The Bosnia mission started at the end of July 2018, when we went down to Bihac and Velika Kladusa, along the Bosnia-Croatia border. There are, respectively, two refugee camps here; the Bihac camp is fortunate to be under the supervision of the city’s Red Cross, which offers daily food and clothing. But has lost the right to provide medical assistance to refugees since August 3. The Velika Kladusa camp, also called “the Swamp”, on the other hand receives little attention from the authorities, relying almost exclusively on external help from small associations and the presence of Doctors Without Borders.
Thanks to some volunteers already present on ground, we discovered hundreds of people taking shelter in these two improvised camps (which were so dirty, at the mercy of changes in weather conditions, and without toilets). The families there came from as far as Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, and other conflict-ridden countries. In an attempt to enter Europe and seek asylum, these people found themselves stranded at Croatian borders (i.e. the first country of the European Union), where they have been denied entry. They are popular called “Refugees”, and that’s how we too will refer to them in the following paragraphs, for ease of communication.
Among them are men, unaccompanied teenagers, as well as a large number of women and children of all ages, forced to stay in Bosnia, hoping for an opportunity to pursue a better life by applying for asylum somewhere else. This wait is yet another denial of human rights for people who have traveled thousands of kilometers on foot, a journey during which a majority of them suffered all kinds of physical violence and contempt on human dignity.
Those who try the only possible way to cross the border, i.e. illegally, are most often stopped by the police (in this case, Croatian), and sent back, after having been robbed of their few belongings (phone and money), and, very often, having been beaten up. Women and children are not spared either. We can confirm this personally, having seen, listened to, and photographed more than one story of a single mother and child, who returned with bruises all over their body, and terror in their eyes.
Having had the opportunity, during 2017, to be present on the ground, providing actual help in identical situations in Belgrade, and Serbia, we can say that we are fairly familiar with the dynamics, needs, and the organization of the volunteers who are in these non-governmental and improvised camps. We have therefore decided that the Bosnia project of the Ma Anche Noi association will start off effectively in the second half of October.
Two volunteers will drive down to the camps in a van, in which will be goods necessary for the survival and dignity of the people. These goods are the result of a collection through Facebook, which to date has been the best channel to bring help across the border. The goods will include first-aid kits for bruises and injuries, new underwear, baby and adult hygiene wipes, and warm socks. Also available on site will be more bulky but absolutely necessary materials for sale, such as: blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes, gloves, scarves, and winter shoes.
After an initial distribution, coordinated with volunteers from other associations that have already been doing a great job in the camps for months, and with which we are in direct daily contact, one of us will remain in Bihac, Bosnia. This is to ensure a continuous daily monitoring of situations as they change, and to understand what and how many needs there are, especially with the coming winter, which is extremely cold in the Balkans (there were minimums of less than 25 degrees in Belgrade in 2017, with thousands of people lacking even shoes).
The objective is to first of all ensure everyone’s survival by striving to be as humane as possible. The emergency brought about by the cold, alongside its consequences will be treated as priority: sickness, poor hygiene, and – not least – behavioral problems due to the total absence of psychological accompaniment, which is in fact extremely important for those who have suffered and continue to experience trauma.
An important part of our work has always been to have direct and human contact with people. Those who have lost everything, leaving their homes and loved ones (alive or dead) behind, often have the human need to talk, to feel considered, and not to be forgotten. This is a “job” that is difficult to quantify and explain, because it happens spontaneously, while living side by side with volunteers and “refugees”. It is, however, an aspect of volunteering that cannot be excluded from the general picture, because we are talking about human beings.
Violence, especially between different communities of refugees forced to literally co-exist, is on the increase. The lack of privacy, living space, perspectives and – often – hope, brings the human mind into a state of alienation, from which the consequences can be aggression, depression, addiction and much more.
Even the native population is beginning to be afraid; the climate of insecurity and fear is mounting among the people, a climate that even the local police finds difficult to keep under control, who – with all the good intentions of the world – find themselves managing something too big and unexpected for a country like Bosnia.
The first volunteer to arrive at the site (the undersigned, Nevia Elezovic) had the opportunity to communicate with a majority of people: being of Bosnian origin and having a good knowledge of English, French, and of course Italian, as well as a fair understanding of the Islamic world, of which practically all the refugees are part.
As a professional photographer with a Masters degree in humanitarian aid in emergency situations, she will be able to counter (try to) the problems that will arise along the way, as well as document everything, while always fully respecting the privacy of those in need, and with the essential collaboration of all the volunteers who are either already present on the field, or who are yet to arrive.
The quantity and identity of the goods we will need to support the refugees in need cannot be known with absolute certainty, we can only imagine that the number of people will increase, and the number of volunteers will decrease in winter. With daily monitoring, and by joining forces and skills with those of others, Ma Anche Noi intends to provide for the wellbeing and dignity of all.
This is “all” unfortunately utopian, because migrations are – by nature – fast, dispersed, and often desperate. The same “all” is, however, the reason why we always set out to achieve our goals, because it is only by so doing that we can reach more and more people, rather than settling into our first small success, or giving up at our first small defeat.
We are not superheroes, but we have learned from experience that every single person can be essential in helping another. So far, the support of individual citizens has allowed us to -literally- save lives and better many others. The trust which our supporters (families, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers who follow our projects) give us is a great booster for us, and the clear and tangible results are, in turn, a confirmation that this trust has been well invested.
In parallel with our work on the ground, our mission is also to denounce the injustices, violence and inhumanity of the situation in which so many people find themselves just outside the borders of the European Union. This wall of silence is slowly crumbling, thanks to the constant updates coming from volunteers like us, as well as some NGOs at the camps. The media and politics are now forced to take note of what is happening, and this is just a part of some of the meticulous work we do. The most recent example we can quote was the report to the European Parliament by Elly Schlein, whom we contacted directly with clear and irrefutable information.
MEP Schlein, along with other colleagues, is now moving to bring to light various inhuman practices, such as those of the border police who use physical violence against those who try to enter European soil. And thus, with constant essential collaboration with colleagues on the ground, the main Balkan and Italian news channels are also on the move, reporting the facts to the people.
As earlier mentioned, it is not easy to predict the future, not even the immediate one. And it is with this in mind that we are going down to the field, ready to face the daily challenges, for a principle that is not only limited to charity, but which extends to solidarity as well.
We will keep you up to date on what is happening, on where the donations are going, on the political, and above all human, developments that will take place in the coming weeks and months.
Thank you for your trust.
We will never stop repeating that the ocean is made of drops of water, and that every individual is fundamental to achieving a change in line with human dignity.