Bosnian schools open doors for children of refugees and migrants with the help of UNICEF

"Wherever we are, the most important thing is that our family is safe and happy."

Benjamin Omerbegović for UNICEF
Škole u Bosni i Hercegovini otvaraju vrata za djecu izbjeglice i migrante uz pomoć UNICEF-a
UNICEF/Đemidžić

01 April 2019

With the support of UNICEF, Save the Children and World Vision, in December 2018 First Primary school of Ilidža welcomed the refugee and migrant children, with the main goal to include them in the education system. Ever since, children from Iran, Iraq and Syria eagerly await for every new morning to go to school. They enter the classroom excited and smiling and prepare for the class to start. After the class has ended the enthusiasm is multiplied exponentially as break time approaches and gives them time to spend and play with their friends.

“In our school, all children have the same and equal rights. The right to education is a priority in the development of every child and I am especially happy that our school opened its doors for these intelligent, capable and brave children. In December of 2018, we started with this programme, in January of this year, during the winter break, we created workshops for them and with the start of the second semester 22 kids were present in classrooms with their peers. We formed a team of 10 teachers who speak English and who underwent additional education to best aid their new pupils to adapt and integrate into their own surroundings, as well as to gain new knowledge”, states Arif Ćelović, the principal of the First Elementary School of Ilidža.

Never-ending journey

Senadija Hadrović, the school’s pedagogue, highlighted the importance of successful social integration of refugee and migrant children in the school setting before adding that she does not feel any burden regarding the work but rather is delighted that the children felt they belonged, regardless of the complexity of their situation.

“This is attributed to hard work and support from nongovernment organizations as well as the communication with the ministry of education, science and youth of the Sarajevo Canton, who aided in the creation of a systematic approach to integrate refugee and migrant children.”, explains Hadrovic. 

Refugee and migrant children mostly come from well-educated families who left behind well-paid jobs, homes and businesses back in Iran, Iraq and Syria. Their search for safety has led them to Sarajevo, having previously crossed through Turkey, Greece, Northern Macedonia and Serbia.

We spoke to a 14-year-old boy who came to school to say goodbye to his friends as he was due to travel the next day. One day he hopes to return to Sarajevo as a tourist

“I have enjoyed my time in Sarajevo and will always remember it fondly.”, he tells us. He enjoyed friendships and classes that were different from those he had previously attended. His family planned to reach a country that would provide them with a normal life, without fear, uncertainty, war, and suffering. "There is not one thing that I can point out as difficult. Everything is difficult. All we do is travel, constantly travel and travel and travel. The journey at times seems endless. All I can think of path trodden and the path still to be trod", concludes the boy.

Birthday celebrations

A nine-year-old girl and her mother arrived with their family from Iran to Sarajevo last year. The girl has many friends and she feels at home.

"I like school a lot here and have made a lot of friends. My favourite classes are music classes. My favourite thing here is the birthday celebrations. Whoever is celebrating brings sweets to share with the rest of the class. Our teacher plays us music and we dance. If we didn't know about the party, we all collect some money and buy a gift for our friend to bring it to them the next day. We laugh a lot, we talk a lot and we play a lot. I really like music and dancing and one day want to become a ballerina.", she tells us with a smile before adding that she does not wish to leave Sarajevo.

Her mother is happy with how the kids have been accepted in Sarajevo, but wishes to ensure safety, home and jobs for her family.

“My husband and I left behind our own shipping company in Iran to search for safety. I am very thankful to Sarajevo, to the people here. Sarajevo is very similar to our home in many ways. The people are warm and hospitable. We feel safe here, I am not as fearful for their safety here as I was in other places, but it is difficult to ensure a normal family life, housing is difficult to solve, and jobs are impossible to find.”, adds the mother.

"For me, it is not important where we are, whether it is Belgium, Germany, England, Italy or here, in Sarajevo. We can stay here without any problem; the place isn't important to me. What is important that my family can be safe and happy and that we can finally lead a normal life.", concludes the mother.

UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina with its partners supports a range of activities to realize the rights of refugee and migrant children. This involves creating "Child friendly spaces", "baby friendly corners", providing psychosocial help, health services that include immunization. Additionally, in the field of education, UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina has supported the enrollment of refugee and migrant children into the public-school system.

Geeta Narayan, UNICEF Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina explains: “We believe that children are children. It doesn't matter if you are a refugee child or a migrant child, or any other type of child. First and foremost, children are children and they have the right to a childhood. They have the right to be safe, to be protected, and to receive assistance of all kinds. And so, for us, it is absolutely critical that we all come together to meet the rights of these children.”