where we live. Somehow not having lots of good feelings about the future… I am actually quite scared, to be honest. Just wondering whether we should all be preparing for the 3rd World War, and accepting it that we may not be able to live in peace, as the world, for much longer? Brrrr… I hope that I am just pessimistic.
Still trying to remain cheerful somehow. It seems like it will be Obidos, a little village in Portugal that will become my future base (given that things will not turn out to be that disastrous in the world, that is&hellip. Look how amazing the place seems to be: www.obidos.pt.
I will be here in Bangkok for two weeks or so. Will watch the developments in the USA anxiously, while preparing for my trip to Bangladesh, which is likely to happen still in November.
For Tahir, the UNHCR awarded status is not only highly practical but also symbolic. The international organisation, helping the refugees, has officially confirmed that Tahir’s life in Pakistan is endangered and that the country (Pakistan) does not offer necessary protection to live there peacefully and happily. Personally knowing Tahir’s story, I only can rejoice and applaud!
Following the news from UNHCR, many, many of you have stepped up in trying to help us in various ways to secure Tahir’s safe future. While, I hope that there will be opportunities to write more about it in the future, today, both Tahir and I would like to thank you all for generosity and solidarity that so many of you have shown in our efforts of ‘restarting his life'. The list of people who have helped is very long, and includes those of you supporting the case financially, but also in so many other ways: trying to find ways to keep Tahir safe here in Thailand, or finding ways to get him to safety in Australia, Poland, or Canada.
We have not yet managed to achieve our ultimate goal, e.g.: secure his safe stay in Thailand or his resettlement to the third country, but we will continue working towards the successful resolution as hard as we can, and on as many fronts as it is only humanely possible. With your support, we trust, this will be possible. Today however it is time to cherish the moment! We would like to underline that your recent offers of help in various forms have been humbling and heart warming! You are all a proof that people are wonderful to one another!
THANK YOU so much for all what you have done!
Last few weeks have been very busy and exciting. I should write more properly on each of it, but given that writing at the airport is not so comfortable, just some highlights:
1. We are at the end of the application process for Tahir’s relocation visa to Canada. A pre-condition for that was to fundraise at least €8.000 for a bond/deposit to be paid to the Government of Canada. Pleased to tell you that through amazing generosity of many of you, we have managed to collect all the money (and more)!
2. The Triplex Simulation (response to a disaster) has been very interesting. I met lots of new and interesting people (and some old friends too). And yes, Norwegian countryside is amazingly beautiful!
3. Poland continues to depress me. The recent developments in the country make me hate my own state. On the other hand, there is some amazing resistance to some of the most depressing total abortion plans by the amazing women… Go on and discover all about #blackprotest.
4. October will be busy. I will just get back to Bangkok to travel to Brussels soon after. All will be documented and reported!
I realise that I have not written for a long time. Apologies for being a lousy communicator! Here comes a short update on the latest here from Bangkok.
I will start with some good news. After waiting for 3 years, UNHCR has finally granted to Tahir his refugee status. This is really fantastic news on so many levels. Clearly, the most importantly, it is a great morale boost for Tahir, but also an important confirmation that he has very valid grounds to have fled from Pakistan. The news from UNHCR has reached us only around a week ago, so still very new, but I do not remember Tahir being that excited and happy for a long time!
Prior to UNHCR’s recognition, we had been receiving quite some bad news… The Government of Australia had refused his resettlement application, some of his friends here in Bangkok had been detained, efforts on resettling him to Poland not going so smooth at all either… Lots of discouraging and depressing stuff really. We are therefore very grateful and happy to have this boost coming from UNHCR’s decision… It has given to us more energy to keep on working on new options.
A fact that Tahir has his official refugee status is not necessarily changing his situation in Thailand dramatically. Thai authorities do not offer any form of refugee protection – in that sense, his life in Bangkok will still be full of challenges and various threats. However, by being the ‘UNHCR refugee’, Tahir now qualifies for any possible resettlement programmes that 3rd countries may be offering. Some of these programmes are offered only through official channels and are unlikely to materialise within next 15 years or so (meaning that Tahir would still be stuck in the limbo for around that much time), while the other ones are based on private sponsorships… These private sponsorship programmes give us some hope. The countries that we will focus on are Canada, Australia (new application) and to the much lesser degree Poland (though the Polish option is really complicated and unlikely to take place for various reasons that I even do not feel like explaining). The chances for Australia are slim, but given that his status has changed, there may be some opportunities there. We feel that Canada may be the safer bet, but then again, nothing is secured until we get some positive answers. All in all, still lots of work in front of us. Here, I would like to plea all of you, who may be aware of programmes that may work for Tahir (for resettlement, or other kind of immigration) to give us clues and ideas, we shall definitely consider everything what may have chances of success.
