I have this hope every morning when I wake up which is created by the freedom of being at home, being free, being alive, being healthy, fit, and being able to choose what I want to do with my day.
When I was growing up [in Kosovo] I initially thought of being an architect. But in a country where the female was secondary, my father said, “Oh no, that’s not a career for women”. I was quite creative in writing and reading a lot and my mother said, “Well, why don’t you study language?” So that’s how I ended up studying Albanian language and literature.
Having to stop my studies and leave the country [during the war in Kosovo], now I wasn’t looking at my career but instead how to survive in a new country. Somehow those dreams and hopes go away, they do not become a priority. At the time I was a mother as well, my son was ten months old.
Being a refugee at that time truly has affected the way I think about myself. Back home, I was respected and praised for the things I did. In the UK I lacked that, I didn’t have any of that praise even though I was working hard. In the UK, although you feel safe, the fact that you are not free to pursue your hopes and dreams, it damages your identity.
I was working as an interpreter. I spoke English, Serbian and Albanian and it was easy for me to earn a living because the need for languages was high, due to the war in the Balkans. That put me in front of refugees. Initially, the role is quite impartial. You cannot engage into any emotional or practical things that are going on. But I found myself often wanting to be that person who gives the advice, because I felt ‘I’ve been through this myself’. Gradually I trained myself to become an advocate.
I want people to treat refugees as normal human beings, to the point where I almost wish there was no labeling at all. I want people to treat refugees with respect, not pity. I want people to understand that the world is changing and sooner or later, whether we want it or not, we will have diversity in every corner of the world. And the sooner we start treating people with respect, the better.
Indira Kartallozi is a social entrepreneur, educator, human rights activist and forced migration expert. She is the founder of Chrysalis Family Futures, a social enterprise working with vulnerable and marginalized families, and the Migrant Entrepreneurs Network, an organization that connects, supports and develops migrant entrepreneurs worldwide. You can read the full version of this interview here.