Conversation with Magdalena Miteva
Magdalena Miteva joined FAR in 2016 as a volunteer intern. In 2019, she became part of the Board of Directors and is one of the established members of FAR's advocacy team. She is involved in the development of the digital platform Migrantlife.bg, which enables thousands of refugees and migrants to access legal information and legal aid.
Annie: You have been a part of the Foundation since 2016. Having been there for so many years, how would you describe it?
Magdalena: Maybe, I'll start a little bit further back. I joined FAR as an intern in 2016. It happened at a time when I was hesitating whether I had chosen the right specialty. I didn't like the way the University taught, and the subject material seemed boring and dry. I was looking for ways in which I could experience law, because I realized that the theory being taught was not what was happening.
By chance, I came across FAR's advertisement for volunteer trainees and decided to give it a try. I really liked what the Foundation is doing and especially the way they communicate with the beneficiaries, i.e., they don't treat them as "just another client" but each case is taken "very personally". FAR presents the human side of law, showing that it can be used to achieve something good and justice. From there, I decided it made sense to continue my education so that I too could help these people at some point, to see the gratitude in their eyes. Everyone who has passed through FAR, no matter what the outcome of their case, has been so grateful that we were a part of their battle. FAR gives its beneficiaries the feeling that they are not alone.
Annie: What does FAR’s strength lie?
Magdalena: Mostly in the people, led by Valeria. For them FAR is not just an organization that is there today and gone tomorrow, but it is a long-term cause. The people who work at FAR give their all: soul, knowledge, experience, free time. Moreover, the very approach that FAR has towards refugees and migrants. For us, the key element is listening and hearing people: what they say and what they feel. Working at FAR, I realized the importance of listening and hearing. People themselves feel the care and respect we give them.
Annie: What is the job like for you at FAR?
Magdalena: Working at FAR is something that gives me the opportunity to contribute to society, doing something important and possibly helping to make other people's lives better. Yes, the work is hard and sometimes takes "Saturdays and Sundays", however, when at the end of a busy day you get a positive decision in a case, which means that another battle is won, everything goes away, only joy remains. We are happy together with our beneficiaries. FAR gives you the feeling that you are not a person who exists for yourself, but that your existence has some meaning. Working at FAR allows me to leave my mark on individual human lives and to feel human in the complete sense of the word.
Annie: Do you remember the most significant Court case of FAR for you?
Magdalena: I can recount many cases, but as the most significant one, I remember the case of a stateless person. It is about a very long battle - the person had endured so many hardships, including being detained. We finally fought for humanitarian status on the grounds that they were stateless and, as such, had no access to rights and nowhere else to go. I was very happy for him, I even cried a little, and he was extremely happy. The case showed me that in the end, no matter how long the battle, there can be a positive outcome.
Annie: How has FAR developed over these years?
Magdalena: The growth of the Foundation has been so fast that sometimes I wonder if we can keep up with it. But our growth is very well deserved and timely so that we can accommodate as many people in need of legal assistance as we can.
I was introduced to FAR through a training - 'PromiseRefugee', which I enjoyed very much. Moreover, I was not only a participant but also a youth coordinator in it. We are still in contact with some of the participants.
For me, FAR's journey is like a roller coaster: sometimes we go up fast, sometimes we fall down. But even when we fall down we have time to rethink things so that we can go up again. There have been different moments since 2016. Now I think we're at the peak of everything we're doing.
We have become stronger, we have more influence and we have well-earned credibility, although it has always been very high. I remember in the very beginning, when nobody knew me yet in refugee and migration law circles, when I said I was from FAR I always heard only good words. I never met anyone who said that FAR had done anything bad to them.
We are growing, we are learning new things. Over the years we have even learned how to be more independent and ever more independent. I never imagined that in 2023 FAR would have offices in so many cities in Bulgaria.
Annie: What would you wish for FAR?
Magdalena: For an organization 10 years is not the same as human years. If FAR has existed for that long, then we are doing something meaningful and useful.
I would wish FAR to continue to be on the front line and keep on growing in order to continue helping others!
