borderless Europe – AEGEE-Europe | European Students' Forum AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe / European Students’ Forum) is a student organisation that promotes cooperation, communication and integration amongst young people in Europe. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines – today it counts 13 000 members, active in close to 200 university cities in 40 European countries, making it the biggest interdisciplinary student association in Europe. Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:59:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.11 Last Stop of Team Blue: Naples, the City of Strong Opinions /last-stop-of-team-blue-naples-the-city-of-strong-opinions/ Tue, 13 Sep 2016 17:09:36 +0000 /?p=6869 By Hanna Polischuk

And the trip of the Team Blue is coming to an end.

Arriving to the port of Naples by ferry, also provided by InterRail as well as all the trains before, the feeling of the ultimate destination made us feel a bit sad. Anyway, one more local was awaiting, so we started our preparations.13254199_616349558512685_8107840103327829189_n

Naples is not only the city of the best pizza in the world, but also a city of tradition, architecture, sea port and brave, strong opinions. Young people are not afraid to express what they think and draw attention to what they consider the important issues. A good example of the fact that the young people care and do not stand aside is the demonstration regarding the mysterious disappearance and further discovery of the tortured body of the PhD student Giulio Regeni in Egypt. We saw this demonstration while looking for interview respondents for our project, and when we saw our AEGEE member, Vincenzo as a participant, we asked him more regarding the topic and joined as well.

We organized the EoT session on the first day of our arrival. AEGEE-Napoli arranged everything in a very nice way, and even though it was grey rainy day, inside of the building we had a cozy and warm atmosphere. Moreover, the project manager of Europe on Track, Nicola Guida, and Sofia Lobakina, attended our last presentation, which was a big honour for our team members. Overall, we had 13 participants and the whole evening for the discussions.13267726_616349371846037_6546641549880635412_n

In the beginning, we introduced the project and presented the results from our trip and all the previous stops. In the next activity, which we call “Map Your Europe”, in the same way as at the previous stops, the participants were divided into two groups and had to draw Europe as they perceive it today (with or without the borders). One of the teams divided Eastern Europe, Turkey and Cyprus into 2 parts stating that one is European, the other is not. Another team just divided Cyprus and Turkey. Both of them excluded the UK. For us it was surprising to see the division of Ukraine and Russia into two parts each, that was a new approach.

444Closing our event, we had one more activity, in which everyone could express their personal opinion on the issue. There was a line with the critical points on the two edges, “yes” and “no” with “zero”, i.e. neutral opinion, in the middle. We were asking the questions, and according to their personal answers, the participants were choosing the place on the line to show how strong they agree or disagree with the statement.

Surprising for us all was the first and  we thought the easiest question, “Do you feel European?” There were not many optimistic answers, and it seems the EU fails to have appreciation in the South of Italy. However, on the question about trusting the EU institutions, most of the participants answered “neutral”, and those who said “yes”, explained it by better functioning according to the Italian ones; those who answered “no” blame the institutions in leaving all the responsibility of the refugee crisis on other countries and is failing in managing it. Finally, the last interesting question was regarding the borders, “Is opening Schengen to other countries a good idea?” We got a big “Yes” from everyone, but it was agreed that this should be done until it is safe.13239382_616349235179384_623226194745115593_n

Having such a productive discussion, taking some interviews on the streets, talking to Project Team members of “Europe on Track” and taking part in the demonstration was how we ended our trip as the Ambassadors of this wonderful project. We would like to express our huge gratitudes to the Project Team, all the locals who hosted us and helped with everything, and special thanks to Interrail for making all this possible! I personally would like to thank my team members, Benedetto and Ksenia, with whom we spent all this time together, travelling, learning, answering to the challenges and making a change!

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If you have a chance to become an Ambassador of the Europe on Track #4, don’t hesitate, do it!

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To Schengen or not to Schengen, that’s the question! /to-schengen-or-not-to-schengen-thats-the-question/ Mon, 15 Aug 2016 17:12:48 +0000 /?p=6810 By Chikulupi Kasaka

From the 11th to the 13th  of May 2016, Team Red from Europe on Track 3 occupied Udine land in Italy. The team had quite a good experience despite the rainy weather. On the 11st May, upon arriving at Udine train station, we received warm hugs from Davide and the team of AEGEE-Udine, that made us feel at home.

On the 12th May, Team Red had one mission: to find out the views and opinions of the youth in Udine concerning Youth Mobility. AEGEE-Udine prepared an amazing event where Team Red facilitated a wonderful session that many participants attended. At 5:30pm, the workshop started with Europe on Track travelers explaining and presenting the project. It was quite interesting to see one participant interested to know more about how the Interrail Pass works, since the stops of both routes are connected through it. Our team explained that Interrail is an European company that sells Interrail train passes online to travelers from all over Europe. Interrail.eu is the joint Interrail webshop of 32 European railway companies.In some countries, one needs to reserve seats at some costs, but many of them are free and had enabled Team Red to cross the Western European countries starting from Brussels.udine_2

At first, Team Red conducted a Quiz about Youth Mobility and Schengen Area. In discovering and experiencing borderless Europe, participants were given another exercise to draw the borders of Europe. Participants were divided into two groups and were given blank maps of Europe to draw borders on them. The question put forward was “Where Does Europe End? The exercise is geared toward finding how many youths are aware of what Europe is and where it ends. At the end of exercise two different European maps were presented.Afterwards, we asked participants to share the mobility and exchange programmes they have attended. Many had benefited from youth Exchange programs and enjoyed mobility within Europe. In terms of mobility, many participants have enjoyed traveling within Europe with school programs, conferences, internships, AEGEE-projects, etc.

