After the bombs, the human cost

The Dayton peace agreement officially saved the Muslim enclave of Gorazde. But, as the author Lynne Reid Banks discovered, it has only brought insecurity to the town's dwindling population of survivors and refugees

The old lady had spent the entire winter in a tiny cellar in Gorazde amid filth and damp and a tumble of cardboard boxes, with no light, nowhere to sit, a little wood-stove in the adjoining cellar, and a waterless sink. How had she survived the bitter weather?

The man who had taken me to visit her was Oliver Burch of the charity Feed the Children. The old lady was one of his "beneficiaries"; one of 19 Croats left in the Muslim enclave. He provides her with food and blankets and warm clothes. And visits. This one brought a smile to her toothless old face.

"Why can't you move her?" I asked. "Not our job," Oliver said. "Housing is down to the local social services, and they're amiable, lazy, well- meaning, and totally overwhelmed." Seeing my newly arrived and still shockable face, he added kindly, "You haven't seen anything yet."

The town of Gorazde, in eastern Bosnia, was one of six UN-declared safe enclaves for Muslims in Bosnia. But the town suffered terribly from four years of Serb shelling. It is now part of the "pocket" assigned to the Muslims in Serb-held territory under the Dayton peace accord made in December last year. Under the accord Gorazde remains under the control of the the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo.

I'd had time to get used to one thing before coming to Gorazde - ruined buildings. After a week, it was the undamaged ones that looked strange. I could soon tell the difference between war damage, and homes deliberately brought down with dynamite, or burnt out. These were somehow worse than the shell-holed ones because to destroy homes on purpose seemed so vindictive and senseless.

Oliver came to Bosnia from Britain four years ago as a volunteer. With his Muslim wife, Nerma, he now runs the charity's Gorazde operation. He worked in a bakery in Mostar when he first arrived, and this is where he met Nerma. They made bread together through some of the worst of the war, and now live with their baby daughter, Medina, in a tiny flat in a private house which smells very strongly of cabbage and unflushable loos.

They have a private generator for lights only; all water has to be fetched, and "showers" are of the bucket-and-scoop variety. A wood-stove serves for cooking and heating. I slept in the house next door, in a bedroom so cold my landlady used it as a fridge for butter and milk, and wrote my log by candlelight.

I had no complaints, especially after being taken to "The Balkans", one of a number of "collection centres" in Gorazde for Muslim refugees who were chased from their homes by the Serbs. The centres are ex-hotels, schools and blocks of flats, broken-down and shell-damaged warrens of little rooms leading off filthy, unlit corridors. Each room houses a family. One family had two rooms, but there were 16 of them, four generations, including the oldest daughter, her husband and one-year-old twins, who'd moved back for the winter because it was too cold where they were living. She was not able to breast-feed her babies - something the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation are so keen on that they are discouraging aid agencies from bringing in milk substitutes. Luckily, the twins' grandmother had enough breast milk for them as well as for her own tenth child.

These rooms, not to mention the communal toilets on each floor, are, for the most part, almost indescribably squalid. Wood-burning stoves make the walls black; the floors are uncleanable (one woman told me that more than anything she wanted a broom); river-washed clothes are strung on indoor lines. Around the walls are heaps of pitiful possessions housed in makeshift shelving or boxes. Sometimes the boxes in which aid is delivered turn out as useful as the contents - to make tables, stools, storage units, and for carrying water or bathing babies.

I felt awkward in my role as observer before these poor women who have been living like this, some of them, for four years. But they welcomed us with smiles, strong, freshly ground coffee, and something to eat; they posed willingly for photographs and children crawled into Nerma's lap.

Feed The Children is their lifeline. Oliver is not only their immediate source of food; they trust him to ensure that their food parcels reach them intact. But there are hiccups. Oliver can't deliver every item himself; he has to delegate, and those to whom this honour falls sometimes prove fallible. He finds this out by doing frequent spot-checks. When he finds "irregularities" (a tin of meat mysteriously missing from each parcel, lists containing names of families no longer there) he simply closes the programme.

Next day, someone will approach Oliver in the street. "Do you have to close our programme?" "Not at all," he replies blandly. "You just need to choose a new delegate, one you can trust to keep our rules." A new rep is chosen and things get under way again.

Running a relief operation.is not only a matter of making an unheralded mercy dash over potholed roads with a truckload of wardrobe-scrapings in black plastic sacks. And it's not only misguided individuals who are being less than helpful. Recently a well-known charity rolled up to Feed The Children's Gorazde warehouse.

"We have 5,000 children's jackets! Will you store and distribute them for us?"

" 'Fraid not. You see, we have 7,000 children's jackets and that's all this town needs."

"But what shall we do with ours?"

"Why not take them to Visegrad, up the road? They're getting refugees now from Sarajevo, and we haven't got a set-up there yet."

"Visegrad! Isn't that Serb?"

"Well yes, but there are children in need there."

"Oh, no, we couldn't give it to the Serbs!"

So it gets dumped. Not literally. It's dished out off the back of the lorry, and winds up on the market. But at least that brings prices down. There are rich and poor in Gorazde, but the poor aren't all refugees.

We did get to Visegrad - it's not far, just over the mountain, but now, in Serb held Bosnia, it's a different "nation". We had to remember to call Nerma - our invaluable interpreter - Nina, lest the Serbs guess she was Muslim. (What would have happened? "Unpleasantness," said Oliver laconically, and after testing the waters of still-simmering hostility, I believed it.) We found some indignant Serbian refugees newly arrived from Muslim- controlled Sarajevo.

"Why don't we get aid? Conditions are terrible here!" said one well-dressed woman, living in reduced but not unbearable circumstances in a worker's chalet. "Just imagine! Till this week we had to heat water to wash with on a wood-stove! We had no electricity!"

"Must've been awful," said Oliver with a straight face.

The Dayton peace agreement glibly announced that all refugees could go home. But people who were ethnically cleansed from - or have left - areas now given to one of the other communities are unlikely to return. Refugee families I met in "The Balkans" are never going home. What may happen is that they drift away to Sarajevo.

When Dayton brought the fighting to an end (no one knows for how long) there were about 50,000 people in the Gorazde pocket. The accord meant to uphold the town as an example of a Muslim community in Serb territory. Now the population is officially down to 42,000, and still falling. The Muslim authorities originally forbade anyone to leave, especially men of military age, presumably because their claim on the area would weaken if the population fell. But now these restrictions have been lifted and people are leaving all the time, including young men.

Every week three convoys of buses make round trips to Sarajevo, escorted through Serb territory by troops from the I-For (implementation force). Officially, these are shopping or visiting trips. But every week some people leave Gorazde and never come back.

Lynne Reid Banks 1996. Feed The Children, 82 Caversham Road, Reading, Berkshire RG1 8AR (01734 584000).

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Volunteer Mentor for people who have offended

    This is an unpaid volunteer role. : Belong: We are looking for volunteers who ...

    Modern Foreign Languages Teacher - French

    £100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Modern Foreign Language Teach...

    RE/Humanities, Sittingbourne School

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We urgently seek an experienced ...

    SEN Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: Randstad Education are recruiting ...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?