Grimshaw Club meeting with Ambassador Tim Simmons at the British Embassy in Ljubljana (May 2006).
In April 2006, a small group of students with a general interest in migration and refugees visited Ljubljana. Slovenia, since its accession to the EU, has become a frontier for migrants who are at best seeking a better life and at worst being forcibly exported into the sex industry or shadow economy.
We were staying, ironically, in a hostel that was until recently a prison, one that had at one time detained the current Slovenian Prime Minister!
The first part of our itinerary saw us meet the British Ambassador to Slovenia, who gave a balanced and thorough overview of the political makeup of Slovenia in transition. This allowed us to greater appreciate what followed – a captivating insight from the regional migration agent for the newly formed British Serious Organised Crime Agency. His stark descriptions of the way in which migrants seek to gain entry to the EU and more disturbingly are often sold in still chaotic parts of the Balkans informed demonstrated to us all the human impact of ‘migration’ – which had previously just been an academic concept for many of us.
A meeting with Slovenia Philanthropy, a prominent NGO that offers outreach and assistance services to refugees, again underlined the human side of migration, in particular with regards to unaccompanied children and trafficked women. This also allowed to learn of the failings of both Slovenian and European legislation in providing basic welfare assistance for refugees and assisting with their integration.
Meeting senior civil servants from the Ministries of Interior and Government Office for European Affairs respectively gave us the opposing view, and we were informed of a Slovenia that welcomes and benefits from migration, whilst she struggles with both EU imposed edicts and the instability of the Balkan region in dealing with migration generally.
Immigration is often used as a political football, and Slovenia is no different, with a recent law undermining their right to claim asylum and police instructed to become the front line of dealing with those who have so often suffered from the most unbearable trauma.
We learnt not only about Slovenia, but also about South East Europe generally and how the impoverishment that so many people in the world are placed in drives them to migrate for what they hope will be a better life; migration truly is a global issue that cannot be dealt with domestically. Many people, particularly women, are however denied the choice and forced into the sex industry. We learnt that 25 per cent of all prostitutes in Britain are from Eastern Europe, whilst 80 per cent of all British prostitutes are ‘owned’ by Albanian gangsters – and only a continental, if not global approach can manage the demand and shut off the supply to this nefarious industry.
Grimshaw Society trips bring together those students who are most moved about an academic issue to discuss it freely in a social context in a relevant environment and we all certainly enhanced our knowledge of the plethora of issues relating to migration on this thoroughly enjoyable and informative visit.
The social side of our tour was far from ignored, and a perfect balance was struck between business and pleasure. The ebulliently named ‘Skof’ restaurant delighted all concerned, although a shortage of the house speciality dessert – ‘Golden Pineapple’ – disappointed two more vocal members of the group. Friday night saw us visit the obviously named ‘Klub’, where 1980’s Yugopop pumped through the speakers, occasionally interrupted with more familiar capitalist tunes.
I am sure that our excursion has enlightened us all and we will share our experiences with others. Migration is an extremely politically loaded issue, but one which on the ground is impossible to separate from the very human dimension; migration is not merely a concept, but a barometer of people’s lives and welfare across the world.
We would all like to thank Tom Ketteley, BSc International Relations, for organising this trip and Petra Kavcic, from the University of Ljubljana, for taking time to guide us around her city