‘In Their Shoes’: Journeys Of Refugees

Our Refugee Week event 19th June 2021

June is a blissful month at Shpresa Programme. On this month’s first weeks we celebrated our volunteers and their wonderful work, which is always acknowledged and appreciated. Being part of a team who works tirelessly to provide for the community, once again, we worked hard to deliver a live event celebrating Refugee Week 2021. Refugee Week is a national festival celebrating the contributions, creativity, resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. It celebrates a vision that allows refugees and asylum-seekers to live safely within inclusive communities, where they can valuably contribute. A growing global movement, the 20th of June is now recognised as the World Refugee Day. 

Due to the bad weather, we were unable to meet at Stratford Park and participate in the joyous celebrations we had planned, however that did not stop us. The virtual event planned on Saturday evening gave all participants a chance to walk #INTHEIRSHOES (in Refugee’s shoes). The team awed the audience with a moving presentation of refugee stories that spoke about their pain, struggles and the resilience to integrate and contribute to a country they now call home. 

The event commenced with the soothing melody of the young Albanian flute artist, Donisa Kastrati, who set a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Luljeta Nuzi, the CEO of Shpresa Programme welcomed and acknowledged the guests, attendees highlighting the importance of the refugees in our society, acknowledging their difficult journeys with a focus on their success stories, their positive and hard work.

A visual presentation put together by our Be The Change team reminded us the historic & factual journey of Albanian refugees from 1989 to date.

Refugee week event
  • 1989, 4,800 Albanians entered the embassies in the capital, Tirana, to escape from isolation, poverty and political discrimination. The communist regime was forced to allow them to flee, with 3,200 migrating to Germany, over 800 to Italy, 600 to France, a few dozen to Turkey, Poland, Czechoslovakia etc. More than 1.3 million Albanians joined them through decades. 
  • From December 1990, tens of thousands of Albanians illegally migrated to Greece every month. 
  • February, March 1991, over 30 thousand citizens, took control over the vessels in Vlora & Durres, and left for Italy, following many more in the times to come. 
  • After 1992, thousands of Albanians migrated every year, illegally or otherwise. Their journeys extended beyond familiar borders, to all western European countries, followed by USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. During 1990-1996, about 450 thousand Albanians had left, 75% of which were in Greece. 
  • 1997, the economical & political collapse brought a new wave of immigration, shaping the Otranto Canal into a freeway by rafts and other vessels. A common destination was again, Greece & Italy. 
  • During 1997 – 1998, about 150,000 Albanians emigrated, followed by thousands more during 1999 – 2000.
In their Shoes

With the arrival of a new decade, the immigration rates were lower compared to peak periods. Albanians keep seeking asylum abroad, and not only: Thousands of Albanians leave Albania legally yearly, through family reunification, employment, government programmes, education, etc, accumulating to a total of 30-40 thousand people leaving Albania every year. 

Following a heart-breaking reality, the event followed Rogerta Hasmuca assisting to share a video-exhibition of successful Albanian refugees in the UK, which welcomed the introduction of this new campaign. #InTheirShoes, commenced in the beginning of June, when Shpresa Programme started to share success Refugee Stories on their LinkedIn profile. The initiative is open until November 2021, and we are still awaiting submissions. 

Vera Celkupa, another lovely volunteer introduced The Right Honourable Stephen Timms, who was a member of Parliament for East Ham from 1994-2019; a Shadow Minister for Employment from 2010-2015; has had numerous post and who has been the voice for many refugees living in East London and a great supporter of Shpresa Programme throughout the years. He has helped individual members at Shpresa, campaigned on our behalf and has sponsored events and visits to the Parliament for our users. 

Esmeralda Lala introduced the honourable ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo, Mrs Arrita Gjakova. The honourable Ambassador, a great supporter of Shpresa Programme focused on the 1999 – 2000 migration when Albanian Kosovars were forced to leave their homes due to the war. Mrs Arrita Gjakova, movingly spoke about refugees that are not only successful but also, pivotal torches to follow.

One of such wonderful people is the successful and inspiring Systemic Family Coach, Parenting and Grief Recovery Specialist, Human Rights Activist Adelina Toplica-Badivuku. Mrs. Adelina Toplica-Badivuku is one of the many refugees that has endured challenges and turned them into success and inspiring stories.  Her 20-year experience involves, working with families, working in a leadership position in the public sector, practice development, and supervision. She is the best colleague you may wish to have. She spoke about her journey and more, shared her colleagues and friends’ successful and meaningful stories. Dafina introduced John Stokes, a foster carer for nearly 30 years and cared for many young people including Albanian young boys. Hard work and dedication were reflected in his story as the carer of an Albanian young boy. 

Vera continued to introduce Mr Peter Laing, the CEO of the Renewal Programme, which was a key organisation in helping Shpresa Programme grow in its early stages. Hygerta followed and introduced Elona Gega who shared her Refugee Success story. Having been part of Shpresa Programme since her early arrival in the UK and remaining a good friend of Shpresa Programme as she is strong and confident to have overcome all challenges faced.

Emi Gjoni, the director of a successful organisation ALISAR Prospects Training CIC, with an aim to educate young people towards accreditation and employment.  She spoke about the challenges she had to overcome, which lead her to be proudly vocal for empowering women within our community. Wonderful fighting spirit, as all the Albanians are blessed with. Alternatives and Mind followed, they have offered group sessions and counseling. They have been amazing with our users, by helping and supporting their mental health and wellbeing. They spoke about how wonderful it has been to work with us and our communities.

Herman Kola, one of the students in the Albanian School Project who was present from the beginning of the event, shared a poem on the refugee week. Him and his family have migrated to Italy and recently to the UK. He is a brave, intelligent young boy, willing to learn and share his passion about his home-country. He went on to recite a poem from a famous Albanian writer “Fan Noli”, the Flag anthem – “Himni I Flamurit”. 

As we approached the end, Hermonda Kalludra who was the Project Coordinator for the COVID-19 Project at Shpresa Programme and had a key role in Women’s Advocacy Project as part of Be the Change. Her amazing job in empowering women and advocating for refugees and asylum-seekers lives on. She shared her story as a young refugee, fleeing Kosovo in 1999 – 2000. Hermonda shared the struggles of her family, fleeing the bombings from Yugoslavia; her journey in Montenegro until they reached the UK. Now she is a master’s degree holder in International Relations & Political Science in the London School of Economics. Hermonda works with NGOs in Kosovo & in the UK, e believer and activist of human rights, she now is a project coordinator at Axiom International LTD. 

We cherished, appreciated, and acknowledged the work of refugees within our community and all around the world. There is no world without Refugees. We are all part of one family – Humanity; we are all different but all the same. We at Shpresa will continue to grow and build together, #InTheirShoes.

Amina, a young woman who assisted in the delivery of the event, shared a poem with us:


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