Source: Save The Children
“It’s an extraordinary situation, the situation is terrible for real, it’s miserable. For most of these people they really have no choice, there is no place to go.”
Meet Talal, an outreach worker with Save the Children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who travels the length of the border, providing vital links that make child refugees and their families safe when at their most vulnerable. Talal, originally from Syria and fluent in Arabic, English and Bosnian, ensures that children, families and other vulnerable groups arriving from different entry points into the country, are identified quickly and granted access to accommodation, registration, and other key services.
Whether they have recently arrived with few possessions, or are squatting in extremely dangerous abandoned buildings, Talal and his co-workers help refugees to the relative safety of shelter at a camp where they can access life-saving services.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) became an important transit country for refugees travelling along the Balkans route since the beginning of 2018. Since then, over 34,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in BiH, attempting to continue their journey to Croatia, Italy and other EU countries.
Often confused, scared and arriving in an unknown location in freezing conditions and in the dark, this first contact with Save the Children staff can be a lifeline for the most vulnerable families on an already dangerous journey.
“If you can help someone it’s also a pleasant feeling whenever you can help, gives you a nice feeling before you sleep”, Talal explains.
One day when he and his team walked through a huge, part-built, abandoned concrete building, they came across small groups of young men, huddled around burning rubbish. The first group of young men they met had recently arrived from Syria. They directed the Save the Children team to a part of the building where another group of young men were living in one room, on make-shift beds.
“The place is terrible by itself. I mean from burning plastic, to a completely collapsing building…it’s just a disaster, it’s a terrible place,” Talal said.
Talal spoke to them and discovered they were all unaccompanied minors, mostly from Egypt. They had been living there for two months. The children were evacuated from the building that day, and space was found for them at an official camp where they would be assigned legal guardians.
Much later that night, Talal and a small team met refugees on a train to Bihac.
The local police conduct regular checks at the border here so that no newly arriving migrants and refugees enter the county without prior confirmation of available accommodation space. They are sometimes transferred to an unknown location, from where they struggle to find their own way to access support services. Talal and the Save the Children team play a vital role here – they have an agreement whereby they can board the train to look for the most vulnerable children and families and provide them the support they need.
On this occasion, Talal and the team met Mahmoud* and Susan* on the train who were fleeing Iraq to reach safety in Europe. Susan was 8 months pregnant. Talal was able to successfully persuade the train staff and police to let Susan and another pregnant woman stay on the train, so they could access services at the end of the journey.
Speaking of his experiences doing these interviews and interventions, Talal tells us, “I remember meeting one refugee from Syria who felt lost and fearful of his future. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go back to Croatia, couldn’t go back to Sarajevo, couldn’t go back to Syria, couldn’t access the camp and couldn’t stay outside because of the cold. There is nothing for them. It’s an extraordinary situation, the situation is terrible for real, it’s miserable. For most of these people they really have no choice, there is no place to go.”
Save the Children’s role in the region:
We work in Una Sana and Tuzla, two of the most affected counties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We support the most vulnerable children and families, particularly unaccompanied minors, in and outside of refugee camp settings. With 24/7 Child Protection Teams in reception centres, we provide assistance to unaccompanied and separated children, run mobile teams to facilitate access to accommodation, registration, legal advice and other services vulnerable people. Alongside this, we also facilitate school enrolment for refugee and migrant children and, together with partners, run Child Friendly Spaces, Mother and Baby Corners and Youth Corners in reception centres.
Lucia Zoro, Content Producer for Save the Children who conducted this interview shares her observation:
The Save the Children team work as part of a huge network of international organisations in the area, but it’s the individual staff members’ personal approach and deeply human connection with people which stops individual refugees from slipping through the cracks. I’m sure the things Talal and his teammates did to help these children and families, who are deep in crisis, will be remembered by very many of them. As refugee children in a recent consultation in one camp in the area said, “Save the Children are the only people who smile.”
Watch Talal: day in the life of an Outreach Worker.