After knowing that participants have enjoyed borderless Europe and traveled within the Schengen zone, the next session was a group assignment. We divided them into two groups, that were given two separate questions: “Should the Schengen Zone be expanded?” and “Should the Schengen countries be allowed to temporarily closeudine_1 borders to refugees?” After a few minutes of group discussion, one member from each team had to present their responses to all participants.

To the question: Should the Schengen zone be expanded? The group said: Yes, it should be expanded to countries like the United Kingdom. Because the youth in Europe needs to enjoy mobility. Also, if the Schengen zone is expanded, it will make it easier to increase youth opportunities for employment. Lastly, the group suggested that, if the Schengen zone is expanded, it will enhance the “European Spirit” to all youth and make them feel as one. On the other hand, to the countries which are unstable and face wars like Turkey, there needs to be a special criteria for them to meet before they can be included in the Schengen zone.

Should the Schengen countries be allowed to temporarily close borders to refugees? The youths in Udine were uncertain due to the serious contemporary challenges that Europe is facing. According to them, on the one hand, some countries should be allowed to temporarily close their borders for security reasons as well as to manage the refugee flow. On the other hand, those countries should not close their borders because of the risk that restricting mobility in Europe poses to the European project. There might be a risk of not being able to restore the previous borderless Europe.

Do you agree with these opinions from youth in Udine? Share your opinion with us!

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What do Greeks think about a borderless Europe and the refugee crisis? /what-do-greeks-think-about-a-borderless-europe-and-the-refugee-crisis/ Sat, 16 Jul 2016 16:16:01 +0000 /?p=6684 By Hanna Polischuk

The next stop where we experienced the refugee problem and raised the question about the borderless Europe was Greece. We asked some students, whom we met in Athens and Patras, for their opinions. Most of our respondents have already been travelling around Europe either for holidays or for education and cultural exchanges. Many of them have gained international experience by being members of international organizations and studying in other countries via Erasmus amongst others.

Fly athens

On the question if there are borders in Europe, almost everyone said that they are, but only in our minds:

I think that borders are mostly in the European minds, because now with everything that has been happening, we have more prejudices towards what’s going on in Europe and the people who are coming to Europe. The government is following that mindset, which means that they create policies resulting closing borders.

Theodora Giakoumelou, 19

However, it is not possible to notice the border problem inside the Schengen area:

If we talk about the Europeans, there are no strict borders, but the other people outside of the EU have problems to visit Europe. I know it from the experience of my friends from Asia and Africa.

Dimitris N., 22

There are not really visible borders in most of Europe, but if you check better, you can see that in some countries there are completely no borders: you can go between countries just passing by, while in other countries it’s harder to do that, you have to follow some procedures or some paperwork, especially if you go from the West to the Eastern side of Europe. Nowadays, it is going harder and harder to realize that once we did not even care if there were borders, but now, with the refugee crisis, they are coming back to the reality. Many countries are even building a visual borders.”

Dimitris Bouloubassis, 23

For Greek people as well as fo13265980_615852725229035_4493971792193996963_nr other EU members it is very easy to cross borders and travel from country to country. In the world passport rating Sweden, Finland and Germany are ranked the country #1, for which most of countries are open (visa free). Greece is a bit lower in the list; however, it also has a high position. Many Greek students confirmed that it is not hard to travel for them.

When we went onto the streets, we met many refugees. As we understood from what we saw and heard from locals, the refugee problem is growing bigger every day and Greece accommodates currently more than 50,000 refugees at its territory:

Many refugees, especially in the Greek islands like Samos, Chios, the ones that are actually very close to Turkey. I believe the number is something like 50 thousand people or something, which is related to the population, it is low I guess. But imagine all those people have gone through this situation with women and small children, it is difficult. So, it is not so much problem for us as it is for them I guess.

Orestis Panagiotidis, 21

Greek youth feel mostly safe in their country, being able to understand the reasons why people moved there:

I feel safe because I do not think that these people want to harm us, Greeks. They want to find a new home and job. So, I don’t feel afraid, and I am fine with them.

Vasiliki Petrakou, 21

I think that it is difficult for them too, and I think th13237683_615852638562377_227857386974934013_nat we should have solidarity and help them to integrate here in Greece. Because there is a war at their home, I would be afraid too. It is not safe not only for me, but also for them. It is difficult; ok, I am afraid, but it is not only me here. I live with other people, so… If I had a war in my country too, I would go away, it is true.”

Yiota Mitropoulou, 20

Yes, I feel safe in Greece. I am very proud about the behavior that Greece shows to refugees, and I think that the other European countries do not have the behavior that they should have. So, it is important to inform people about the problems that refugees have, to be more open-minded about these problems, and to understand that we need to help to solve these problems.

Dimitris N., 22

I think that the refugees are the people who have a lot of problems in their countries and they come to Greece or to other countries because they want to find a better life. So, I think we must help them, because all of us, we are the same, we are people, and we should help people who have problems. So, in a lot of cases refugees do not make lots of problems to people who live in the places where they come; but in other cases a lot of them make problems because in such conditions in which they live, they have nothing to eat, they don’t have a house for living. So, it is possible that they will start robbing because they do not have money to eat. And so, it all feels strange: in lots of cases you feel safe, in other you don’t feel safe.”

Akis Tripolitsiwtis, 21

In the opinions of many Greeks, the European Union has failed to solve the refugee crisis. As the EU is trying to find a compromising solution, and it is really hard (almost impossible) to find a compromise between so many countries, the problem becomes bigger instead of being solved. The latest solution was an agreement with Turkey and Greece in order to stop refugees from going further. But even with huge efforts and the financial support, only two countries cannot cope with such a huge problem.

