A visit to an Eastern European detention facility for undocumented migrants in the summer of 2010 is what did it for me. I was there as a journalist, interviewing detainees. They all greeted me not with a “hello” but with a number. “Six months here.” “Ten months here.” “One year and seven months here.”
It will sound like a cliché, but it bothered me to see people who have not committed a felony – but have instead often fled persecution or conflict – live in prison-like conditions.
And what bothered me even more were the little details of these people’s lives in detention – a calendar on the wall of a cell, a bowl on a nightstand with beans soaking in it, a stained teddy bear smiling from the corner of a bunk bed. Were the detainees trying to feel at home?
That’s when I began to develop an interest in migration and border issues.
I’m also an immigrant myself. I was born and raised in Bulgaria, but I’ve spent much of my adulthood abroad. I’ve lived in New York City (I will always be in love with that place!) and Brussels.
My home now is Toronto, where I volunteer at a shelter for refugee claimants who would otherwise be homeless. The shelter is an actual house called Matthew House and I absolutely love going there, but that’s the subject of another post.