A boy and his father from Iraq found shelter in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The support provided is part of the project “EU special measures to Support the Response to the Refugee and Migrant Situation in BiH"

Lucia Zoro
6-years-old Omar* in conversation with Save the Children cultural mediator Sami at one of the refugee camps in Bihac
Elena Heatherwick/ Save the Children
03 September 2020

Omar*, 6, is a very lively 6-year-old boy who lives in a refugee camp in a converted building in the Bihac region of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), near the border with Croatia. He travelled there from Iraq with his father, Mehmed*, who had previously been living in Germany, where he had been working as a football coach and a heating engineer. When Omar was still a toddler, his mother had left him in Iraq, for unknown reasons, prompting his father to abandon his work and home in Germany, to return to Iraq to take custody of his son and take him to a safer home in Europe. 

“We travelled by small boat and the sea. They placed tyres on us so that we would not fall. On that trip there were some people that I saw that were like robbers or criminals,” said Omar* about their journey. “He [my father] did not allow me to rest. So my legs have little balloons. He did not allow me to sit for long.”

“When I came to Bosnia,” said Omar*, “it was very cold.”

Omar*, aged 6, and his father housed in a refugee camp in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Elena Heatherwick / Save the Children
Omar*, aged 6, and his father housed in a refugee camp in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina

“We travelled by small boat and the sea. They placed tyres on us so that we would not fall. On that trip there were some people that I saw that were like robbers or criminals.” 

Omar*

As border controls across Europe became tighter, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) became an important transit country on the Balkans route particularly since the beginning of 2018. Until June 2020, close to 60,000 migrants and refugees arrived in BiH, attempting to continue their journey to the Western Europe countries. Lacking access to legal pathways, refugees and migrants travel irregularly with smuggles and arrive from different entry points to BiH, exposed to high protection risks.

 

In 2018, Save the Children launched an emergency response to support refugee and migrant children arriving in BiH. Working, in cooperation with UNICEF, in Una-Sana Canton, the most affected canton in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other cantons in BiH, Save the Children responds to the need of the most vulnerable children, families and unaccompanied minors, in and out of camp settings. The support provided to Save the Children is part of the wider support, for the project/intervention “EU special measures to Support the Response to the Refugee and Migrant Situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)” in partnership with UNICEF BIH and funded by the EU.

Upon their arrival in BiH, Omar and his father Mehmed* were met by the outreach team, run by Save the Children and UNICEF. Mobile teams are crucial in the context of a refugee crisis in BiH, where refugees and migrants arrive daily, and shelter capacity is insufficient – out of 8,000-9,000 people present in the country at any given time, up to 3,000 are staying outside. The teams monitor the situation in the field, identify children and other vulnerable cases and ensure that they have access to accommodation, registration, legal advice and other services. By providing much-needed support to children and adults who are out of shelters, or who were pushed back from Croatia, outreach teams often do lifesaving work. 

Omar* playing in a child-friendly space in a refugee camp in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Elena Heatherwick / Save the Children
Omar* playing in a child-friendly space in a refugee camp in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The outreach team helped Omar* and his father to get a place in the warm and safe accommodation of the camp, where they have been supported by our 24/7 Child Protection team. Soon upon their arrival, the education team arranged for Omar* to enrol into the local school.

“Omar* was the smallest one in class in the beginning. He showed very good interaction and very good understanding”, said Sami Kekli, Save the Children’s cultural mediator. “Now we are checking their normal activity for the day. We are helping them inside the school… Also, we are trying to find out what are their needs are inside the school and outside the school: if they need some extra clothes if they need extra boots. And we are trying to get some good connections with other organisations to provide them with those necessary things for every day”, said Sami.

“When I came to Bosnia it was very cold.”

Omar*, aged 6, in the outdoor area of one of the refugee camps in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Elena Heatherwick/ Save the Children 
Omar*, aged 6, in the outdoor area of one of the refugee camps in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Omar's father, Mehmed*, takes an active part in the life of his new temporary community. He has volunteered as a football coach in the Summer Camp run by Save the Children and UNICEF and had given haircuts to a number of the children in the camp. Omar* too has a distinctive hairstyle that was cut by his dad. 

“We got some clothes from Save the Children, we got some shoes for the winter. You are helping us so much with those things,”, said Mehmed*.

“I just want to make my son happy and that he gets to have a future. All that I have done is for the sake of this child”, the father added.

 

*Names are changed in order to protect identity