So, should borders be more open or closed at all? This question is difficult because on the one hand we all strive for the mobility, and at the same time we want to be secure and protected:

I think that the borders must be open, but in cases when people come from other countries, they should not create problems to people who live in the country they visit. For example, in Greece we have many economic problems, and many people don’t work, because they don’t have work. So I think when people want to come for vacation, is ok; those who come for living is also ok, but I prefer to take the work which they might take instead of me. This situation is very difficult for us.”

Akis Tripolitsiwtis, 21

13227200_613653185448989_3924533945965814428_nIn my opinion borders have to be open, but when you visit a place, you have to respect the local culture, traditions etc. You have to explain them not to implement them in your life, but you have to respect them. So, open borders with respectful physicals, let’s say. That’s my opinion

Orestis Panagiotidis, 21

When we talk about the Greek-EU relationships, what positive and negative points can you think of?

“Positive? Hmmm… Because we’ve been born and grown up in Europe and having all the privileges of the EU already, we do not perceive them as positive. But, of course, being able to travel around Europe without a passport is a great positive point; Schengen is great, as well as Erasmus and other mobility and educational programs. As for negative points, I think right now when the European Union is facing a great amount of existential problems, meaning that we do not really know what we are doing with the EU, how do we want to change it in order to be able to adapt to the new circumstances, both in economical and the social field.

Elena Panagopoulou, 24

What would you wish for the future of Europe? The most common responses are: being more united, open-minded and helpful. Here some of the responses:

13226936_613653178782323_5795814118772003586_nI would like to say something to be changing the European Union at the moment, because I think that Europe is not only the EU but it really affects the situation around Europe. So, I would like to say changing something in how the European Union is working right now.

Erifyli Evangelou, 21

They should understand that it is not only our problem, of Turkey and Greece, and the Eastern Europe; it is a problem that affects us all.

Vasiliki Petrakou, 21 and Yiota Mitropoulou, 20

I wish a more united Europe in terms of diversity, borders also, and understanding, because if Europeans cannot understand each other, there is no solid future for us. And there is no actually future for this generation. We need to understand our needs, and satisfy everything that needs to be covered. There are actually should be more reforms.”

Dimitris Bouloubassis, 23

To be more open-minded and to feel as European citizens instead of feeling the citizens of a single country that has borders, and to be more secure about economics, about technology. I think there are many people who have the abilities to succeed.

Dimitris N., 22

It was a big pleasure not only to discover this wonderful country, but also to hear the voice of youth, which gave us the insight about the situation and attitude in the country. We sincerely hope for the improvement of the refugee situation and rational, effective actions from the EU side. We would like also to express our gratitude to AEGEE-Athina and AEGEE-Patra for helping us with organization of our activities, for their hospitality and care. Moreover, huge thanks to Interrail for the opportunity to cross borders fast and with comfort!

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Team Blue Is in the Country of Democracy /team-blue-is-in-the-country-of-democracy/ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 09:55:43 +0000 /?p=6637 By Hanna Polischuk

After such a warm hospitality of the three Turkish cities that we visited, it was hard to leave the country so soon. However, our route was already planned, and two wonderful Greek locals were waiting for us Our first stop in this country was Athens, the city of the famous Acropolis, democracy, Agora and gods.

AEGEEans from this amazing locals organised a city tour which described us the ancient and modern Greece. The main discussion was about democracy and how it developed through history. We could feel the past when we went up to the Acropolis, the ancient citadel of a great historic significance. But we only felt like real Greeks after tasting gyros and drinking a couple of glasses of frape.

13227116_613652232115751_6734689722210336571_nWe also attended a very interesting exhibition regarding the refugee crisis, “Suspended Step Cartoons”, aimed at showing the real picture of the refugee crisis and organized by The Association of Greek Cartoonists and The District of South Aegean Islands. It had indeed a great success: the hall was full of people exploring the works of over 20 cartoonists. All those works were really touching and frustrating; they made us think and be more aware of the scale of the problem. When we interviewed one of the cartoonists, Vangelis Pavlidis, he could not hold the tears while talking about this. Here you can understand why.

Later on, we gathered together with young Greek people in the university to know what they think about the biggest current problems in their country. We divided them into three groups in order to discuss three topics: EU-Greece Relationships, Youth Unemployment and Refugee Crisis in Greece. One person per team, the moderator, stayed in the same place, while the others were moving to another group in order to have a chance to discuss all the topics.13245487_613652105449097_3672689756546245210_n

As a result, the problems highlighted in the first topic were weak Greek economy, lack of trust to the EU institutions, false image of the country, lack of unity, unbalanced social states, wrong politics and lack of the migration policies. The solutions offered consist on easy steps: learning from the mistakes, understanding the European values, improving the communication and cooperation, fostering and developing the civic education, enforcing the equality among the EU countries, and finally increasing the involvement of the citizens into the decision-making process.

As for youth unemployment, most of the problems were the same as in every European country; however, the unemployment rate in Greece is higher than in most of them. Among the main obstacles to improve the situation are scarce job opportunities, lack of communication between universities and job market, prevailing of connections above knowledge and experience, no willingness to do manual labor jobs while striving only for the ‘prestigious’ jobs, and thus, creation of undesirable supply of workforce in a single field that has no more demand. The unemployment problem exist for many years and the clue is near; there are many ways to improve the situation, but it has to be organized and fast.

The first step will be understanding the real job market’s needs and encouraging the most needed professions; then, improvement of the communication between universities and enterprises, their mutual development of the internship programs; and lastly, the development of the open-mindedness and youth entrepreneurship through the mentorship platforms.