Other refugee stuff:
Except supporting Tahir, I am involved in providing support to other refugees in Bangkok – this is both in personal and professional capacity. In recent weeks, I have met with many organisations and people, who are engaged in searching for permanent solutions for the refugees who are in the country. Here the experiences are very mixed. The more people I meet, the more I learn about horrible abuses and suffering that people go through. Also, I keep on realising, how little political will there is to make the difference for the refugees (which actually, in Bangkok, would not be that difficult, if there was the will), and that thousands people are condemned to persecution, humiliation and harassment for years (if not their whole lifetime) to come. Then, on the other hand (and on the positive note), I meet so many people (and encouragingly this includes Thai nationals) that do whatever they can to make differences, however small or big, to those who need the support. What strikes me is that even if most of these wonderful individuals realise that we are dealing with the mission impossible, and that they are probably destined to multiple failures with most what they are trying to do, they do not give up, they carry on, and fight… I only wished that that there were even more committed people like them, and I wish I was also a bit stronger in my own attempts as well. Hats off to their persistence, courage and patience, especially, when they deal with politicians, officials and technocrats that do everything possible to make the lives of the refugees to be hell (in this case in Bangkok). What also strikes me is that most of the blocks/obstacles, when it comes to helping, always come with an excuse of the law… We keep on hearing that this cannot be done, or that cannot be facilitated because the rules and the laws do not permit… Yet, there is no one, literally no one that challenges these rules, and proposes new laws that would work for people. I often feel, we should be all be ashamed and that we are all responsible in one or another way. Our politicians, whom we chose, and whom we do not keep accountable to, create situations where people are enslaved, are forced to prostitution, or need to sell their body organs to survive – quite literally. How can this be happening? Ironically, when talking to some of these decision makers, they seem to be aware that lots of the evil rules should be tackled, yet they are quite comfortable in doing nothing, as they give in to various pressures – whether personal or professional… Strange and cruel world we live in.
All other stuff:
Otherwise, things go on well. I keep on moving and travelling extensively. I have just come back from the most amazing trip to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, where I worked with some of my colleagues on issues relating to preparing the city to the anticipated earthquake. Some really positive work being done there, though still far, far too little (lack of sufficient resources). Recently, I also travelled to Sri Lanka, which I discovered to be one of the nicest places I have a chance to visit (I definitely recommend to all to visit that beautiful country, if you guys have a chance).
I carry on having a very negative feeling about my native Poland. What happens in my own country makes me feel extremely sad and challenges my own relation to that place. I will not be writing more on this here, as my email would turn to be very sour… Perhaps there will be another time for that. Today, it is just enough to write that I am dealing with lots of not so good emotions about Poland that I am trying to come to terms with.
Bangkok and Thailand in the rainy season is great. It is slightly less hot, and everything is so green. We have had much better rain this year, compared to last one, so I think this makes many people happier!
I miss receiving news from you! Please do write, when you can!
Sending you, your friends and your families my warmest thoughts and greetings,
In the meanwhile, we received some sad news from Australia. Tahir’s offshore humanitarian visa (in other words application for an asylum) was rejected by the authorities. They told him that they actually thought that his claim had grounds, and recognised that it is dangerous for him to return to Pakistan and indeed to remain in Thailand, but nevertheless they would not offer him resettlement, because his links with Australia are not ‘strong enough’. Again, I am just wondering whether how is it that the Australian Government expects the most vulnerable people to have ‘links to Australia’? Where is the ‘humanitarian’ side of this visa? Do you really expect that a person, being persecuted in his/her country, usually without any means, education, etc., miraculously have ‘links’ to Australia? I feel like using some very inappropriate words… so it is better that I stop here and abstain.
Things with Poland are not better. We now believe that Poland will even not look at Tahir’s asylum application, despite amazing efforts of Sister Malgorzata. Poland is extremely closed to the idea of supporting refugees and victims of wars, so perhaps it is hardly surprising, nevertheless very, very disappointing. In any case, the visit of the Pope Francis has brought some attention to the issue of the refugees in the country. Sister Malgorzata has even managed to beautifully advocate for Tahir’s case in the main news channel in the primetime (please see link of the interview here, though only available in Polish).
