First Person: Bosnian Refugee Traces Her Escape From War
I was six years old. -- When my family left Bosnia. This was in 1992. Before we left Sarajevo there was still a lot of bad stuff happening. Snipers and shooting in the city. We stayed inside. One of the most poignant memories from my childhood there -- I was only six years old so I don't remember that much it was playing with my Barbie dolls with my cousins who is my age and my grandma's bathroom. For me the memories were incredibly positive. Both of my parents were engineers. My father at the time was a professor and sort of talking to the right people and we knew that we should get out. His friend had a friend who was a bus driver -- like a tourism bus driver. Was one way to start getting families out of the country while it was being bombed and shot at. We left on the bus with a number of other refugee families. It was pulled over by an Army and all of the men were ordered to get off. All of the men started saying goodbye to their families. They were capturing them to put them in a concentration camps or other things. I thought that was the last time I would see my dad. However, the bus driver said that for his long journey he is required to have someone to switch off with. He said that my dad was the other bus driver and that they had to take turns. My dad was the only man who got to stay on the bus which I think is hard for him as well but my family stayed as a unit. We eventually made it to northern Germany. There was this guy -- this is another theme in my life. There is always somebody that you consider an angel on earth and he took us into his home and into a room at his house to get set up. Getting set up is just a relative term. We were safe but like all of the other refugees we were on a temporary visa so every three months my family had to go to the courthouse or some other government entities to see whether they could get another three month visa. Then came that day -- we knew it was going to come that we were not going to get the visa. My family had actually started applying for asylum or seeking refugee status and other countries. We ended up in Tennessee in a small town. We had some cousins there. I say this a lot. I really do consider myself one of the luckiest people on earth because I feel like my story is -- scratches the surface of some of those are -- horrific stories of children that I work with now and other children from Bosnia as well. I know today at San Diego refugee tutoring which is an organization that I fell in love with quickly and I tutor different children every week and there are kids from Syria who I have really connected with. Do you know how to spell the word arm? Maria is incredibly excited about everything but she is lacking the ability to express herself in English. I remember that frustration as a kid in the US. She has this joy about her that is limited by her ability to express herself that she is really trying to you can see incredible incredible leaps and bounds in the improvement and their English ability. One thing that my mom has said often to anyone who will listen with any discussion about being a refugee comes up is that nobody wants to be a refugee. It is nobody's first second third fourth or fifth choice in life it is not something that you plan for. You don't think about war or thinking about leaving your country. It is really important to think about because if you need a -- meet a refugee that's not to say that they are not happy this is the best choice that they are able to make given the circumstances in their own motherland. That was Senka a former refugee from Bosnia who now tutors refugees.
The new administration is weighing a big decision — how to vet refugees. But for those fleeing their home, the journey to safety begins well ahead of the screening process. For a look at what happens long before refugees arrive on America’s doorstep, we revisit the Bosnian war.
Reports show more than a million were displaced from their homes, including Senka, who asked we only use her first name because of privacy concerns. The biotech executive landed with her family in Tennessee after a lengthy journey from Bosnia. She was 6-years-old when the Siege of Sarajevo started to unfold.
Before she left her hometown in April 1992, she recalled a joyous memory of playing Barbies with her cousin in her grandmother's bathroom. The children were kept there because it didn't have any windows, keeping them hidden from snipers that had begun to surround the city.
From there, she, her parents and brother escaped to a small nearby town to leave the country on a bus. During the journey, they would narrowly escape separation. They then reached Germany, where the family would stay for years hoping each time to be re-approved for a temporary visa. Eventually, they were granted refugee status in the U.S.
"I think, and I say this a lot too, I really do consider myself one of the luckiest people on Earth," Senka said, "because I feel like my story scratches the surface of some of the horrific stories of children that I work with now, and other children from Bosnia as well.
As part of our ongoing First Person series, we hear from the Bosnian War refugee about her travels from Sarajevo to Tennessee. She now tutors refugee kids in City Heights as a volunteer with San Diego Refugee Tutoring.