Volunteer Blog #1 - Zoë
Two Months in Bosnia
and what I’ve learnt…
I’ve spent the last 2 months or so volunteering with Collective Aid in Sarajevo. Although I'd been keeping up to date with the migrant crisis, before I arrived here I didn't know quite the extent of the issues here in Bosnia. According to UNHCR, 12,434 migrants and refugees (including women and unaccompanied minors) have entered the country this year, and many haven’t been able to leave despite wanting to. Mainly because of the closed borders into Croatia and Hungary, but also now the arrival of winter.
The brutality of the Croatian police, in particular, shocked and continues to shock me. Hundreds of refugees and migrants arrive in Sarajevo every week, many after attempting to cross the Croatian border. Countless people have shown me injuries, smashed or stolen phones (to prevent them orienting themselves with GPS, or to stop them contacting their friends) and told stories about their money and other objects (sleeping bags, blankets, food etc) being stolen by the Croatian police. Thankfully, these stories are now beginning to be propped up and scrutinized on the international stage, but for a long while they were unheard. What amazes me the most is the sheer resilience of so many individuals. Some try to cross the Bosnian-Croatian border everyday, get repeatedly pushed back but don't give up.
Very recently the situation has worsened, with people being denied travel to border areas or being forcibly left in Kljuc. This creates an incredibly awkward and desperate situation, whereby lots of migrants and refugees cannot go back to Sarajevo (as, reportedly, the police often instruct bus drivers not to take them), and also cannot go back to the border-city Bihac, so they’re stuck in limbo by the side of the road, with no shelter and police watching their every movements. Volunteers in those areas do all they can to help, but the weather is far too cold for this to be acceptable. As the harshness of winter deepens, these sort of situations are becoming dangerous and even life-threatening.
You can feel like you understand the situation through reading the news and hearing second hand stories, but inaccuracies in reporting remain so prevalent. Until you come here and hear stories first-hand, see injuries and connect with people, it’s difficult to really comprehend the desperation and determination of so many refugees and migrants who are in this situation. Their dreams of starting a new life in Europe free from war, persecution and poverty are rarely damaged by these dehumanising acts of physical, and emotional, violence.
Since October, I’ve learnt so much from volunteers, Bosnians, refugees and migrants about the importance of kindness. Sometimes shifts can be long and difficult, but the energy and motivation to compassionately feed and give all we can is unbeatable. I’m so humbled and blessed to have had the opportunity to work with every person in this organisation.