Now that Australia and Poland reject helping Tahir, we are running out of options. We will still be appealing in both countries, but let’s face it, the hopes there are fading. Now, the only real option is Canada. We will be filling our application there, as soon as UNHCR office here in Bangkok finally confirms Tahir’s refugee status (still may take a lot of time).
So many disappointing news here, I am afraid. We are not giving up though. We must find the way in one or another way. We may still not know what we can do to help Tahir, but we will never give up!
- Future in Pakistan: Clearly, Tahir has no future in Pakistan. Ahmadiyya people, especially younger men are hated there, just because they are Ahmadiyya. In his native village, there are people waiting for him ready to kill him, just because he merely was trying to stand up to the leaders of the local Sunni mosque defending his right to run a small stall with textiles.
- Future in Thailand: Staying in Thailand could be an option… but only if the authorities granted him a right to stay. Sadly, Thailand is not a signatory of the Geneva Convention on Refugees, and therefore, as such, is not obliged to follow international standards on protecting refugees. Consequently, Thailand does not have laws that would regularise people like Tahir, and prevent them from having normal lives. Tahir is not allowed to be here, not mentioning having a right to work, or attend a school. He has no right for a medial insurance… Technically, he is not allowed to exist here. The only way to survive in Thailand is either our continuous financial support, and counting on luck not to get arrested, or falling seriously sick. Then of course, he could get arrested, and spend years in a detention centre waiting for some kind of miracle to be resettled somewhere (very unlikely).
- Future in Poland: After some vague hope of being able to send him there, so that he could start his life there, it is clear that the authorities of Poland, the whole system just does not want to extend any protection to Tahir. All of our application, one by one are not even considered. The officials keep on telling us that they would like to help, but there is not a legal framework to do that. Call me naive, or call me whatever you want… I will never accept it. Perhaps, I will not be able to do much about it, and will be defeated, but I will never, never accept the reasoning that one cannot help saving a human life, because the regulations are not foreseeing a situation that someone can be helped without putting public resources at strain (clearly, many of us are ready to cover all the costs relating to his resettlement to Poland).
- Future in other countries: We also are trying to resettle Tahir to Canada, USA or Australia. His application for a resettlement there is however hugely dependent on UNHCR. His applications may be considered by these countries (without a guarantee of being successful), only if UNHCR in Thailand processes his refugee claim in Bangkok. The problem is that the organisation is painfully slow, and despite having waited for 3 years, we still do not have any answer from UNHCR on his official status. We may still need to be waiting for a year or more, before he is granted the UNHCR refugee status… and when this is done, we could only start resettlement application, which are not likely to be successful and take forever (literally years).
I know that there are millions of people in a situation of Tahir, but it is Tahir that I am trying to help, and for me, he is a personification of failure of humanity, and a proof showing that one is unable to make a difference, even if trying to do whatever could possibly be done. There are many reasons and many people that are directly responsible for his suffering in his own country, but equally many of us, who fail extending a helping hand, even if we could do it easily. This makes me sad, makes me angry, and frustrated. My frustration does not mean much and will not change the fate of Tahir and similar to hime in the longer run, but there it is: I feel powerless, and upset and I have run out of ideas of what else could be done. I am not proud of my country, I am not proud of being a European and I am not proud of being a human being. Collectively, as humans we failing those whom we could help, and most of us fail individually too.
Keeping in mind Tahir’s experiences, and our struggle in our attempts of finding some kind of a way out of this desperation (finding a solution for his future) makes me feel even horrified when I read about and watch news from my native Poland. Sadly, Poland at large appears to be the country, where the majority of us are hostile to refugees; where the majority do not bother to make distinctions between victims of terror and the terrorists, between economical migrants and those fleeing the persecution. Many of my countrymen just assume that once you are a refugee, you are someone who does not deserve protection and attention, many of my countrymen see the refugees as threat to our own identity and our wealth. Knowing Tahir, and what a wonderful human being he is, and knowing how much he, and people like hime have gone through to survive, yet another day, I just feel disgusted by such attitudes. Yes, what I write may sound harsh, but this is what I feel. On the human level, I just do not comprehend this kind of lack of sympathy and empathy. I understand people’s fears: yes, we all have them; yet I will never understand why so many of us would not challenge and confront these fears, and start seeing humans in other humans. Yes, it may be that I have been blessed with opportunities in dealing with different cultures and thus it is easier for me to accept ‘difference’ or multiculturalism, but taking into consideration the amount of suffering that millions of refugees go through, I find it incomprehensible that so many of us back in Poland do not want to ‘risk’ to open themselves to people, who are so genuinely in need. The whole ‘refugee dynamics’ make me very sad, in fact, it leaves me horrified and depressed.