Regarding the last topic of discussion,  the refugee crisis, lots of problems were named. Among them are war and insecurity, racism and discrimination, bureaucracy and corruption, no cooperation between nations, and no fixed political agenda. Young Greeks see the ways to deal with those problems in unity and cooperation resulting to a common policy, integration policies, simplification of the procedures, increasing support and humanitarian help, changing the current government while voting reasonably and implementing the necessary reforms throughout the EU. When there is a problem, there is always the way to solve it, and most of the solutions depend on us.13233157_613651182115856_3997036037883047431_n

After an intensive day in the capital, we departed to Patra early in the morning. The language in the train was not understandable but by the detailed explanations of Dimitris, we managed to get to the next city without any problem. At the bus station we were warmly met by the president and treasurer of AEGEE-Patra. While Ksenia and Benedetto decided to have some rest at home, the rest of the team went to open the swimming season. Even in spring the water in the Ionian sea is warm. After the refreshment and cultural night program we began the serious day. Even under the hot sun we found some young people who shared with us their opinions about the borderless Europe. 13241348_615852195229088_387481140209867202_n

We organized a parliament simulation being the main topic of discussion “Is Schengen Dead or Alive?” Everyone had a chance to express the opinion, and there were many arguments for both sides of the question. The biggest debates were about security versus refugees. From one point of view, it is important to take care about refugees and help them integrate into the Greek society. From the other one, there is a fear that terrorists can pretend to be refugees, and that letting them in will weaken the security and increase the chance of an attack.

Among the reasons to open borders were solidarity, support for the victims of the war, sharing the burden, protection of the human rights and respecting the Schengen agreement. On the contrary, the opposing team explained the necessity to close the borders mainly because of the terrorism. They suggested to enforce an European army with border guarding and intensifying passport control. We should  help people who are leaving their homes and past life behind in order to survive and protect their families without any doubt. At the same time, there is a need to cooperate among all the EU states in order to unify and improve the general security.13256100_615852255229082_6559252599137052595_n

We were actively engaged in both discussions but we let the participants speak out. In the political EU world there are similar discussions going on and on without any clear final solution nor strategy.

By what we understood, if the government does not take any actions, its people will change the rulers. We live in a time of changes and fights for democracy and human rights. Whenever you come to Greece, you feel it more than anywhere else. We are very grateful to AEGEE-Athina and AEGEE-Patra for this amazing experience and their warm hospitality. Also, we would like to thank again Interrail for this opportunity!13267791_615852268562414_4512342797948786114_n

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Same questions, different people /same-questions-different-people/ Mon, 04 Jul 2016 17:28:56 +0000 /?p=6598 By Hanna Polischuk

Travelling from one Turkish city to another, we discovered that not all the young people see Europe and its current issues in the same way. However, there is a strong wish to become a part of Europen from the youth perspective. Below you will see the current problems the country is experiencing from the point of view of Turkish youth.

DSC_0811Do you think there are borders in Europe?

Yes and no. There are borders in Europe as we see in the maps; but no, because each young person can go abroad and feel as a local there. There are no borders in Europe. If we talk about social and national borders, each nation, each country and each tradition is different; it makes kind of a distinction from people to people. (Ayşegül Gökdağ, 21, Turkish, student)

Yes, of course, because to go to Europe, I need to take 19 different documents, and I need to pay 100 EUR for the visa fee. Every time I want to go to Schengen area, I need to pay. It is like that for all Turkish unless they don’t have a special passport; only the high government officers’ children can get this passport, it is really little amount of people. (Yasir, 27, Turkish,  research assistant)

Do you feel yourself European? Do you think about Turkey as a part of Europe?

I think Turkey is not totally European. We should develop ourselves more, get used to European rules and its lifestyle. I feel myself European, I have been in Europe for so many times and this has changed my opinions: I can think like a European citizen. (Tuğçe Demir, 22, Turkish, student)

I don’t think so. Our country is divided into the West side and the East side. A little bit of West side is a part of Europe but the East side is not exactly, because our culture is very different from the European cultures. It is a problem, I think, but our education, healthcare and economic systems seem like the European ones. (Mehmet Eker, 22, Turkish, student)

In the European Union there are lots of countries and parties that don’t want Turkey in the EU, as there are lots of countries and parties that want Turkey in the EU. Inside Turkey it is the same thing: some people want to enter the European Union as soon as possible, and some people prefer to stay out of it. Between 2003 and 2006 our current government came a long way towards EU membership, but then, the people that were against the membership gained the upper hand both in Turkey and the EU. What is worse, our prime minister used the EU-reforms to gain control over the government, the judiciary, the army, and the media. Now that our prime minister has made himself our president, and cracked down on virtually everybody, I think the EU membership is further than ever. (Evrim Emiroglu, 22, Turkish, Student)

DSC_0007 (1)Do you think there is a refugee crisis in Europe? What is the refugee situation in Turkey? Do you feel safe in your country?

Refugee crisis is a very important question right now. Refugees are escaping from war in their country, and that’s very understandable. Turkey opens its doors for them but there are so many that we cannot maintain home, food, jobs and everything else they need for them. Europe should help us but it just sent all refugees here, maybe they paid a little money for that but it’s not enough. When Europe sent them to us, it wasn’t a solution. It made the problem even bigger for us. Nowadays, there are 800.000 refugees in Europe but more than 1,5 millions in Turkey. Europe should maintain homes, work, foods etc. for them; of course, Turkey can help with that, and it will be a better solution. I hope this war will finish one day and it will be the real solution. We, the people, are living our lives still in our cities like Paris or Belgium. Life is going on, terrorism is everywhere, not just in Turkey; there is no chaos and war here.

