The refugee crisis has caught the media’s attention in recent years. What happens to a refugee? Emina Ramic, a senior student in Perth, fled with her children from the war in Bosnia. What happened?
Escaping a War Zone
Emina Ramic, Perth
Bosnia & Hercegovina 1992
The noise of gun-fire and exploding bombs was getting closer as the days went by. The roads were controlled by different militia groups, making it too dangerous to deliver supplies into the village. The TV news stopped reporting anything from around the world and the war in our country became our only reality.
My husband’s cousin, Halima, lived in a small neighbouring town. Learning of my husband’s mental state and increasing violence towards us, she appeared at the door one afternoon while he was napping. Taking both my kids (seven months and eighteen months old) into her arms, she said “I don’t care if you’re coming or not, but these kids will not suffer anymore. You can stay here and die if you like!” Then she marched off.
I had just enough time to pick up my handbag and pull some dry nappies off the clothes line outside. This was the last time I saw the village and the place where my kids were born.
Staying with Halima, it didn’t take much reflection for me to put two and two together…. we were being looked after by the kindest person, however supplies were thinning out daily. I had to move; waiting could only make it worse as the war was spreading.
My parents’ home had burned down in the war some months earlier and they had fled the town we had lived in for generations. I didn’t know if they were alive as it was impossible to find them. During that time my brother was killed in the war. I had no money, no job, nor the prospects of changing any of it given the circumstances. I figured the only place I could attempt to reach was Split, a beautiful city in Croatia where my sister lived. Maybe we could find a refugee shelter there.
Fleeing the war – 3-day journey
Halima drove us to the closest military post on the border of Bosnia and Croatia. She asked the army guard if he could help us get to Croatia. He looked at my kids and said: “What do you think you’re doing? You must be out of your mind travelling with such small kids in the middle of the war by yourself!”
I glared at him and said: “Do you really think I’d be doing this if I had any choice?” He was quiet and then said: “Stay here, this might take some time, but I’ll stop the next vehicle with enough room to take the three of you, but I can’t guarantee how far they’ll take you….”
The driver who gave us the first ride on our journey, after a few kilometres said, “You’ll have to go on by yourselves.” So we walked.
Other kindly drivers offered rides from time to time. Often they would say “We’re approaching battle-grounds, put your heads down and cover the kids”. My only thought was: “Please God, if we have to die today, can all three of us die together!” The thought of my kids having to fend for themselves without me was unbearable.
Not having food or money didn’t really seem to matter much; I was certainly not feeling hunger, my daughter was too little to tell us how she felt, but my son was still full of beans…. exploring things along the way and asking loads of questions.
By the time we got to Split my seven-month-old daughter was barely alive, her nappy not changed for three days. We were skinny, filthy and exhausted. I still had to find my sister but didn’t have her address; all I had was a phone book. I left the kids outside a coffee shop to make some phone calls to track down my family. After a few minutes my auntie turned up.
I remember going to bed that first night after we reached Split and thinking to myself: “This is incredible…a peaceful, whole night’s sleep! I wish I could tell someone how precious this is!” My heart was overjoyed with the reality that we were finally safe.
Safe, but for how long?
Croatia welcomed us as refugees and for the next two years we lived with my sister and her husband in their one room, as they shared an apartment with his parents. I got a few cleaning jobs to help my sister feed us, and to pay for childcare. Two of my aunties who also lived in Split helped as much as they could.
During those two years in Croatia, I applied twice for a visa to go to Australia as refugees; I had kept in touch with a childhood friend who was now living in Perth. Both applications were rejected so I decided there was no point in trying again.
My sister then got a job in Germany, so she and her husband moved there and a few months later the three of us followed. For the next two years we all lived together again in a one-bedroom apartment in Munich while I worked as a cleaner in a beautiful little hotel. Germany accepted us as refugees but also indicated that as soon as the war was over, we would have to return to Bosnia. Since we had really nowhere to go back to, I started considering where we should apply to next.
Our big break
After trying everything, I finally managed to contact my parents back in Bosnia, and found they were both safe and alive. Around the same time one of my aunties from Split called us in Munich to say that I’d received a large envelope from the Australian Embassy. Should she send it to me? Thinking this was an unnecessary expense for her as a retiree, I told her we’d pick it up when we visited her next. However, she knew better and sent the envelope to me anyway. Long story short, the letter said: “If you are still interested in emigrating to Australia with your kids we are willing to approve your visas!” I never asked WHY or HOW we got another chance. I just said, “YES of course!”
It took six months working many hours to earn enough money for our airfares and after lots of medical check-ups, on the 20thJune 1995 we boarded the plane to Perth!
No turning back
The only stop between Munich and Perth was at Kuala Lumpur, and if I ever came close to having a nervous breakdown it was there. We had to wait eight hours before boarding a flight for Perth and I had too much time to think. While the kids were more than happy to run around exploring, I sat on a bench for two hours with my face in my hands, and cried… For the first time in years, I was scared: I had 500 German Marks in my pocket, two little kids, two bags of toys, no job, no place to stay in Perth and couldn’t speak a word of English.
Finally I stopped crying and counted the money again to see if I could buy return tickets to Germany. Nowhere near enough. All my worries dropped then and there. I said to myself: “No turning back now, our next stop is Perth, so let’s see what happens…”
A home at last
Well, it all worked out for the best in the end. For the first two months we stayed with my friend as she was the only person I knew. The kids soon started school, I began an English course and eventually we rented a nice little apartment all to ourselves. The Australian Government gave me a single parent pension – enough for a decent existence. We could even squeeze in a nice Lego-set for my son, a Barbie doll for my daughter and occasionally we ate at a local Pizza restaurant. We still go there and reminisce about our humble beginnings in this beautiful country.
After learning English for a year, I went to college for 6 months. From there I decided to take a leap and enrol at university since the kids were growing up and things were easier to manage. I had to think of what to study that would guarantee me a job; I couldn’t dilly dally or be too choosy. “Nothing to lose…’ I thought, ‘I can always pull out if it proves too hard”. But it wasn’t. After 3 years I graduated in Computer Science with a major in Software Engineering. A month later I got my first job as a computer programmer. Seven years later we bought a house. Above all, seeing my kids always gave me the resolve and energy to do whatever was needed to be done…to keep going. My son finished his education and now works as a Network Administrator for an Architecture firm, while my daughter decided four years ago to travel back to Munich and settle there. Next year she will graduate as a nurse.
Meeting the School
In 2008, a friend asked if I’d be interested in a Philosophy Open Day. I loved the whole experience and a day later, enrolled on my first term of Philosophy. From the very beginning I knew in my gut this was the most valuable knowledge I had ever come across. It helped me make sense, for the first time, of so many things that happened to me and free myself of grief for people and things lost.
I still remember reading the Bhagavad Gita for the very first time, and thinking to myself: “He’s talking about me… Arjuna’s battlefield is my head and my heart…” Every new term, everything I read, and every event I attended helped me find more love and compassion in my heart, helped me to forgive more, and be less angry about things that had happened.
The story of Krishna granting a boon to his disciple Kunti means so much. She says, “Grant me adversity”. Even Krishna, being all-wise, is surprised and wants to know why. She replies that it was in adversity that she thought of him most.
Adversity has and is still teaching me how to live truly and justly. It has forced me to reflect and see what forgiveness really is, helped me tap into resources I never knew I had. It has helped me understand others who suffer. And…needless to say, if it wasn’t for adversity I would have never found the School of Philosophy; that would have been a huge loss.