New life on the Balkans route of hope

A baby-boy was only 7 days old when we met his mother at Bira migrant and refugee camp in Bihac, Una-Sana Canton, in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina. The baby was born at the local hospital in Bihac and Save the Children field staff provided his parents with a baby carrier, baby clothes and other basic necessities to help bring him to his first home – a one-room container placed in a huge hall of a former factory in Bihac where over 2200 migrants and refugees are currently accommodated.

The mother, a former nurse, and her husband a university professor, left Iran with their twin 6-year old boys over a year ago. Their journey first took them to Belgrade, Serbia, to be followed by a trip over the border to Bosnia, organized by a smuggler.

“We left because we didn’t have the freedom to express our opinions,” says mother, adding, “We have already completed 50% of our mission – we left Iran. We do not really care where we go from here, as long as it is a country where we can have freedom and our children can get an education”.

Baby’s father serves us tea and cookies with a big smile, eager to mark the birth of his baby boy: “I am actually happy here. It is only now, when we are spending all of our time together in this small room, that I am getting to know my sons and my wife truly. We never had time for that back home,” he says.

At the time of the interview, a Child Friendly Space and a Mother and Baby Corner were in the process of setting up at the BIRA camp, where numerous families are accommodated in containers in a dedicated part of this huge facility. These services were enabled with the support of the European Union and its partners, UNICEF and Save the Children. “We are looking forward to having these services available for our boys. They spend most of their time confined to this room, like in a prison. We hope they will be able to play and learn new things from now on,” concludes the mother.

Since the start of the migrant and refugee crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina in early 2018, the European Union with the support of its implementing partners UNICEF and Save the Children, has helped over 1000 migrant and refugee children access basic protection services and psychosocial and learning activities in 2 Mother and Baby Corners (MBC) and 2 Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) in Una-Sana Canton.

The intervention has now expanded to include a new MBC and CFS at BIRA camp, as well as a 24-hour response team and mobile team to assist unaccompanied and separated children. In addition, cooperation has been established with the local authorities to ensure migrant and refugee children in Una-Sana and Sarajevo Cantons are included in mainstream primary education as of the next school term.