The crisis still continues for both the EU and Turkey. The EU doesn’t have a real solution and it is trying temporary ones. Refugees’ situation is better than a for lots of Turkish people. They have more rights than us. For example, we must pass lots of exams to join the university but they don’t need to pass any exams. They don’t need to work anywhere because our government takes lots of money from us and gives it to refugees. You can be a worker or not, maybe you are student but you have to give money every month for this problem and it is not because of the fear. (Ongun Batuhan Altan, 29, Turkish, Founder and Owner of Fotodizayn)

DSC_0653 (1)There are more than 3 million refugees in my country. Everyone is aware of the situation. There is a war in their country, people are dying. I think that European countries should have their doors open to more refugees. To be honest, nowhere is safe anymore. Terror is not just in Turkey or the Middle East. Terror is in Paris, Brussels, Beirut,… Terror is everywhere! (Toygar Öter ,23, Turkish, student)

According to the latest news, there will be an agreement between Turkey and the EU. People wonder whether Turkey will accept all refugees back or not. If the current government accomplishes the deal, visas between them will be abolished (except some countries like UK). Especially during the Syrian civil war lots of people had to abandon their home, and they have no chance to go to Iraq due to some conflicts between those countries. Some of them had to move to Turkey and others had to go to Jordan. Like the other countries, Turkey has plenty of refugee camps to stay. Of course we are people and we have dreams not only personal but also for the next generations. If we think from this perspective, refugees have the right to find a way to live in welfare. I feel myself very comfortable and safe, like other European citizens. Sometimes we encounter too bad situations to put up with, but all around the world people can come across this kind of bad events. (Beril Akan,20,Turkish, student)

I feel safe; refugees are desperate people: there is a civil war in Syria. They only want a place to live and work, a home. But most European countries don’t accept them in their own country, and it is very sad. We have more than 2.5 mln refugees right now, but European countries just want to give money and get rid of them. That’s the situation, unfortunately. (Ozan Çaglayan, 22, Turkish, student)

It depends on where you travel or where you are living. For example, in Istanbul and Izmir I feel safe but when I travel to Eastern Turkey, it is totally not safe. It is not about refugees. Yes, they cause some economical problems, but not problems about security.  (Batuhan Çarıkçı, 22, Turkish, student)

DSC_0576Accession negotiations of Turkey (about joining the EU) started in 2005. Which do you think are the reasons for so long process?

According to my research and because of the fact that I study economics, I know that the growth rate of Turkey is higher than the average of Europe. On the other hand, when we look at the budget deficit, the external debt and unemployment rates are much lower according to Europe. Therefore, the European Union thinks Turkey is not ready to be a part of it. Most EU members have some kind of anxiety. Also in Turkey there is confusion about the taxation system, the environment and human rights. These are really complicated things, and in my opinon, the  European Union is worried about the possibility for Turkey to become a more developed country if it joins the EU; on the other hand, Turkey doesn’t try to grow and develop itself, there is still a long process. (Tugce Fetullahoglu, 21, Turkish, student)

There are many reasons. I can think of the biggest ones: unstable behavior of the government in Turkey, geographical location, terrorist attacks in the East, religion and the prejudices against Turkey. (Anıl Öztuvan, 20 , Turkish , Student)

It is really hard to say. At that time Turkey was never part of Europe. We are a little bit outside it. Our culture is different, our religion is different. And to mix both of them, Europe and Turkey, takes so long. Both sides have different opinions. Maybe because of that? (Jülide Acıkara, 22, Turkish, Student)

As you can see, Turkish youth understands well the problems their country is facing. However, all these people are hoping for the positive changes including the refugee situation in Europe in general. We should open our eyes and listen to what this young people tell us, because they have a reason. When we asked them what do they wish for Europe, in most of the cases we heard “peace”, “understanding”, “hope for refugees” and “no borders”. Let’s make these wishes true together!DSC_0478

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Imagine there’s no borders – Team Blue in Turkey /6572-2/ Sun, 12 Jun 2016 12:39:53 +0000 /?p=6572 By Hanna Polischuk

Our travel continued. We were heading directly from Bulgaria to Turkey. In the train we met young people from New Zealand and Spain. What a surprise! The trip became more interesting, especially when we began the discussion about borders. Rosa was going to Turkey because her Schengen visa was finishing, and Cesar, the Spanish EVS volunteer in Moldova, decided to do the Balkan trip with the last-minute decision to go also to Turkey. We were sharing our stories for a while, when suddenly, the train stopped in the middle of the night. We looked at the window and saw nothing but darkness. Just in some more minutes of staring into the deep night, we noticed a high fence all covered with razor wire.Sofia-Izmir

The train was standing still for a while, and then, the door opened making a creaking sound, and the passport controllers came in. They were rush and silent. As soon as we arrived to the Turkish part, we all were waiting in a line to get the visa stamp in the passport. When Ksenia gave her Russian passport to the controller, he decided to make some jokes like “Turkish visa in Russian passport? You might have some problems when you come back to your country. Are you sure you want it? Are you sure?” We did not consider this funny but all of us got visa, and we proceeded with the bus to Istanbul. This is how our Turkish trip began.

During our stay, we made three stops: a very short one in Istanbul and two longer in Eskişehir and Izmir. From the first city we felt the warm hospitality of these people. Yasir met us in the early morning, gave us a tasty breakfast and helped us to arrange our tickets. I doubt that without his help we would have managed to do everything we had to. Over the short time we spent watching Istanbul from the car window we realised that it is a city worth to be explored at least during a week; hopefully each of us will have the opportunity to come back.IMG_0139

We have to say that Turkish train stations are safe: there is a very strict control and everything is organized. The only problem was the announcements of trains and stops in Turkish, so we always were wondering “where are we now?” and if we did not miss our stop. The trains are very modern, fast and comfortable. Finally we could rest after the hard night. Thank you, Interrail!