With this gloomy picture of my own people, I also need to recognise that there are some very fine examples of people, also in my native Poland, who disagree with the mainstream, and try, nearly in a heroic manner to find ways to offer help and protection to people such as Tahir. Here, my sincerest admiration and respect goes to Sister Malgorzata, who so selflessly is doing all what is only possible by a human being to relocate Tahir from Thailand to safety. People like her bring a ray of hope that human kindness may prevail.
So, when with Sister, we discussed our strategy on what could still be done to bring Tahir over. We both agree that the chances of getting him to Poland are slim. this being written, there is a desire to keep on fighting! We both hope, there will be some happy resolution for Tahir!
Now, back to Bangkok. A bit jet-lagged but motivated. What however spoils my good spirit a bit is a prospect of the referendum in the UK that is about to take place on 23rd May. It seems quite certain that the Brits will vote to leave the EU. It makes me sad. I believe at the idea of the EU, and I am sad to see that the UK will leave it, especially because of the reasons why people seem to be wanting to let the project go.
My 1st attempt of passing the B2 Spanish exam is approaching fast. I am travelling to Manila in the Philippines this coming Friday. My exam will be at the Cervantes Institute of Manila on Saturday. I feel that I am poorly prepared, and it will be difficult to get a ‘pass’ mark. A good thing is that even if I fail, it will be a good experience to go through all tests. In any case, it will not hurt if you all keep your fingers crossed for me!
Greetings from Bangkok! It has been a long and very hot dry season here… if you believe what the media says, we have had the hottest dry season for last 60 years! One really feels it. Bangkok is unbearably warm, and even simple daily chores seem to be a challenge. I actually stopped going for walks… and for me it is a big decision. I love walking! Good news is that yesterday, we had a good and generous rain. This made the temperatures slightly more liveable, but also marked a beginning of a rainy season. Okay, proper rains will only begin in 2 months, but nevertheless, we were all very enthusiastic to welcome the thunderstorm!
Life is exciting and at time stressful here. I keep on travelling a lot – both for work and for personal reasons. A highlight is that I recently travelled to Timor Leste, the country that I had known very little of. I went there, as the place is badly affected by severe droughts… As the droughts often do, they tend to have quite bad negative effects on lives of farmers, whose crops die out due to lack of water. This is definitely a case in that little country, where for thousands of people, this disaster translated into a complete destruction of their livelihoods. People I spoke to all told me that the drought that they experience is the worst ever in the living memory of the people. Good news is that there are some initiatives from various organisations and institutions to counter-balance the crisis, so hopefully things will get a bit better for some of the people soon.
Mongolia is another example of the climatic change craziness. I may have mentioned to you before that the country experience one of the more severe winter, which resulted in a phenomenon that is referred to as ‘dzud’. Dzuds are essentially very cold snaps that last for prolonged periods of time. They can be very destructive. If they last too long and are too severe, they can cause death of livestock… Death of livestock for nomadic people of Mongolia is an economical, social and cultural catastrophe. For many farmers in the country, livestock is an essence of live. When cows die, their owners are destined for migration to Ulaanbaatar, the migration that often transforms people’s lives into destitution: as they end up in overcrowded shantytowns, with very poor prospects of getting any work. Unfortunately, we are hearing that this winter, 830,000 animals died… The consequences of this will likely be very depressing and harsh for many, many people. Climate change is so real!
But enough of work! I should tell you a bit more about some of the personal stuff. The most important: Tahir is well and fine. There is some positive news from Thailand. Although, things are far from being perfect, it seems like the authorities of this country are a little friendlier and more understanding towards the needs of the refugees and asylum seekers, who ended up here. Okay, the change is not a major breakthrough, and Thailand still does not officially protect the refugees within its borders, but it seems that police visibly stopped harassing people on streets. If an asylum seeker/refugee is able to produce an identification from UNHCR, they are not detained anymore… but are left in peace. People still officially cannot work, or even exist… but just a mere fact that there is no appetite for detaining them makes a huge difference. We have enjoyed this change in policy for 2 months now, but we are unable to say whether the change is permanent… Let’s hope that things will only get better… though I do not want to be overly optimistic… Tahir still practices an utmost care when walking around Bangkok. He avoids places where he could be detained, and tries to be as invisible as possible. This is tiring and frustrating for him, but keeps him relatively safe.
