How does a place become a home? How can Lithuania become home to someone who hasn’t planned to end up here? What we, as society, should and shouldn’t do to make people feel welcome?
On October 19th in Vilnius, Ramintoja Church, we invited refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from different places, who are currently making Vilnius their home. We asked our listeners to join. The conversation was turned into a Nyla Live podcast episode which you can hear above.
According to the national survey from 2013, there are people with 154 different ethnicities living in Lithuania. But it rarely feels that way. 84% of less than 3 million people in Lithuania are ethnic Lithuanians, 7 percent are Polish and 6 percent are Russian which makes everyone else feel like minority.
And public attitudes confirm that. A recent survey, published by Ethnic Research Institute, showed that 1/3 people in Lithuania wouldn’t rent their apartment to a Muslim. Only 1/4 believe that refugees can enrich a cultural life of Lithuania.
However, according to the same survey, most Lithuanians haven’t met any migrants from non-EU countries and therefore haven’t got a chance to know them personally. Their views were formed by the media. This event, in which people with more than 10 different nationalities participated, was a rare opportunity to have a cross-cultural conversation.
„For my first year in Lithuania, I lived in Kaunas. I was the only foreigner working for the company. There were incidents when kids were pulling my hair at the bus and calling me „kinietė“ („A Chinese woman“). Even one work email I got had a title „kinietė“. I felt isolated. I didn’t expect that.“ Wanzhen Koh from Singapore had a rough start in Lithuania. Now she lives Vilnius and calls Lithuania her second home.
Senturk Celik needed to leave Turkey because of political persecution. He came to Lithuania as a refugee and now works as a barber. „It’s very difficult to leave your family, business and opportunities. I have two kids. For two years I was separated from them and my wife. Now they are finally here. I love it here. People are peaceful and humble.“
„A lot of refugees don’t want to live in Lithuania, they go to Germany and other countries. But for a person like me, the most important part is freedom. I am grateful that Lithuania helps us also in a political way“ – Vsevolod Chernozub, political refugee from Moscow, fighting for democracy in Russia. Read his story at our project „Kol Dega Raudona“
Abdo Zein Al Abedeen grew up in Lebanon, but left the country during the war. He’s been living in Lithuania for more than 10 years and became a citizen. His wife Katerina, a Lithuanian from Klaipėda, met Abdo online.
Some relatives wanted to change Katerina’s mind because they believed that a man from Lebanon will use her and leave her. It didn’t happen. The couple are raising two children (pictured above). Abdo says that during his 12 years in Lithuania „he didn’t have a single bad experience.“
Nyla Live events are organised by Karolis Vyšniauskas and Martyna Šulskutė from Nanook collective. The aim is to bring people for live conversation and meet people you wouldn’t usually meet.
Host and editor: Karolis Vyšniauskas
Sound engineer: Kata Bitowt
Photographer: Severina Venckutė
Photo editor: Artūras Morozovas
Original music composed by: Martynas Gailius
Studio voice recorded at Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania
Help and support: Lina Grudulaitė and Lina Kisevičienė
„Nyla“ podcast is supported directly by listeners via Patreon. Listen to other English episodes here:
This episode had an additional funding by European Commission. We made it in partnership with Diversity Development Group. The episode is a part of the Snapshots from the Borders initiative.