In Eskişehir, we met the biggest and the most active local on our whole way. Most of its members stayed with us all the time: from the first day till the last one when they were running after the train when we were leaving. It was one of the most touching moments during the project! They put a lot of effort into the cultural context: they cooked traditional food for us, ordered a huge breakfast in a restaurant, taught us Turkish dances, made a workshop of musical spoons, showed us local places, made all sorts of city tours, and all this just in a couple of days! Every day we had an intensive program and did lots of activities with AEGEE-Eskişehir, every moment we were discovering something new! Moreover, they gathered lots of people for our sessions, becoming the biggest ones in our EoT route!DSC_0616

Afterwards, we went to Izmir, the city of the sun and the sea. Life there seems relaxed, people are friendly and easy-going. We were lucky to get two sportive hosts, Batu and Ediz, so we did sports every time we could: football, volleyball, jogging, martial art, pull-ups and other exercises, and we even had a competition on the last day. AEGEE-Izmir organizers showed us the best of their city and prepared very delicious food for us. But not everything is so bright when you notice the contrast from the happy life that reminded us why we are here: in many places, we met refugees who were trying to make some money with a low-paid job. One can see how sad they are, all of them: from little children to elderly people. When I saw a lonely little girl of 5-6 years trying to sell some napkins to people when it was close to midnight, something inside me shrank. Just stop and think: how many children who fled from Syria are living such life nowadays?DSC_0306

Talking about the sessions, the answers in both cities were almost the same. The problems are obvious, and the solutions need deeper discussion.

Turkish youth see the European Union as an opportunity but they also noticed that the biggest part of their country is not ready to join it yet. First, they should solve important internal problems and show what it is to be European. Partly, the country has already adapted the EU standards and its people live like in the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, many other countries do not see Turkey as a European country because of the different culture, another religion and people’s prejudices and misinformation. Still, the minority of the participants keep thinking that Turkey has nothing to do with the EU: it is different and has a unique culture that should be protected from globalization.

During the mapping game, where participants had to define the countries and borders on the borderless map of Europe, they only included in Europe the Western part of their country. According to them, the rest of Turkey is not ready yet: the more Eastern it is, the less common are the cultural values with the European countries.DSC_0103

When it comes to EU-Turkey relationships, the main problems are: prejudices from the rest of Europe, islamophobia and historical background. The above-mentioned problems can be solved by improving education and enhancing international student mobility. Yet, visa issues create more obstacles for Turkish people who want to integrate in the European society: the price is very high, bureaucratic procedures take lots of time, free travel is highly limited, etc. Some of the solutions could be the simplification of E-visa procedure, free cost for students and active youth and acceleration the process of getting visa.

Most of the participants think that Europe fails in the management of the refugee crisis: the amount of them is growing every day in Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, but their way stops in those countries as the rest of Europe is closed for them. According to them, refugee crisis in Turkey is characterized by poor accommodation, high unemployment, lack of education and non-willingness to integrate from both sides. In order to solve it and decrease the criminal rate, it is important to stop discriminating asylum seekers and refugees and start creating a comfortable environment for them. The government should think how to organize proper accommodation, education, decent jobs, a platform for cultural exchange and integration and increase in supervision of human rights’ adherence.DSC_0523

We see many problems in Turkey, as well as the desire of young people to change things for better. The growing youth participation enables this positive change. Nowadays, while studying in different European countries and receiving international students in Turkey, they erase stereotypes as well as borders between them. The promising future will integrate countries more and they might start living in peace and harmony. What we saw and heard in Istanbul, Eskişehir and Izmir makes us draw these conclusions full of hope.

To everyone who was part of this trip: Teşekkürler for everything!

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Team Red in Barcelona exploring youth mobility! /6536-2/ Wed, 25 May 2016 17:31:49 +0000 /?p=6536 By Chikulupi Kasaka

Team Red arrived in Barcelona in the wake of Monday 9th May 2016 from A Corña through the overnight Interrail train. Upon arrival, our hosts Aegee-Barcelona came to pick us up and took us to our accommodation at St. Christopher’s’ Inn Hostel. In the evening of the same day, the team had a workshop with youth in Barcelona. Participants had the opportunity to learn about the Europe on Track 3 Project, a “Where Does Europe End?” exercise and ended by discussing youth mobility and their experiences with traveling abroad, exchange programmes as well Erasmus programmes.

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With Youth mobility session, participants were told to share their experiences concerning traveling abroad or within Europe and with regard to exchange programs or European voluntary service. We all discovered that, many of them have experienced youth mobility in one way or another. Many of them have enjoyed borderless Europe and the freedom of movement, either through touring with family and friends, through the Erasmus program, through AEGEE or through internships and placements. Some of the participants have been in more than 20 European countries. The exercise inspired other fellow participants who have little exposure to mobility to apply for similar kind of opportunities in future.

After realizing that many participants have crossed many borders within Europe through their youth mobility experiences, Team Red gave them a more challenging exercise. The team divided participants into two groups and gave them blank maps of Europe and asked them “Where Does Europe End?” At the end of the exercise, we had two different versions of European maps. Doina Volcu from Moldova seemed to be well knowledgeable of the history and the borders of Europe. She took the liberty to explain to the rest of the participants about the borders she and her team drew. She explained more about Ural Mountains, which for many people borders Europe and Russia. She talked about the Ottoman Empire and its influence in Turkey. Indeed, the exercise was more challenging and educating to many participants.

A short presentation about Youth mobility followed. The presentation was more centered on Erasmus Plus and its goals. Erasmus Plus is the EU programme for Education, Training, Youth, and Sport 2014-2020. It is a new approach towards maximizing youth mobility and exchange programmes through a single integrated programme. Erasmus programs run through centralized activities at the European Union level and through decentralized activities at the National level, for example, the Erasmus Plus-UK.IMG_5419 (1)

Erasmus plus widens opportunities for youth mobility by making it sustainable. More than 2 million higher education students will study and train abroad. 650 000 vocational students will spend part of their education and training abroad. 200 000 Master’s students will benefit from a new loan guarantee scheme and more than 25 000 scholarships for Joint Master Degrees. 500 000 young people will volunteer abroad and take part in youth exchanges and 800 000 lecturers, teachers, trainers, education staff and youth workers to teach or train abroad.

