PROFESSOR WARREN MANNING: Vice-Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Deputy Lieutenant, Mayor of Derby, Honoured guests and Graduands, it gives me great pleasure to be presenting today Ferid Kevric for the award of Honorary Master of the University.
Ferid is the Project and Centre Manager of the Derby Bosnia and Herzegovina Centre. He is a man of exceptional personal courage. He was born and educated in the former republic of Yugoslavia and finished his education at Sarajevo University of Economics. He joined the Yugoslavian Army as an officer and served as a major until 1992.
At the outset of the Bosnian War, Ferid felt he had no option but to secretly desert from the army, unwilling to fight against his Serbian friends and neighbours. In May 1992, he escaped assassination and travelled to the UK as an asylum seeker. He arrived in Derby unable to understand or speak a single word of English. Ferid quickly picked up the language and some understanding of the Derby community.
With the support of his fellow countrymen, he set up a Bosnian Community to help the people from the former republic of Yugoslavia, welcoming people regardless of religion or ethnicity. He networked with many voluntary and community groups and, with help from Derby City Council and housing associations, in 2002 they set up the Derby Refugee Forum, which is still hosted in the Bosnia and Herzegovina Centre.
Under Ferid's guidance, the Centre became a haven for social support, networking, and domestic and legal advice. It provided solace and a tiny fragment of Bosnia on English soil where Bosnians could find refuge keep their language and national traditions alive while integrating into the City. When the Centre was temporally rehoused in King Street, Ferid held the community together and worked with the Bosnian Embassy in London to obtain funding towards a new centre on Curzon Street.
With the more recent arrival of asylum seekers and refugees to Derby, Ferid has open the Centre's doors to them all, welcoming everyone regardless of race, colour or creed and crucially sharing his resettlement knowledge. The Centre now hosts the Derby Refugee Advice Centre, enabling all its services including legal and procedural advice, English language classes, translation services, activities, hospitality, food bank, liaison with the Red Cross and much, much more, all to take place under one roof.
Ferid has helped to make the Bosnia and Herzegovina Centre a second home to those having to leave behind friends and family, often escaping the threat of torture or death. He shares his wealth of personal experience to provide a warm welcome to those in need of safety.
Ferid is celebrating today with his daughter Lejla, son Arman, son-in-law Richard, and friends Nedzad, Bojana and Nick.
Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his outstanding achievements in supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the City, we are delighted to award Ferid Kevric the honorary degree of Master of the University.
FERID KEVRIC: Good evening. Vice-Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Deputy Lieutenant, Mayor of the City of Derby, Honoured guests and graduands. I read the email invitation from the University three times at first, I thought it was a mistake! 'Why me?', I thought. Usually if I'm invited from an unexpected place, it is because I did something wrong and very rarely to receive praise or awards.
This is the greatest moment for me, and I thank you very much for making my day so incredible. I'm not a very good public speaker and my English is still at a learning stage. I will briefly share with you a bit about me.
My life has not been easy, but it is full of joy. I'm from a small village in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I'd initially trained as a car mechanic. However, I didn't like to dirty my hands in motor oil, so I studied Economics at University of Sarajevo instead. I joined Yugoslavia People's Army where I spent about 12 years and progressed onto the rank of Major. But this all fell apart in a number of days with the collapse of Yugoslavia. Unlucky!
When I mention Bosnia and Herzegovina, most people do not visualize its beauty but the bloody ethnic cleansing war that marked the end of the 20th century. Many historians agree that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 ignited World War One, so one can say that the 20th century started and ended with a bloody event in Bosnia. We are certainly not proud of that.
I remember at the end of the 80s, a soldier brought me a book by a French author titled 'Immigrants', which I read twice. In less than two years, I myself became an immigrant, a man without state, escaping a certain death as my close Army colleagues made concrete plans to kill me.
My name alone was a good enough reason for them. How could my name be so wrong or put me in danger? Escaping the imminent dangers of war, my family and I arrived in Dover with Yugoslavian passports purchased on the black market. We did not speak or understand a word of English. Can you imagine the conversation between us and the UK Entry Clearance Officer who asked so many questions. I did not understand anything, and even started to speak my language slowly in the hope that he would understand me, but of course that did not go down well!
The questioning lasted approximately 40 minutes. I eventually opened the small pocket dictionary and pointed to the word 'holiday', which happened to be correct answer. I laughed to myself because 'Holiday' was the name of a hotel in Sarajevo. So, I'm still here, I like this country, I still feel like a holiday maker over here.
Bosnian refugees had a warm welcome from the people of Derby, and today, on this special occasion, I would like to thank to people of this city for their kind gestures during our first days here. From our very first day, we had the pleasure of listening to the birds singing, having been used to sound of shelling and bombardment, which scared away all those creatures.
Arrival here also consisted of a different language, different culture, and different people. It was not easy to start a new life, but we held a hope for a safer future, and in general, we have succeeded. It is a privilege, a responsibility and a great honour for me to be invited here and receive such a magnificent recognition.
This is not just for my work, but the hard work and the results of many of my fellow Bosnians, employees at Derby Bosnia Herzegovina Community Association, and especially the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who pass through the centre and continue to selflessly help the most vulnerable and destitute members of our society; those seeking asylum from all over the world after spending months or even years to reach the UK. One girl shared that she made more than 80 attempts to cross the channel from France and finally succeeded, which is incredible.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank those who had faith in me, my family and my friends. I would like to share with them my great pleasure and honour in receiving this honoured degree on their behalf.
Also, my thoughts are with the millions of refugees and asylum seekers around the world, innocent humans fleeing from the war, from dictatorial systems, from torture and persecution of any kind, from inequality, who are just trying to save their lives and start a new one. My thoughts are with Ukrainians, Iranians Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and many others. This society allowed me the freedom to express my views and ideas, and it will make it possible for many immigrants in the future.
Dear graduands of 2022, with effort and hard work during your studies at this magnificent institution, you acquire knowledge and skills which will help to change the world. I wish you all a lot of success in life, but primarily to build yourself with dignity and a human heart. You will be the generation which will save our planet and prevent disasters. You will stop those irresponsible individuals and dictators who do not care about the human race and daily destroy everything that is beautiful.