Kemal El Shairy
Born in Serbia.
Living in Serbia.
As the chief translator for Catholic Relief Services in Serbia, Kemal El Shairy is on the frontlines of our humanitarian response to the European refugee crisis.
A Ph.D. student in international relations at the University of Belgrade, El Shairy helps people at the heavily trafficked border crossings better understand their legal circumstances and potential next steps.
“I only ask that people try to put themselves in others’ shoes. What would you do if this happened to you?”
“We are on call nonstop. People coming through need information. Many times they don’t know where they are, or they’re not sure if they’re going to be arrested, or registered, or whether they’ll be allowed to leave. So our main job is to explain things to them,” El Shairy says.
In Europe, the refugee crisis continues to grow, with increasing numbers of people fleeing their countries of origin, primarily Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Working with our Church partners, CRS is responding in Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria. CRS support reached 350,000 people in the Balkans in 2016, and we continue to provide assistance to 25,000 refugees and migrants every month. In Serbia, we’re providing medical support, translation services, legal support, temporary shelter, food, water and hygiene.
El Shairy says many refugees arrive barefoot, in need of basic clothing and raincoats. But they also need translators.
“When people come off the bus, the unknown factor is omnipotent. The information that we provide them, at least the information that we’re allowed to convey, is absolutely crucial. We’re explaining to them even the most basic things like the name of the city they’re in. Most refugees don’t even know how to pronounce the next city they’re going to. Serbia is just their resting point. I feel a certain moral obligation to do my best to help these people bridge the language gap. “
“I only ask that people try to put themselves in others’ shoes. What would you do if this happened to you? How would you react? Would you help someone who could be your mother, your father, your sister or your brother? Or would you just walk by?”