Monday, June 15, 2009


I never knew there is a difference between definition of refugees and displaced persons until I became one. A displaced person is someone who was forced to leave their home but still lives in the same city. A refugee is a displaced person who lives in a different city.

I was a refugee while I was in Belgrade. I didn't officially become one right away when I got there, because there wasn't a war, and I didn't flee the country. After a few months of my life in Belgrade, when it became obvious the war in Bosnia is only getting worse, I started thinking of what to do while I was there. I met other people from Bosnia, who came after me and got a refugee status. With it they got some benefits, like free public transportation, a health insurance, and some humanitarian aid (which I later sent to Sarajevo). To get the refugee status, one also had to prove they are either in school, working or looking for a job. I was a student back in Sarajevo, and although studying was the last thing on my mind those days, I enrolled in the university to get the refugee card. On my refugee days some other time.

My family in Sarajevo, on the other hand, had status of displaced persons. To get the same benefits that refugees in Sarajevo, during and after the war, had, they had to prove they cannot return to their home because it was devastated. Also, to get an apartment to live in someone had to declare that our old apartment is not livable. For our old place it was very difficult to get such paperwork, because it was on to the Serb territory, and it took a long time until Bosnian institutions established a way to classify those properties. All of these procedures were very stressful for my mom.

After the first few days of their displacement, they were given keys to an apartment in the middle of Dobrinja. All apartments before the war were owned by companies, military, or government and their employees were given apartments based on merits and years of service. They were assigned an apartment for temporary use that belonged to a military Serb family who left the city. They moved there not knowing anyone in the building. The apartment was emptied of all the food by the neighbours before mom and brother moved in. It was difficult to ask for help from people they never met, and often times they wouldn't get any. Some folks were even very hostile and hateful toward my family because I was still in Belgrade. The Bosnian army soon wanted the apartment back, and mom had to look for something else.

After about two years my mom's company assigned her an apartment in a building next door that belonged to a man who worked for the same company as my mother. He was a Serb who left the city at the beginning of the war. The government, or companies, then declared such apartments abandoned and were assigning them to refugees and displaced persons like my family. It was first for a temporary use and then they changed it to a permanent permit. That was the apartment I came to after I returned to Sarajevo.

Couple of years after I moved to the US, the man who used to live in that apartment came back to Sarajevo wanting to claim it back. By that time, the government and companies were issuing certificates to anyone who lived in an apartment before the war so they can purchase it as private property. Those papers carried a value based on how many years the dweller has invested in the housing plan through the company. People who worked 20+ years had a high enough valued certificate that they could purchase the apartment with no additional cash. This man wanted to use those certificates to privatize his apartment, and then sell it to someone, as he had no intention of coming back to live in Sarajevo.

By that time both my brother and I lived in the US, and mom was tired of Dobrinja and all the bad things that happened there, that she found another place for herself closer to downtown. I was fortunate to be able to help her with acquiring that apartment, as all purchases were done with cash only. This one was about $40K. As the faith would have it, that same year I won a drawing in my apartment complex to live there free for a year! That really helped with the financial situation. That apartment we purchased is the same one I stay in when I come to visit Sarajevo.

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