Mother Fawsia and little Marjan

Mother Fawsia wants to work and provide her Marjan and her two sisters with education.

Almir Panjeta for UNICEF
Mama Fevzija i mala Mardžan
22 October 2018

Marjan is a three-year-old girl who was only a baby when a boat with 70 refugees, carrying her, two older sisters and her mother Fawsia, turned over and sank near the coast of Turkey.

“We travelled with two boats. I saw with my own eyes how the other boat fell apart and vanished under the waves. Later I found out that 36 people died. Then our boat broke down as well and all of us were suddenly in the cold water”, Fawsia started her horrifying story, while Marjan played in the Child-Friendly Space run by Save the Children in Bihać, with support from UNICEF and in cooperation with the Association “Žene sa Une”. In the Mother and Baby Corner, mothers staying at the nearby abandoned student dormitory in Borići receive support in the form of a dry and warm place to change their babies’ diapers, breastfeeding advice, a daily or weekly package with diapers and other basic baby supplies. 

Fawsia said that after the boat sank, she managed to hold Marjan under her arm:

“I clenched her jacket with my teeth so that the water wouldn’t carry her away.  I lost a couple of teeth, but at least I managed to keep Marjan safe until Turkish police rescued us from the water”, said Fawsia, adding that any kind of help is welcome, but that she dreams of a moment when her husband and she will be able to settle down and work to provide their children with everything they need. Fawsia had a hair salon in Kabul and her husband was a real estate agent.

“We are workaholics, we don’t want free food or help, we want to reach a destination, settle down and with our work provide for our children to go to school, to have everything other children have, to provide them with a good life and a future”, said Fawsia. She has been on the road with her family for three years now. She said they didn’t want to leave their town, but the situation was so bad that they didn’t have any other choice. In the place where they lived, there was constant tension and it was altogether complicated, with numerous factions and different armed groups fighting each other.

“My father-in-law was murdered; my parents’ house was burnt to the ground. The situation was not safe and I didn’t dare to send my daughters alone to school. My husband lost his job and to get another job he was asked for money that we couldn’t provide. Corruption is a huge problem in Afghanistan and it is impossible to fight it”, said Fawsia. Muhtar, a young man from Afghanistan, translated for us. He himself has been through many difficult situations, but even he couldn’t hide his tears during some moments while listening to Fawsia.

“We knew that the journey we started while Marjan was still a baby would be hard, but we didn’t have any other choice”, said Fawsia through tears Repetition from above

“We didn’t know that the journey would be this long", said Fawsia. She explained that she and her children lived for two years in a camp in Serbia where her daughters even went to school for some time. They were, as she put it, on the list to go to Hungary: “But then our personal information was stolen and another family went there under our name”, said Fawsia. They lost a lot, but she can’t get over losing a cell phone memory card that was destroyed at the Bulgarian border. She remembered how they were stopped and their belongings were confiscated:

"I told them they could take the phone, just to leave the memory card with photos from Kabul, the only memory of my earlier life. But both the phone and memory card were destroyed. They took all our belongings and sent us back”.

Kutak za mame i bebe,

While we talked, little Marjan was playing with a toy she got in the Child-Friendly Space. She told us she really likes playing with other children, and she likes the ball. Fawsia said that the older daughters don’t have the opportunity to continue with school. Marjan is joyful, she plays all the time and is running around a lot.

“I wish my children would go to school, be engaged in sports. When we were in Kabul, there was a German project, children were playing volleyball and basketball and I took my older daughters there. However, even that wasn’t safe later on”, said Fawsia, adding that after their boat sank, she developed a fear of water:

“It is all one big trauma. When we came to the boat, we saw that they had been squeezing in more people than it could fit, but there was no turning back, the smugglers threatened us with a knife and we had to go in. I don’t want to go to the sea ever again, not even to the beach”, said Fawsia No need to add this, also it’s not a camp as such.

Arijana Alijagić, a nurse working in the Mother and Baby Corner, said that every day she meets women who appreciate not just the help but the mere fact that there is someone caring for them and exchanging kind words with them.

“We visit families on the site, and we invite them to come here if they weren’t here before. Some mothers already know about us and they come at a specific time during the day, and the number of beneficiaries varies. I talk to them, I give them the daily or weekly supply package with diapers, hygiene products, some food, cookies. Mums can drink coffee or tea here, change the baby, they even have nursing pillows available. It is nice to see a smile on their faces”, said Arijana Alijagić.

The Mother and Baby Corner is part of the activities within the Child-Friendly Space which is operating in in Hotel "Sedra" Hotel and the Mobile Child-Friendly Space in Borići, where children can attend various workshops, draw, write, play and hang out.

 “As it is now autumn, we are mostly at the stadium, children like playing football and other ball games, they are happy come to the Child-Friendly Space", said Subhad Šabić who works there.

Executive Director of “Žene sa Une" Association Aida Behrem said that children and their mothers really need the services of the Child-Friendly Space and the Mother and Baby Corner.

“We are out there every day, in contact with parents and children, we invite them to one of the Child Friendly Spaces where, through various activities and games, children can take a break from  everyday life, and mothers with babies can change their babies’ diapers, and also get advice on breastfeeding which we promote. Turnout is good and we see that they appreciate the support and assistance they receive there”, said Aida.

UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Geeta Narayan commented on the horrors most of the refugees/migrants have experienced on their long journeys, leaving behind their homes, relatives and friends, trying to find safe destinations where they can provide their children with a better and safer future.

“While we know that most families are only planning to transit through Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is important that while they are here we ensure that all refugees and migrants, especially children and families who are most vulnerable, receive humanitarian assistance, humane and safe accommodation, access to asylum procedures and, if needed, international protection” – said Geeta Narayan, explaining the support provided by UNICEF and other organisations.

Since May 2018, more than 800 refugee and migrant children have benefitted from child protection support services provided in Child-Friendly Spaces, supported by UNICEF in partnership with Save the Children, Žene sa Une and World Vision. These spaces provide children with opportunities to play, learn, further develop themselves and also receive basic psychosocial counselling if needed. As it is getting colder day by day, families with children who had been staying at Borići have recently been moved to more appropriate and safer reception and transit facilities.