Born on the Move
’We are proud to be parents. There are so many difficulties and we are aware of our situation but when we see our children and their smiles, we forget everything, and we completely surrender to the role of the parents."
Since 2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been struggling with an increased influx of refugees and migrants. While the majority of them see BiH only as a temporary stop on the way to Western Europe, some of them have stayed for a while and even started their families here. With non-discrimination being one of the core principles laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, BiH, having ratified the convention, is required to ensure access to administrative justice to all children including refugee and migrant children. According to data provided by UNHCR’s partner organization, Vasa prava, their lawyers have assisted in the registration of 62 refugee and migrant children in the birth register. In addition to completed procedures for 62 children, enrollment procedures are currently underway for two children. Furthermore, they have the information that six more children were born in BiH whose parents left the country immediately after the birth of the children, so these children are not registered in the birth register.
Families with children are accommodated in three temporary reception centers in Sarajevo and Una-Sana Cantons. Since 2019 UNICEF with its partner, Danish Refugee Council, ensures pediatric and general health care services to meet multiple health care needs of migrant and refugee children in these centers. Within this activity, UNICEF supports the provision of paediatrics services including general immunization and health care for school enrollment through the engagement of paediatrician team within properly equipped pediatric units inside of reception facilities. Pediatric teams ensure timely reaction in terms of providing diagnostics, curative examination, therapy, consultation, and triage of children patients. With the establishment of the pediatric units, the quality and number of services delivered to children in need of health care significantly increased with positive impacts to individuals, families and the entire community, as well as to public health. More than 1100 children were assisted with at least one of these services in 2020.
Some of the families of children born in BiH decided to share their stories and experiences.
Farid and Iman are asylum seekers from Iran who have been living in temporary reception center Sedra for more than two years with their 8-month-old daughter, Azami. Azami was born prematurely, at 7 months in Cantonal Hospital in Bihać. As her mother recalls, pregnancy was a very strenuous time, both mentally and physically.
‘’ I was shocked when I found out that I was going to be a mother. Both my partner and I have children from previous marriages who are now in Germany and I was not ready to be a mother again, especially not in this setting. Also, pregnancy meant that we would not be able to continue with onward movement. We prefer legal ways of reuniting with our daughters in Germany, but it takes too long.’’ However, the newborn baby, to which her mother refers as ‘my Bosnian daughter’, has given them positive energy which somehow balanced things.
‘’My daughters are my true loves and I try to do my best for them but right now my possibilities are limited. I can’t do what I want for them now, I can only give them my love.’’, says Farid while holding Azami lovingly in his arms.
Habib is a 6-month-old baby born in Bihać, currently accommodated with his parents in TRC Sedra. As his parents recall, the postpartum period was very difficult as this was the first pregnancy for both, they were inexperienced parents who sometimes found it difficult to get optimal care living in the collective accommodation. As Habib’s mother recalls, without continuous support from UNICEF/Save the Children Child Protection Officers and staff in Mother andBaby Corner many things would not be possible. Mother and Baby Corners staff provides her with diapers, baby food and promotes and supports breastfeeding as the optimal method to feed infants.
‘’Giving birth to my blond, blue-eyed baby is the biggest wealth I could ever receive. When he smiles, all the difficulties disappear. He is the best thing that ever happened to me.’’
Rukiya and Haroon are proud parents of two girls who have made TRC Borići their home for the last seven months. Their younger daughter, Asna, is nine months old and she was born in Sarajevo. Rukiya and Haroon share some of the challenges they faced:
‘’At the time when I went to give birth to Asna, I didn’t have a phone, so I didn’t have any contact with my husband. Due to COVID-19, hospital visits were not allowed. I was scared and alone. Raising children in collective accommodation is difficult, the rooms are overcrowded sometimes. Irregular onward movement is challenging as it is but with small children, it is next to impossible. Babies are loud and we have to bring a lot of things. We want to go to Germany; my husband has a brother there. We are happy in TRC Borići, girls from Mother and Baby Corner are always at disposal when we need diapers and other things for babies, but we always lack baby clothes.’’
When asked about what it is like being a parent, both smile:
‘’We are proud to be parents. There are so many difficulties and we are aware of our situation but when we see our children and their smiles, we forget everything, and we completely surrender to the role of the parents. Their smiles are the most beautiful thing that accompanies us from one day to another. We feel stronger and closer as a family. Our only wish is to stop being refugees one day.’’
Maliq is a one-year-and-ten-month-old boy living in TRC Borići with his 10 years older brother and sister and his parents. He was born in Cantonal Hospital in Bihać. His family, as many others accommodated in temporary reception centers, shares the same concerns, and faces similar challenges.
‘’Rooms are sometimes overcrowded, there is no place for children to play, especially during the winter season but we can’t complain, our children get food, clothes, and diapers from organizations in the reception centre.’’
Within its health response UNICEF, through its partner Fenix, provides services to women with children under 5 years of age through Mother and Baby Corners in Sedra, Borići and Ušivak. Mother and Baby Corners provides a safe and private space for breastfeeding, counselling on infant and young child feeding, and access to basic mental health and psychosocial services. More than 1000 children and more than 400 mothers benefited from Mother and Baby Corners in 2020.
Maliq’s mother continues their story: ‘’We are from Afghanistan, but I lived in Iran for 30 years. We had no rights there and our children could not go to school, so we continued our journey to Europe. We have been living in Bosnia for three years, we are asylum seekers here, two of my older children go to school in Bihać, they speak Bosnian language and they are learning about Bosnian culture. We are tired of the road and we wanted to make Bosnia our new home. However, our asylum claim was rejected a few days ago and we will have to continue our journey. Nevertheless, I am happy to have my children. When a child is born, you dedicate yourself to the child and you forget about all negative things and difficult living conditions. Life without children is not interesting. When a child is born, the mother feels like she received a gift.’’
Many will agree that being a parent is the biggest joy, responsibility but sometimes also, the biggest struggle you could ever imagine. Parents on the move, however, experience all these things with much greater intensity. That is why it is important to empower them and provide them with proper support so they could raise happy, healthy, and resilient children. After all, children are children no matter where they are born.
UNICEF’s support to children and families in need in temporary reception centers for refugees and migrants in BiH is largely funded by the European Union.
* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of children.