I recently returned from Australia. I went there to visit Brisbane and Sydney – the cities which are homes to large groups of the Ahmadi communities. I went there with my Australian friend, who is now heavily involved in trying to get Tahir being resettled to the country. While touring the country, we met with many people: journalists, Ahmadi community leaders, and also people that seem to have experience with immigration matters. While, no one could possibly guarantee that Tahir would be able to get his humanitarian visa granted (we applied for it 3 months ago), there was some optimism… and some of the informants that we spoke to were cautiously optimistic about his case. This is good news, and we keep our fingers crossed that Australia works out for Tahir! Here, I would like to thank my friend Lucy, for being the most amazing advocate in Tahir’s case in Australia. We have managed to progress a lot on the Australian humanitarian visa front, but nothing would be possible without her.
Another piece of news is that Tahir’s interview with UNHCR here in Thailand is scheduled for 9th June. This is an important milestone for him and for our case. The interview that he will be having is meant to establish officially that his case is legitimate and that his life in Pakistan is indeed in danger to the point that he cannot live there, and needs to receive a protection outside of this country: essentially become a refugee. While interviews are indeed stressful, we expect that he should be granted his status. His case is strong and legitimate, and we hope that he will be able to receive his official refugee status soon. If he receives his refugee status, there will be some additional options to help him out. While having an official refugee status does not change his situation in Thailand greatly, a fact that he is a refugee may help him in our attempts to resettle him to a 3rd country. Here, we count on Canada, which has a very interesting programme for resettlement for officially recognised refugees (as, we hope Tahir will be), who are based in countries that do not recognise refugees (as it is a case of Thailand). Together with some of my Canadian friends, we have already done some preparatory work… and we will launch an application for Tahir’s resettlement to Canada the moment that we get his refugee status confirmed (this of course, in case that we do not have any news/positive news from our Australia humanitarian visa application).
In order to give you a complete picture of where we are in helping Tahir, I need to tell you that in a very odd and unusual way, there are still some slim chances that Tahir would be getting a visa to Poland, so that he could travel there, and apply for his asylum in there. Things with Poland are however extremely vague, and complicated to the point that I will refrain from giving you more explanation at this stage. I will only ask you that you all keep your fingers crossed on 11th May… the date when we are planning to apply for his visa to Poland. In case, things work out… I will tell you more!
I need to say that I feel a bit odd about ’the Polish option’ for Tahir. You all are aware that I am extremely disappointed with how things develop in my own country. I dislike what happens there to the point that I decided to permanently resettle from there myself… (as you may remember to Portugal), so an idea that Tahir may actually end up in Poland is somehow a bit strange and to some extent uncomfortable! Again, I will write you more on the issue, if it was to work out…
Otherwise, my days and weeks are all about learning Spanish… I do study every day, and good news is that I feel more and more comfortable using the language. I will carry on studying hard for next few months… Here a big thank you goes to my Mexican teacher Carlos! He has not given up on me, and he bravely confronts my downs and encourages me to do a decent job!
Voila… this is all for today. I will be so very happy to hear news from you soon!
Lots of love and hugs to all of you,
So here I am, at the Bangkok International Airport, having 3 hours to kill, waiting for my flight to Brisbane. I am very excited to be travelling to Australia. It should be an exciting and interesting trip - not only as it is mainly about advocating for Tahir’s relocation to Australia, but also because I will be able to meet many of my friends! Australia: here I come! I hope you treat me well!
It is a Saturday evening now, and my mind is preparing to my next trip. Tomorrow, I am going to start travelling to Timor Leste, a tiny country in the Pacific, north of Australia. The country, where I have never been before, and which allegedly experiences one of the worst droughts in its entire history. Given my job, you might have guessed that I am going there to see how bad the situation is and to investigate whether there is anything that my organisation could do to help the local communities to cope.
Travelling to Dili, the capital of Timor Leste is a lengthy business. Even if it is not too far away from Bangkok, it will take 24 hours of planes and transits, before I set my foot on Timor Leste’s soil. Bangkok - Singapore (10 hours waiting) - Darwin (8 hours waiting) and finally Dili on Monday night. Exhausting but an interesting trip.
I will be reporting what I will have seen. Before this happens, wishing yo all Happy Easter!
It will be a very busy February. Trying to finalise lots of work on humanitarian funding in South East Asia and also trying to work out some strategies on publicising the case of Tahir in Australian media.
Then, at the end of February off to Portugal to finalise all the administrative work for becoming a Portuguese resident!