Radostina Pavlova (’99): ‘I had both a duty and a burning desire to contribute to improving Bulgaria’s asylum system’
Radostina Pavlova (‘99) obtained her master’s and Juris Doctor degrees in Canada, where she worked at the Canadian federal agency Statistics Canada and then as a policy analyst with the federal department Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Determined to help improve Bulgaria’s asylum system, she returned to her home country and joined the non-governmental organization Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria (CLA). A Journalism and Mass Communication and Business Administration major back at AUBG, Radostina says her years at the university helped her gain “useful practical skills, a degree of confidence in my own abilities, and lasting precious friendships and networks.”
Where do we find you at this moment?
In the office of the non-governmental organization Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria (CLA). The CLA office is a room in the building of what was in the 1930s one of the fanciest hotels in Sofia, built by a famous architect and located just off the main commercial strip – Largoto. That area was bombed during the Second World War, but the building survived, now in relative disrepair, but offering decent working spaces at low rental cost. Since the CLA’s mission is to provide pro bono legal aid to refugees and migrants in Bulgaria, its location close to the mosque and the Women’s Market area, where some of them live or work, is very convenient, especially for the weekly open hours, when anyone can come without an appointment and have a consultation on their asylum application in Bulgaria or other migration-related issues.
What was your first destination after AUBG? Describe your career path.
After graduation, I spent about two years in Sofia, trying out different jobs and roles, all in the area of media and advertising. I wanted to continue my education and in September 2002 flew off to Toronto, Canada to enroll in a Master’s program in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto. It was a small program with some of the world’s best professors in the field and it opened my eyes to the historical and political realities of our region in a way that would have been impossible from within. After graduating in 2004, I took a job with the Canadian federal agency Statistics Canada, working initially as an assistant for the 2006 Census of the Population, and after that as communications officer and training and methodology officer.
By that time I had further developed my long-standing interest in migration and ethno-cultural diversity issues, so I set a goal for myself to work in policy-making on these matters. This became a reality in 2009, when, after completing a second graduate degree, this time in Immigration and Settlement studies, I was hired in the position of policy analyst with the federal department Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC – now IRCC). I spent two years working with CIC in the capital Ottawa, literally two blocks from the Parliament building, under a conservative government and a Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who was determined to challenge some grounds that Canadians were perhaps taking for granted – multiculturalism, an open immigration policy, respect for human rights as paramount. Interesting times! I returned to Toronto in 2011, working in the regional CIC office and in 2014 finished the Juris Doctor law degree at the University of Toronto that I had started initially on a part-time basis.
In April 2014, I decided to return to Bulgaria, largely for family-related reasons, but also because of the so-called refugee crisis raging here that had occupied my attention – I felt I had both a duty and a burning desire to contribute any skills or knowledge I had to improving Bulgaria’s asylum system and the fate of refugees. So literally on the day I landed in Sofia, I met with the director of Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria, who showed me an incredible amount of trust and support, and within a couple of days, I was a part of the team, volunteering during the open reception hours. I have since joined the managing board of the organization, and am also working as its advocacy officer and project manager.
How have the years at AUBG prepared you for your career?
I don’t think that an undergraduate degree can fully prepare someone for a career – and I don’t think that nowadays people have a single job or professional path that defines them – but I definitely gained useful practical skills, a degree of confidence in my own abilities, and lasting precious friendships and networks.
What class had the most significant impact on you?
More than one, but if I have to mention just a couple, perhaps Professor Tony Osborne’s Persuasion and History of Mass Communication. And I am grateful that thanks to Financial Markets and Institutions (I took it with Professor Didar Erdinc), of which I was initially terrified, I could still explain to a 5-year-old the difference between futures and options if I have to.
Knowing what you know now, what would you want to tell your student self? If you could change something back then what would it be?
I would not change much in my choices, but I would try to tell my student self to be brave and confident.
What are the things that make you tick? What is your greatest passion or motivation at present?
Over the last couple of years, I have focused on my work on advocating against immigration detention (in 2016 we created the website www.detainedinbg.com, where you can read some articles I have written on the topic). I am passionate about it because immigration detention means depriving someone of their liberty and subjecting them to isolation from society, even though they have not committed any crime. In our context, the detention regime is, in my opinion, bearing the heritage of the repressive apparatus and mentality of the communist regime with its labor camps and arbitrary punishments. This is why I am committed to deconstructing the idea that it is somehow normal to detain people.
Future projects and plans that you look forward to with anticipation?
Since June 2018, I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the international human rights network EuroMed Rights. This has allowed me to add a MENA region perspective to my work as a human rights defender and I am looking forward to what’s coming in the remaining two years of my mandate. I have also renewed my interest in migration issues in North America, learning about recent developments in challenging or limiting immigration detention in Canada, for example, and I would be a very happy person if I find a way to contribute to this work.
Article reprinted with permission.
Originally published on the AUBG Alumni Association website.