Feature: Aid workers in BiH helping migrants amid COVID-19 pandemic

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, September 12, 2020
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SARAJEVO, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- Over the past several years, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) has become a corridor as well as a "bottleneck" for tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, who are heading towards Western Europe, hoping for a better life.

Taha Yonus, 46, from Iraq is one of them. He and his family fled the country after his father received death threats. Taha, his wife Wahbeya, and their four children aged 17, 15, seven, and three years old started their long journey to Germany, where they hope to build a better life.

According to the latest official data, 6,000 to 7,000 migrants are estimated to be in BiH. Some 4,400 are accommodated in seven camps in the Una-Sana Canton (USC) in the northwest of the country and in the area of the capital Sarajevo. Though conditions in most of the camps are bad, thousands of migrants have experienced worse while living on the streets or in makeshift accommodation, mostly in the USC and in the Tuzla Canton (TK), some 120 km north of Sarajevo.

The complex humanitarian situation has been additionally burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Despite all these difficulties, I am confident that together we can make a difference and be responsible for everyone's benefit," said Azra Ibrahimovic-Srebrenica, 41-year-old manager of the Temporary Reception Center for migrants in Usivak near Sarajevo.

The center has been run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) -- the leading agency in providing a humanitarian response to migrants in BiH. Currently, the IOM is running seven similar facilities in the USC and the Sarajevo Canton.

Ibrahimovic-Srebrenica said that working from home was not an option and the IOM staff have been present non-stop in shifts, providing support to the beneficiaries while simultaneously applying all preventive measures. As a result, no positive cases have been reported in the Usivak camp so far.

Established in late 2018, the Usivak camp is now home to more than 800 migrants, most of whom are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Morocco, and Syria. Among the migrants, there are many minors who are on their own and without their families, Ibrahimovic-Srebrenica told Xinhua.

She said that she was a refugee herself in the early 1990s after the war broke out in BiH.

"Since I have personal experience of depending on humanitarian aid, I didn't have to think twice when the opportunity came to work as a humanitarian and help people in need. I worked for years for several Italian humanitarian organizations before I joined the IOM," she said.

Ibrahimovic-Srebrenica added that it was a challenge to maintain peace and order inside the camp when restrictive measures were first introduced, with people ending up without access to shops, banks or post offices.

"This is a situation in which any minor discussion can turn into violent conflict and fight. By joint efforts with my team, we managed to overcome these past months without any significant incidents," she said.

She said that misunderstandings and conflicts are not uncommon in places where people from different environments and cultures are living side by side while also facing difficulties.

"The biggest challenge is to heal the wounded souls," she said, noting that physical wounds heal much faster than psychological traumas that people, especially children, are experiencing on their quest to reach their dream destination.

Ibrahimovic-Srebrenica said that her biggest satisfaction comes from seeing the smiles of the people who are thankful for her and her team allowing them the dignity they deserve as humans, despite their situation.

One of the grateful residents of the Usivak camp is 27-year-old Ramin Ahmed from Afghanistan. He fled the country fearing for his life, after witnessing colleagues die in a bomb explosion near his office.

"I want to go to France; I want to work and continue my education," Ramin told Xinhua, adding that he misses his parents and friends.

"I will never forget the hospitality of people in BiH. I have no words to express my gratitude," he said. Enditem

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