Conversation with O. Dimitrov
Olga Dimitrov is a person who has been working in the field of refugee and migration law for over 20 years. She started as a student at the Law Clinic, went through various specializations in Bulgaria and abroad. Olga is an integral part of the teaching team of FAR's training programmes and is one of the people who are developing the digital platform migrantlife.bg.
Annie: You're the person who's been part of FAR since the beginning. What is the path of the Foundation for you?
Olga: FAR's path has not been easy, and it has taken a lot of time and effort to give the Foundation the place it deserves among organizations working with refugees and migrants. FAR's recognition in the legal aid field did not happen immediately, and was accompanied by a number of challenges, but FAR succeeded in a very significant and meaningful way.
A big step forward in FAR's recognition is the partnership with UNHCR. Initially, in the area of providing legal aid to stateless persons, and since last year to refugees and migrants.
FAR possesses the necessary expertise, knowledge and experience. I must note that the Foundation has successfully dealt with two major refugee crises. The first, which began in 2013, was triggered by the war in Syria and the current one is related to the war in Ukraine. What distinguishes FAR from all other organizations is the individual approach and the lack of " pigeonholing ". Over so many years, despite the generally accepted rule that the system breaks its participants, FAR has continued to fight meaningful battles. These battles are related to systemic issues and are of great importance for refugees in Bulgaria. Another important element is the fact that FAR chooses its battles by focusing precisely on strategic systemic injustice. Despite the huge number of refugees and migrants to whom FAR has provided legal aid, its name remains untarnished. The Foundation manages to maintain the same approach to all beneficiaries it assists.
Annie: Where does FAR's strength lie?
Olga: The strength of the Foundation is in the individual approach to the people we serve. The real magic is the fact that at FAR we see them mostly as human beings and as such we try to work on their cases. Often NGOs fall into the trap and start to mechanize their approach to people, whereas we still very much insist on individual work.
I think that's one of FAR's intentions - to listen to people and empower them to have an impact on the things that happen in their lives. FAR’s power extends well beyond pure legal expertise.
Annie: You have made a huge contribution to the development of FAR's digital platform migrantlife.bg. What prompted you to join the FAR team in this area?
Olga: I truly believe in the power of digital inclusion. Information that people can't access in real life becomes accessible thanks to our platform in the easiest and most practical way possible. We try to make it accessible both on a comprehension level, easy to grasp and in all the languages we can provide, and on a complete access level, for those who can't see or read. We research the users' habits of accessing information so we can serve them. We also carry our messages to social media, where people are looking for advice. There are a thousand other ways we can improve the platform, especially if we listen to our users.
Annie: What are the advantages of the platform and why is it important?
Olga: The platform helps people not to drown in the sea of available information. The quality of our articles is very high, they are updated regularly and are credible. The platform is also the link to the service suppliers. Now with LiveChat it provides direct contact with our expert connections to the digital communities. And as the icing on the cake, it is a portal to our digital legal aid. It is a true one-stop-shop. People need it, they have no time to waste.
Annie: What inspires you most at FAR?
Olga: Faith. Everyone who is committed to the cause of FAR has a lot of faith. That is the strength of FAR. I learn a lot from the people at FAR to have faith.
Annie: What would you wish to FAR?
Olga: I wish that FAR never has to compromise, maintains its integrity, and is an oasis for both its clients and employees!
Lighthouses are needed by sailors as a landmark in the dark of night and especially when away from home shores. Refugees and migrants, swept away by the storms of life and politics far from their homelands, need such a landmark to find a safe shore for themselves. The Foundation for Access to Rights - FAR is that landmark for them. Our European civilization has proclaimed many human rights, but to ensure real access, real people need the warmth of human empathy and the light of knowledge. FAR, through the people who have dedicated their expertise and humanity to its cause, gives their warmth and light to those who need it here and now. FAR's story is one of daily struggles. Battles with indifference, with misunderstanding, with not knowing, with prejudice, with tiredness. These battles give the people who fight them a sense of purpose. Its victories bring satisfaction and joy. FAR's 10 years is a story of tireless and true service of people carrying in their hearts a great love for what they do.