‘It’s not an immigration crisis; it’s a European values crisis’

NFGL student Orhun Gündüz got the chance to attend the Human Rights Forums in Gothenburg - and some of the lectures changed him forever. Here are his reflections, about human rights, social accountability, and more.

'It's not an immigration crisis; it's a European values crisis'

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

As Nelson Mandela puts it, us being human in dignity is the cornerstone of enjoying our inherent rights. Although those are the rights that no one should imagine to delay or deny, there has been no occurrence in history that they were served on a silver platter. At this point, I think it is very significant to promote human rights with attempts such as the “Human Rights Forum” which took place on November 8th to 10th in Göteborg – the biggest human rights forum in Scandinavia, held every year in a different city. I was really happy to have a place at the event thanks to the Swedish Institute Network for Future Global Leaders.

At first, I was expecting a few conferences about human rights before leaving for home. However, I was fascinated by the hugeness of the forum, quite successful organizations and endless events. I had the chance to make contact with various human rights organizations and advocates. As a political activist myself, during those two days I always envisioned a similar assemblage at this extent for my home country, Turkey, too.

I was also impressed with the inclusiveness of the forum. Most of the human rights forums I have attended so far are not sensitive to many disadvantaged groups in society such as disabled or crippled people. The hall was disabled access-friendly. There were many sign language possibilities in many alternative conferences, as well.

I could observe the multitude of not only charity organizations to end human struggle against poverty, hunger and crime, but also activist organizations such as LGBT organizations (RFSL), Centrum mot Racism, Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Youth Alive Kenya! etc.

I was pleased to see English conferences and their variety in topics; however, I would want to have as many options/alternatives as the ones in Swedish. Maybe for English conferences, more casual and student-inclusive platforms could have been created with the contribution of more student speakers from various humanist studies. As my humble idea again, there could have been an open public microphone where people passing by in the entrance are encouraged to convey what they think or feel about human rights or any kind of discrimination.

In particular to seven conferences I attended, three lectures have left their mark with me and opened novel considerations in my mind. Paula Monjane from Civil Society Capacity Building Center made a presentation on “Social accountability and fulfillment of rights”, a community work programme in Mozambique.

After her lecture I was able to sense the importance of mutual understanding in community accountability and evaluation of fulfillment of human basic needs. Despite several challenges, they seem to have changed a lot of things in local health centres and people’s minds, as well, which I think is phenomenal.  Second, an impressive lecture was held by the professor Bridget Anderson, “Us and Them: Citizenship, Discrimination and Migration,” who talked about the delicateness of language in migration studies.

I could not agree more on how keeping same immigrant terminology can contribute to “othering” people on the move and how migrants have been seen as a threat, poor people, and hardworking people in different contexts in Europe.

As she puts it, “It is not an immigration crisis; it is a European (values) crisis.”

The third lecture I have found quite interesting was “Tribalism and Violence: Kenya without Violence” by Grace Ndegma and Gideon Ayodo. I was not aware of the youth challenges in Kenya and how they had been abused for violent purposes by political figures. Youth Alive Kenya (YAK) triggers young people to work with the community and encourage them to support human rights.

I feel lucky to know about this youth struggle which strives for political representation in local and general levels against ageism.

Some lectures teach you things, some leave a mark for good. That was how I felt after the Human Rights Forum, as well as keeping in mind that there will always be a lot to do.

Listening to achievements of human struggle against many challenges promises us a world turning into a more open construction and in every part of which everybody would feel home one day.

In this construction, the change relies on each of us laying as many bricks as possible.