Participants were of the opinion that, despite existing massive opportunities for young people, and a genuine intention to enhance mobility, there is a dire need to disintegrate information about the Erasmus Plus programme at the grass root level. Most young people are more aware of the former Erasmus programme but not of this new approach. Otherwise, they think Erasmus Plus is a great deal for fostering youth integration and mobility within Europe.

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The workshop ended with participants filling in a short questionnaire about Europe. Europe on track team is thankful to AEGEE-Barcelona especially to Claudia, Jordi, Bruna and Catalina for their hospitality. See you somewhere in Europe!

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Interviewing at the Bulgarian-Turkish Border /6546-2/ Mon, 23 May 2016 16:45:49 +0000 /?p=6546 By Hanna Polishchuk

On our way from Bulgaria to Turkey we met again one boy that travelled with us in the same train just a couple of days ago from Serbia. We decided to introduce each other and to ask him about the trip. César Perales is a 25-year-old EVS volunteer from Spain currently living in Moldova.

On our last train we all witnessed how the police took several young boys out of the train when we were approaching the Bulgarian border. We thought that they might be refugees, so we began to discuss this topic with our new friend. Below you can find the outcome of our conversation.

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Have you ever been abroad? Have you ever taken part in any international project?

Yes, I visited most of the European countries. Sure, Erasmus in Italy, European Voluntary Service (EVS) in Moldova.

Was it hard to cross the border?

Just waiting many hours while crossing Transdniester, but in general it was easy and fast, especially in the Schengen area.

Have you ever applied for visa? Did you face any difficulties?

Yes, for Turkey. It was not difficult: I ordered it through internet and got it in 20 minutes. The price was 20 EUR, and that’s it.

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What do you think about the refugee crisis?

I think that Europe does not care too much about it. In my opinion, the borders should be opened, but of course there should be the same kind of control in every country. We need to care about refugees, and think how can we help them instead of closing borders in front of them.

I remember the first time when I met refugees. It was in Belgrade, Serbia. We were walking in a park, and at some point we noticed more and more people sitting on the ground and sleeping the street. Later we saw the house of the Red Cross and some other associations. There was also the sign in Arabic and English: “Welcome Refugees!” At this very moment I understood that those people are the ones who run from war in Syria. I was shocked because I did not expect to meet them just like this strolling in the park as a tourist.

The second time I met refugees was about a week ago in a train when I was travelling to Montenegro. As there were free seats near us, 7-8 young boys sat on them. In a while, one of them came to us asking if the train is going to Subotica, a Serbian city on the North. Unfortunately, it was not like this, we were going in the opposite direction. When they realised their mistake, they decided to get off on the next station. When they did, the police was already waiting for them outside. Probably the train controller informed them. The police took all boys somewhere, and since then I have no idea what happened to them.  

Do you think they were dangerous?

No, of course not. They were just like other people. They are running from the war. They were just worrying if they are going in the right way because they probably spent their last money in order to get this ticket. When those boys knew about their mistake, they became extremely sad. They spent lots of money for nothing.

What is your wish for Europe?

I hope for the better future of refugees. Europe has to do something in order to help them; the border should not be closed in front of people who need help. If Europe continues closing and tightening borders, then I don’t want to be a EU citizen.

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At some point our discussion was broken off; we were interrupted by a long stop. We looked at the window, and it was already deep night. The only thing we could see was a high fence with razor-wire fence. Suddenly, two men in military form came in for the passport control. We spent some time to cross the border. In order to receive the stamp on the passport we had to listen to some strange jokes from the control officer who said to our Russian team member: “Are you sure you want a Turkish visa stamp? It is a problem for the Russian passport. Are you sure? Haha!” Right after this interrogation, we went to the bus in order to get to Istanbul. We could not continue by train because the roads were under repairs but the bus trip was not very long, and in the early morning we were admiring the views of this beautiful Turkish city.

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Team Red in A Coruña: United in Diversity? /youths-in-coruna-debate-whether-the-refugee-crisis-unites-or-divides-europe/ Fri, 13 May 2016 08:15:12 +0000 /?p=6517 By Chikulupi Kasaka

Team Red of Europe on Track 3 arrived in A Coruña, Spain at 11am on 7th May 2016 with the best train experience. Thanks to Interrail for making it a real once-in-a-life experience!

AEGEE-A Coruña warmly welcomed the team and offered us a nice time to relax and get ready for the sessions. Our host, Alejandra, took the team for lunch to boost their energy before going to a workshop. This revived the energy and enthusiasm of the team to go and discuss the Refugees and migration crisis in Europe.

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AEGEE-A Coruña organized an event under the name “Whole of Europe is a theatre”. Isn’t it a curious title? Yes, it is! And the team was curious to find out what A Coruña youth thinks about Europe.

The workshop was organized into 5 mini sessions. The first session was about the introduction and presentation about Europe on Track 3; then, we presented and explained our personal experiences with mobility and travelling abroad and within Europe. The third session was an exercise on “Where does Europe End?”; the fourth session was a presentation about “Refugee Crisis in Europe: Do refugees pose a threat to Europeans?” which was followed by a critical debate. The last part of the workshop was a short questionnaire about Europe.

Mobility and traveling abroad. We realized that many youths in A Coruña have not benefited a lot of from exchange programs like Erasmus Scholarships or European Voluntary Service (EVS). On the other hand, many of them have enjoyed travelling within Europe through AEGEE programs. To them, AEGEE is really important in enhancing youth mobility and integration in Europe.

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Where Does Europe End? This exercise was really fun, critical and worth doing. Each participant was given a map to draw a border on where he/she thinks Europe ends. Each participant came up with different borders on their maps. At the end, we all came to the conclusion that the borders to where Europe ends are not really known. Some of them were confused over the members of the European Union and those within Europe. At some point, participants were discussing if Luxembourg, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina they were part of Europe or not. The exercise was enjoyable and all were happy eventually to learn more about Europe.

Refugee Crisis in Europe and whether refugees pose a threat to Europeans. The presentation analyzed how someone can become a refugee and the process one goes through from being an asylum seeker to being accepted as a refugee. The youth in A Coruña was familiar with some refugees’ experiences in Turkey and Greece. Participants were shown the data on the number of refugees arriving per day in Greece, which is from 0-4500 and that Turkey has the largest number of refugees, over 2 million people. Finally, the presentation showed the amount of money already spent on the refugees. At the end of the presentation, a question was asked to all participants; do refugees pose a threat to Europeans?

The question led the participants to debate over the new topic, whether “Refugee crisis unites or divides Europe”. One side held the opinion that refugee crisis unites Europeans, especially when they came together to help other countries like Greece and Turkey and when the European civil society stood up for refugees with the Refugees Welcome movement that quickly spread through European society.DSC_7309

On the other side, some participants were reluctant to the acceptance of refugees into Europe and said the crisis divides Europe, because some countries do not agree on accepting refugees resettled in their own countries. Other topics related to this issue that are influencing some parts of society are Islamophobia, xenophobia, security  protection over one’s national culture, and fear of the downgrading of the living conditions.

The workshop ended by neither party win nor another lose. All participants agreed that Europe has the political will and financial power to assist and help refugees. Finally, the questionnaires with short questions were distributed to the participants and all shared their answers to the questions asked and what can be improved for a better European future.

The workshop was successful due to the teamwork and great preparations of AEGEE-Coruna. Special thanks to Alejandra Pérez and Paula López, main responsibles of the local event, for making the ambassadors’ experience in A Coruña warm despite of the rain and very much worth it.

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Our next stop is Barcelona. Stay tuned!

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More unity, more solidarity, more European identity /more-unity-more-solidarity-more-european-identity/ Mon, 09 May 2016 07:27:44 +0000 /?p=6507 By Hanna Polishchuk

During our stop in Hungary, we had the opportunity to ask young people what they think about the European Union, borders and the refugee crisis. We would like to share with you some interesting answers we received from Péter Sczigel, 22, Hungarian, Student and the President of AEGEE-Budapest and Màtè Bàlint, 24 ,Hungarian,  Analyst of the Central Bank of Hungary. They both have international experience, and travelled to other countries for different reasons. We asked them how easy it was for them to cross European borders.

Do you feel borders in Europe? If yes which ones?

Péter: Yes, both physical and mental. Outside the Schengen area borders are still very real, but I think that the biggest problem is that even inside Schengen most people still have a mental concept of borders between their country and the rest of Europe that really limits their thinking.

Did you have any difficulties crossing borders?

Màtè: I did not have to apply for anything, I could pass to other countries without borders. So, it was easy.DSC_9966 (1)

Do you feel European?

Péter: Absolutely.

Màtè: I feel Hungarian and European as well. It is a hard question, maybe more Hungarian than European, but I would need more time to decide that,it’s not a clear idea in my mind yet.

Do you think that the European Union should extend or decrease?

Màtè: Well, I can’t think about the size, I have read that it will be expanded a little, including the Balkans, and some countries will join. There is also a plan for Turkey, but it is not decided yet. However, as far as I know it won’t expand, especially to the East. Now the composition of the countries and cultural differences is very fresh, so it would be really risky to expand it more.

Accession negotiations of Turkey (about joining the EU) started in 2005. What do you think are the reasons behind such a long process?

Péter: Because European people are reluctant to have a country with Muslim majority in Europe. Also, regarding the culture, Turkey is very different from Europe and due to its enormous population, Turkey would get a big proportion of votes in the European decision-making mechanisms, which is something that no one in Europe actually wants.

Do you think there is a refugee crisis in Europe? What is the refugee situation in Hungary? Do you feel safe in your country?

Màtè: Well, I know that there is a fence, and that they set the border, which according to what one of the parties in the government says, has a gate, and people who come peacefully and who are proven refugees can come. But the opposition said that it is a closed gate, and no one can come in: there is a fence and people who come there should go home. It is really hard to decide which is the case because I have not been there.

Right now, there are no refugees in Hungary because those who came in passed through, and then the borders were closed. As far as I know, refugees stopped in Turkey and did not go further because there were some caps for them. The European Union made an agreement with Turkey about this issue. Right now no one comes, and even if they came, there is a fence in Hungary; it is like a double security.

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From the Hungarian side, I think it is important to accept refugees in an organized way so that people could not come to the Schengen area and just travel inside. Europe is a very fresh alliance, and it should not expand more because it would be too risky. Another point is that the fact that people can travel and come in without any IDs tempers social security because they would feel that they do not have any supervision.

Péter: Yes, there definitely is. The situation is not very serious in Hungary, as most refugees do not want to live here but rather move through the country to get to Western Europe. However, the refugee crisis provided a great political capital to the government, which communicated the situation in order to achieve their political goals. I absolutely feel safe, but I wouldn’t feel threatened even if Hungary was a major refugee destination.

What would you wish for the future of Europe?

Màtè: I think Europe should not jump from one idea to the opposite one, exaggerating one point or the other. In my opinion, the answer for questions like these, which separate people so much, is somewhere in the middle. And if you look at the European history, you can see that extremist ideas obviously led to bad decisions.

Péter: More unity, more solidarity, more European identity, less nationalism, less conservatism.

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