Refugee and migrant children embrace schooling in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Children on the move are finally given a sense of returning to normal life.
Alin,* 10, has completed fourth grade at one of the five schools in Una-Sana Canton, where refugee and migrant children attend classes. Going to school has been her best experience this year in Bihać, where she has been staying at the Sedra Temporary Reception Centre (TRC). She celebrated her birthday in school with peers and said it was the most beautiful birthday she has had in recent years.
“They brought me a cake, lots of presents and balloons. They surprised me; I didn't imagine it would be like that,” Alin said. "I like going to school because I learn new things, I meet new people, and I like that. It feels good there, and my classmates are good. I made a lot of friends at school and I have a good teacher,” Alin said, happily holding her 4th Grade Graduation Certificate.
"It was one of my biggest wishes, to get a graduation certificate, and finally my wish came true."
For three years, along with her mother, father and brother, Alin has been stepping into a different future. From her native country, Iran, she moved thousands of kilometers, and travelled across many countries, but since last year, she has been staying in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), in Bihać, at Sedra TRC.
Her Graduation Certificate is a step further on that path. For the first time in the region, children of migrants and refugees have received official state documentation of their education. This means if they travel to European countries, they will have proof that they went to school and that they graduated.
"These graduation certificates are based on the interdisciplinary competencies of Una-Sana Canton and are in line with the European framework, which means they will be recognised outside BiH"
“Education for children on the move not only provides them with the opportunity to continue to learn and to develop new capacities and skills, it also gives them psychosocial support from teachers and friends,” said Dr. Rownak Khan, UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “School-based education gives children a sense of routine and normalcy, and the childhood that every child deserves and is entitled to.”
Ninety children at Sedra TRC received graduation certificates at the end of the 2019/2020 school year. Overall, 402 children from TRCs in Una-Sana Canton attended preparatory and regular classes at primary schools in Cazin and Bihać. Some 517 children are currently staying in the temporary reception centres, including 217 who are unaccompanied. Children who did not go to school were able to do online lessons.
Tina Rashadatjou is a Persian language mediator. She, along with six other cultural mediators and six teachers, worked closely with the children, accompanying them to school, helping with homework, overcoming the language barrier, and monitoring progress. "Children simply enjoy going to school. It brings them back to their normal lives, the ones they had before their migrations. They have been through traumatic experiences. But when they are in school, with Bosnian children, among peers, they feel different. It is a place where they can be children, a place where they are the happiest, and they repeat that to us all the time. Although young, the children already speak several languages, and they are mastering the Bosnian language quickly because they are surrounded by local children. They progress every day with their knowledge, as well with their joy every time they go to school,” Rashadatjou said.
Emina Omerčević, a cultural mediator for the Turkish language, said Bosnian was difficult for the children, but that they were learning fast. “They are starting to learn Bosnian better than we can teach them at TRC. Of course, we are always there for them. We translate materials they cannot understand. However, the children are quick in mastering and learning. They love Bosnian language classes the most. Despite tough conditions, refugee and migrant children are eager to learn. They are proud of their hard work and persistence in acquiring knowledge, just like other children in BiH, Omerčević said.
In the past year, they learned the basics of the Bosnian language, arithmetic and writing. They participated in sports, and with their parents, creative workshops. And, crucially, they were able to forget, at least for a while, the misfortunes of life. They will now be attending summer school, and can look forward to next year’s learning, which will include English.
The project to include refugee and migrant children in the formal education system in BiH is supported by the European Union and implemented by UNICEF in cooperation with the Ministries of Education and partner organisations Save the Children and World Vision.
*Name changed to protect the identity of a minor.