''It was always me and mom. We wanted to go and see the world. A better one.''
No working day is the same in Borici, a Temporary Reception Centre (TRC), the only remaining family centre for migrants and refugees in the Una-Sana Canton. The beneficiaries of this centre can attend numerous activities during the day, such as sports, and psychosocial and creative workshops.
Legal Guardianship is a service within the mandate of Center for Social Welfare, supported by UNICEF and World Vision, which includes the responsibility for the well-being and safety of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC). Guardians in Borici are young people dedicated to working with the most vulnerable children. After years of experience in responding to the migrant situation, guardians have been facing a new challenge which entails taking care of children who have been separated from their parents during their journey.
Aleksandra Omerovic is one of the legal guardians, working in the temporary reception centre Borici. Usually, the mornings are calm and slow, but this one started differently. The Service for Foreign Affairs (SFA) asked Aleksandra to report to their office as soon as possible. There, an SFA officer introduced her to Sierra*, a fifteen-year-old girl who got separated from her mother. Sierra and her mother had been beneficiaries of Borici before.
Aleksandra was immediately appointed as Sierra's guardian, and she arranged for her to be placed with other unaccompanied girls. After a warm meal and fresh clothes, Aleksandra left Sierra to rest. Later, Aleksandra had a conversation with Sierra to get to know her better and introduce to her all the services available at the TRC. She offered reassuring words which brought a smile to Sierra's charming face.
Aleksandra found out that Sierra is originally from Burundi, which she fled, together with her mother, a month, and a half ago. The reason for leaving their home was the difficult economic situation.
“My mom and I wanted a better and safer life for us. I don't have a dad. I never met him.'' – said Sierra.
Our Aleksandra is experienced, and she always showed empathy throughout her work as a legal guardian, so Sierra felt that she could open up to her, and she did.
''It was always me and mom. We wanted to go and see the world. A better one.'' – said Sierra, reminiscing about her previous life.
Like many other children, Sierra and her mother were separated during an attempt to cross the border. Cases of families who deliberately separate have been documented as well as cases of unintentional separation during movement. In 2022, the number of separated children is on the rise in Bosnia and Herzegovina with recorded cases of children below the age of ten. Family separation happens due to various reasons and can have a significant impact on children's and families' mental health, well-being, and exposure to risks. By the end of November, 14 cases of family separation were recorded in Una-Sana Canton.
Within the framework of the program Special measures to support the response to the refugee-migrant situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, financed by the European Union, implemented by UN agencies, the Centers for Social Work guardianship service provides support to the child in each case, as well as referral to other necessary services, with support from UNICEF in cooperation with World Vision International.
Aleksandra wanted to cheer Sierra up, so she decided to walk her through the centre and visit the education corner, where the Education in Emergency (EiE) team has foreign language classes using the Akelius digital learning platform. Sierra looked excited.
''I am looking forward to finishing school when I get to France. I love school and making new friends.'' – said, Sierra.
Aleksandra, with the help of SFA and IOM, tried to find someone who could know Sierra's mother's whereabouts. She talked with the people who shared accommodation with her. Sadly, no one knew where she was or how to get in touch with her.
Guardians always keep children informed of the status of the search for their parents.
''We need to be patient because it could take some time, but no need to worry.'' –Aleksandra explained to Sierra.
In the meantime, Aleksandra suggested that they participate in one of the workshops in the centre, as it was a music workshop, Sierra was delighted, as she is a big fan of music and dancing.
''Muuusic. I love to dance.'' – Sierra exclaimed. She enjoyed the workshop and managed to distract her mind.
Over the next few days, Sierra became friends with her roommates. She regularly attended educational activities and the workshops that UNICEF/WV team organized. However, the fact that she still did not hear from her mother dampened her cheerful spirit.
A week later, Aleksandra was on the day shift again. One of the Child Protection Officers was teaching Sierra her very first chord on the guitar, when Alexandra approached Sierra, saying that someone would like to talk to her.
Sierra raised her eyebrows in surprise and rushed over to Aleksandra. Next to her was Leona, a woman Sierra knew, who was able to contact her mother. It was such a great moment for all, especially Sierra whose happiness was endless. “That was one of those moments when all of us feel proud for doing this job.”, Aleksandra concluded.
Soon after, Sierra left the centre to rejoin her mother in their journey to find their new place under the sun.
*The child's name has been changed to protect identity.