Refugees resigned to life in exile

'WHEN THE SERBS broke through they burned our houses, stole our cattle, raped our women. I saw everything,' says Rahima, a 46-year-old housewife who looks 20 years older.

She was at home in Kozarac, a village near Prijedor, when the Bosnian Serb army swept in. Now she lives in the high school in Travnik, a dilapidated building housing hundreds of refugees, where she shares one room with eight relatives and several other Bosnians.

Tomorrow two parliaments - the Bosnian Federation in Sarajevo, the Bosnian Serbs in Pale - meet to answer the Geneva peace proposal. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said last night he expected the self-declared assembly to vote against the peace plan. But Rahima will not be going home, even if the warring factions make peace: on the new map of Bosnia drawn up by Russia and the Western powers, Prijedor, a town won by 'ethnic cleansing', is to remain Serbian.

'We have to jump over the moral bridge in the interests of a wider peace and of keeping Bosnia together,' said Charles Redman, the US special envoy to the former Yugoslavia.

Rahima, her family and her neighbours are on the wrong side of the 'bridge'. Their families are divided, their homes have been destroyed and their lives are shattered. Rahima and her daughter-in-law, Jasna, will not return to Prijedor if it belongs to the Serbs.

The women list without visible emotion the horrors they endured, though they will not give their real names. Rahima displays the shrapnel scars on the chest and right arm of her five-year-old granddaughter, Jasmina, who was wounded by a Bosnian shell in Vitez, where the family first sought refuge after their expulsion from Prijedor.

Jasna kneels to roll some pastry, and talks about the war: 'They came to loot stores and steal equipment. They also took away the better-looking girls. But I didn't suffer as much.'

Her father-in-law, Ahmed, is a large man with bushy eyebrows, a handsome moustache and expressive blue eyes. Before the war, he must have cut a fine figure. Now, he walks with a stick and, as he tells his story, he starts to tremble.

'I was sitting on a verge, taking a rest, when they came. I was severely beaten, especially around the head, so the details are still a bit misty,' he says. 'They kicked me with boots and blood came out of my mouth. They hit my legs, then made us walk towards two buses. They drove me to a prison camp in Prijedor and beat me with rifle butts and sticks. I still have black spots in front of my eyes.'

Ahmed is visibly agitated, but does not want to stop talking. 'They wanted to kill me in Kozarac. They stopped the bus, and told us to get into some trucks. But I had a bad back, and could not move.

'They said, 'If you can't move, we will kill you here.' But the other prisoners carried me. All the time I thought the Serbs would kill me. I was terrified.'

The Serbs kept him in the camp for eight months before releasing him, he said, pulling out a document which states baldly that Ahmed and his family are leaving the Prijedor area. One son, Jasna's husband, was released and sent to Canada, the other to New Zealand.

The third son returned to Prijedor, because his wife and child refused to leave while he was in prison. They send messages through the Red Cross to say they are all right.

Rahima was expelled from Serbian-held territory after spending one month and eight days at Trnopolje, another prison camp. 'We didn't think it would be so brutal,' she says. 'Even so, we thought we would get home.'

And now? 'I think peace is the best solution. If we can't go home, they must find something for us. We cannot stay in this building forever.'

'Will you ever go home?' Ahmed pauses, then looks to his wife for guidance or comfort. He cannot answer.

Eventually he says: 'I don't know how the situation will be. If it was like before the war, we would return. But I don't believe it will be.' His granddaughter is standing beside him, silent. Her T-shirt bears the logo 'Cyprus'. This is more likely to be their future.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'