Guest post by Janet Blair, DCF SunCoast Refugee Services. As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20, we will share a few stories from local refugees & former refugees about their experiences. This story is about Elida Mujic, Client Relations Coordinator at DCF and former Bosnian refugee.
Elida Mujic is packing for what should have been her 20th high school reunion. Except that a few months after this picture was taken, in April of 1992, a war erupted in Bosnia that changed everything for Elida and her classmates. Instead of graduating side by side, most of these students lost their lives in an ethnic war that left approximately 100,000 people dead from Muslim, Croatian and Serbian backgrounds.
Elida is just 17 years old in the photo above, standing in the front row, second to the right. Ironically she is wearing a blue jacket with an American flag on it. She had no idea that soon after this picture was taken she would be fleeing her country under an assumed name and that years later end up as a refugee in the United States.
For her, the war started on a day that Elida says was just like any other day, April 12th of 1992. She was on the school bus going home that afternoon when suddenly the driver stopped due to a barricade in the road. The students ended up being held hostage on the bus for over three hours. None of their parents knew where they were. Eventually the students were released to go home and learned that a war had broken out across their country. Her home was never safe again. From that point on there were always grenades going off and guns shooting all around them. It was particularly unsafe for young women, who were being taken to camps and sexually assaulted.
To protect her, Elida’s parents found a way for her to be smuggled out of Bosnia across the border to Serbia, She had to pretend to be Serbian, change her name and pretend not to be who she was. Serbian friends of the family took her in as their daughter when she changed her identity. She had to get rid of anything that identified her as a Muslim, even her own diary. Then the Serbian family came and took me to their home pretending she was their daughter while her parents stayed behind. She became a refugee in Serbia under the name of Bojana when she was 17.
At the time, Elida didn’t understand why her parents made her leave – in fact she was very angry with them. It’s only now as a parent of two children that she understands the difficult decision her parents made ended up saving her life. Now she feels blessed to have made it and to have the opportunity to make something of her life. She realized that many others were never given that chance. Some had such short lives and were taken way too soon. She saw babies and 5-year-old neighbor children killed. She saw children who woke up to find their mother dead.
So Elida’s actual graduation day was held away from her family and friends in the neighboring country of Serbia in 1993 alongside students she had only known for nine months. Now, 20 years later, Elida is going home to Gorazde, Bosnia for a bittersweet class reunion with those who should have been her fellow graduates in June of 1993. Through using social media like Facebook, the survivors have been able to locate at least 60 people from several schools who would have been graduating seniors in 1993. On June 29th these sixty survivors will come together from the places all over the world where they scattered during the war, and commemorate a graduation that should have taken place. It will be a celebration for those who survived and a time of remembering those who are missing.
For Elida, the trip will also be an opportunity to share her history with her children, 15-year-old Armand and 10-year-old Ariana. Although Elida became a U.S. citizen in 2006, she wants her children to feel connected to her home country and her refugee experience so they know where they came from and what brought them here. You never know what a person has lived through and what made them come to America. World Refugee Day is a chance every year to recognize refugees who have been through so much. The refugee programs touch so many who are looking for a new beginning here in this country.