Little Irma, symbol of the West's failure, is dead

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The Independent Online
IRMA Hadzimuratovic, the Bosnian girl who briefly stirred the conscience of the West, died in her sleep in Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital yesterday.

In August 1993, pictures of the injuries she received during a Serb mortar attack on Sarajevo dominated the news. Public demands for action were so great that the Government was forced to fly her and 20 other injured children to Britain.

"Because you can't help everybody doesn't mean you shouldn't help somebody," said Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, as he immediately ran into accusations that the Government was engaged in a publicity stunt.

The fate of Irma, who died of a blood infection, seemed to sum up the clumsiness of the international intervention in Sarajevo. She was hit by Serb shells in the market square of the Ottoka suburb of the UN safe haven. Her mother died instantly.

Doctors at the city's state hospital tried to cope with her head, stomach and spinal injuries, but they had no electricity. They appealed to the UN to fly her to the West, but the appeal was rejected on the grounds that Western government quotas only allowed a handful of injured from Sarajevo. In desperation her doctors turned to the media, camped in the nearby Holiday Inn. Pictures of her stricken figure sent a wave of guilt and pity around Europe for two weeks.

Irma was flown out by the RAF. She regained consciousness, but was paralysed from the neck down and had to be fed intravenously. She still managed to learn English and go to the hospital's school. Her father, Ramiz, and four-year-old sister, Medina, were brought over to join her in London.

After her death, Dr Quen Mok, the consultant paediatrician in charge of her care, said: "Her courage in dealing with her injuries was an inspiration to us all."

Claude Moraes, General Secretary of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said that Irma's suffering had done little to change Britain's long-term refusal to grant victims of the former Yugoslavia asylum. In all there are about 22,000 Bosnians here compared to 250,000 in Germany.

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