Born and raised in Sarajevo, I lived a joyful life with my husband and two young children, surrounded by family and friends. We had everything: university degrees, jobs, a nice flat, a car and summer holidays at the seaside. When the war started in Bosnia in 1992, my beautiful birthplace was besieged. Our lives changed almost overnight into a nightmare of barricades, grenades, snipers and food shortages.
After six weeks of living with intense fear for the lives of my children’s lives while Sarajevo was under constant shelling, I made the terrifying decision to leave my husband behind and flee with our two children. My son was eight and my daughter one year old. In a borrowed car, with $50 American in my pocket, one bag of summer clothes and one of disposable nappies, we started our journey to Croatia. Six hundred days of family separation followed. While my children and I were living as refugees, my husband was struggling to survive back home without food, water and electricity. Reunited, we arrived in Melbourne in March 1994.
Arriving in Australia
After more than two decades of spending our energy on establishing our lives, raising our children and helping our family in Bosnia, I started documenting our story – first, for our children who don’t remember why we left Sarajevo and how we came to Melbourne, but also for any Australian and anyone in the world who might view refugees as second-class people. My memoir, Between Before and After, a true story about our escape from besieged Sarajevo, was published in 2022.
Being a refugee is not a choice. Leaving a hometown behind – transiting from place to place without a plan, in search of somewhere to settle, without money, without help – is not a choice. When faced with the possibility of death or injury, the basic instinct is to run away. Without help, care and love, the life of each refugee can become a nightmare of years in camps and detention centres.
But it doesn’t have to be like that! With the help of individuals, communities and governments, refugees can become valuable members of society.
Our story tells vividly how help and love can reunite a refugee family and give them a chance to recover, to become again who they once were and to contribute to a life that can be celebrated.