News ID: 265764
Published: 1021 GMT February 17, 2020

'They've abandoned us': Srebrenica survivors still living in camps

'They've abandoned us': Srebrenica survivors still living in camps
ALESSIO MAMO/THE GUARDIAN

A view of Jezevac refugee camp near the Bosnian city of Tuzla.

When Mujo Hrustanovic was transferred in 1997 to the Jezevac refugee camp in Bosnia, he thought he would stay for just a few months. That was what the government had told him. But more than two decades on, he is still there.

The 75-year-old shares a 30 sq. meter apartment with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and their two children in one of the 50 white homes in in the camp built by international organizations near the city of Tuzla, the Guardian reported.

Such apartments, intended as a temporary solution, have instead become a permanent home for hundreds of survivors of the genocide in Srebrenica, Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War.

“They’ve abandoned us,” said Hrustanovic’s son Avdo, 25, who was only a few months old when his parents were forced to leave Srebrenica.

“These people have shared with the international community all of their pain, and what have they received in return? A dilapidated home, forgotten by everyone and everything.”

On July 11, 1995, forces under the command of the Bosnian-Serb General Ratko Mladić entered Srebrenica, a predominantly Muslim city in eastern Bosnia. They rounded up all men of military age and murdered them. It is estimated that more than 8,100 people were killed in Srebrenica. Hrustanovic’s brothers were among them.

In all, the 1992-95 war in Bosnia left about 100,000 dead and drove more than two million from their homes. According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, there were still 98,324 internally displaced people at the end of 2015, 7,000 of them in temporary or collective shelters.

“There was never a clear strategy for the return of Bosnian refugees to their villages devastated during the war,” said Branka Antic-Stauber, the director of Women’s Power, a group providing psychological support to Bosnian refugees.

“Sometimes, even after their houses were rebuilt, they found it hard to return. Almost all of them are suffering from PTSD. We are talking about primary, ongoing and chronic traumas here. There are women who are still searching for missing members of their families.”

About 20 minutes from Tuzla is the refugee village of Mihatovići, home to more than 150 families. Almost half are from Srebrenica, including Mirsada Malkocevic, 45, who is unemployed and lives with her ailing mother.

“I brought my mother here because she needed assistance,” she told the Guardian.

“She had been living in another refugee shelter, and I fear that she’ll die in one without ever enjoying the possibility of a dignified life. I’m all she has today. The Serbs killed her husband, three children and three brothers.”

Malkocevic’s story is a common one. For several months she lived in tent camps and sport halls before being transferred to the refugee village, where authorities promised a home and the resumption of a normal life.

“When I arrived in Mihatovići, I thought that they would assign us a real home,” she said.

“Here we still are after 25 years. A family of five living on my mother’s war pension of about €400 a month.”

Only 20 people in the village are in regular employment. Muhamed Mehmedovic, 30, who works in a factory, said, “I earn €240 a month and I consider myself one of the lucky few in Mihatovici. The truth is that there is no future for young people in these villages. The war didn’t only destroy people’s lives, it also annihilated children and grandchildren who have been born and raised in these camps, trapped in the same traumas their parents are living.”

Antic-Stauber described it as a transgenerational transfer of trauma. “Trauma is being transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations of offspring of the survivors,” she said. “Jezevac and Mihatovići are currently housing third-generation people who were born in the camp where their grandparents moved to.”

Avdo Hrustanovic, who moved to Jezevac as a toddler, finished business school last year and is unemployed. He spends most of his time at home while his children, aged five and two, play in the muddy streets. They get by on their grandfather Mujo’s war pension.

“Every July, journalists go to Srebrenica for the anniversary of the genocide, but no one comes to Jezevac to see how the survivors of that genocide live now,” he said.

Mehmedovic said life in Mihatovići was like being in limbo.

“Everything around the lives of Bosnian refugees has been planned temporarily. Our residence is temporary because they reassign it every two years, as are our passports. We live in an eternally provisional state.”

The Srbrenica survivors are now not the only refugees in Bosnia, with Syrians and Afghans living like homeless people at the train station of Tuzla. Memories of the war are still fresh in Bosnians’ minds. They know all too well what it means to be forced out of one’s home.

“When in the night I light a fire, I think about the migrants sleeping in the streets of Tuzla,” said Mehmedovic’s mother, Aisha.

“You know, it happened to us Bosnians not too long ago.”

“But men and governments tend to forget the past,” said Mehmedovic. “Just as after the war they forgot about us.”

 

 

   
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