Refugees board a nightmare train: Adrian Bridge spoke to Muslims 'cleansed' from their village in Bosnia by the Serbs and forced to make a terrible journey to Hungary's Nagyatad camp

LIKE all the 2,000 former residents of the Bosnian Muslim village of Kozluk, Merima Husic will never be able to forget being forcibly deported from her home.

It was late June, and although her village had already fallen to Serbian guerrillas, sporadic gunfire aimed at Bosnian resistance fighters in the nearby woods continued to generate a constant sense of panic.

When the order finally came to leave, Merima, together with all her family and friends, had only one hour to prepare her things. It was the start of a seven-day journey that rapidly turned into a nightmare. With only the clothes they were wearing and the barest of provisions, the Kozluk villagers spent most of the next week packed like cattle, 100 to a carriage, in trains that shunted them first to the Serbian-Hungarian border where they were issued with new 'Yugoslav' passports and then on to the Hungarian- Austrian border, where half of the party was refused entry.

During the worst part of their ordeal, the villagers, who included 150 mothers with babies or young children and several people over 80, were cooped up in their train carriages for three days in a railway siding while Serbian officials prepared their exit documents.

Uncertain of where they were heading and whether any country would eventually accept them, the only food and water the refugees received during this period came from Red Cross officials and a handful of sympathetic locals who took pity on them.

For older people on board, many of whom were travelling abroad for the first time, the consistently high temperatures and lack of proper hygiene facilities proved too much. Many became seriously ill. For others, the psychological traumas of being uprooted without knowing their eventual destination took the heaviest toll.

Merima, however, faced the additional problem of being nine months pregnant. And it was while the train was on the move between the Austrian-Hungarian border and its final resting place, the Nagyatad refugee camp in southern Hungary, that she gave birth to her second child, Adel.

'When I realised that my labour pains had started, I was horrified,' Merima said. 'There were 20 people in my carriage and I begged someone to stop the train so that I could have my baby properly - somewhere on land. 'I was persuaded that everything would be all right and that it would be too complicated to try and arrange anything else. My mother delivered my son. Thanks to God, labour only lasted about three hours and the birth was relatively easy.'

At Nagyatad, Hungary's biggest refugee camp, Merima was sent straight to hospital and given the medical attention she had been deprived of during the whole of the previous week. But, along with all her colleagues, she is bitter about having been forced to leave her home and vows that, one day, she will return.

'None of us chose to come here voluntarily and none of us wants to stay,' said Fadil Banjanovic, the chief representative of the Bosnian Muslims from Kozluk in the Nagyatad camp. 'The men will return with guns to fight and, when the time is right, we will come back to fetch our women and children.'

As the chief co-ordinator of the exile from Kozluk, it was Mr Banjanovic who told the villagers on 25 June that they had only one hour to get ready to leave. 'We faced only two options: to flee or to stay and be killed.' Kozluk is one of the many villages and towns along the Drina river in Bosnia that falls within the stretch of land the Serbian fighters are trying to 'cleanse' of their predominantly Muslim population and to resettle with Serbs.

A convoy of 17 buses, three trucks and two cars came to collect the nearly 2,000 Kozluk villagers at about midday on 25 June and transport them to the Serbian town of Sabac. There, after negotiations with the local authorities, they were transferred on to a train bound for Subotica on the Hungarian border and, they hoped, to freedom. Stones and insults were hurled at the refugees in the 18- carriage train as it slowly pulled out of Sabac. But that was nothing compared with the ordeal awaiting them in Subotica.

'When we got there, it was clear nothing had been prepared to facilitate a quick transfer across the border and we were shunted on to a railway siding outside the town and left, literally, to stew for three days,' said Mr Banjanovic. 'A feeling of panic set in. In addition to the (stories of) atrocities, we had heard that the Serbs had set up special concentration camps for ethnic minorities and were terrified that we were going to be sent to one.'

'On reflection, I would have preferred to have stayed and died fighting rather than going through all that,' said Ramiz Pekmezovic, another of the Kozluk villagers. 'We felt our lives were in danger the whole time and, above all, we felt totally defenceless.'

On 30 June the reason for the delay became apparent when passports of the new 'small' Yugoslav republic were produced for each member of the party. The documents omitted any reference to Bosnia-Herzegovina, describing Serbia as the republic of origin. 'Effectively we have been given passports of a country to which we did not belong and against which we were waging war,' said Mr Pekmezovic. 'The whole thing was a farce, but we needed them in order to get out.'

Roughly half of the party was despatched to Austria the next day and entered just before Vienna imposed visa restrictions on all refugees. One day later - on 2 July - the second half of the convoy was not so lucky, and was turned back at the Austrian border because they did not have the necessary visas or documents proving that they were coming directly from a war zone.

'For many of us it seemed like the last straw,' said Hadzic Hasan, another member of the convoy. 'A rumour quickly spread that we would be returned to Serbia, and we decided we would all pull the emergency cord together and jump out of the train rather than face that.'

As it turned out, such fears were unfounded. Although Hungary had said it would not take any victims of Serbia's 'ethnic cleansing' programme, it decided to accept the Kozluk villagers on humanitarian grounds. Twelve hours after being turned away by the Austrians - and one baby later - some 1,000 shattered Bosnian Muslims were welcomed to the relative sanctuary of the former Hungarian army camp used for refugees in Nagyatad. 'Words cannot express our gratitude to the Hungarians,' said Mr Hasan.

'After so many bad experiences in Serbia and throughout the journey, it was an incredible relief to experience once again some simple human decency.'

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am interested in speaking to Data Migr...

Web Services Developer

£200 - £450 per day: Harrington Starr: Web Services Developer Web Services, WP...

Project Manager - (Housing Association, Prince 2) - Watford

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Manager - (Housin...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants For Multiple UK Offices

£18000 - £25000 per annum + DOE, OTE £40000: SThree: LONDON - BRISTOL - DUBLIN...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil