Twenty years after the war ended, more than 7,000 people displaced by the conflict still live in temporary accommodation in ‘collective centres’ throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In a Yugoslav-era dormitory building for sportsmen and athletes in Hrasnica, a few kilometres west of Sarajevo, 14 families made homeless by the war are still waiting for permanent housing.
None of the 32 people living there expects their situation to improve soon.
“It’s a shame that human beings must live in such poor conditions in the 21st century,” said Sead Ajanovic, aged 42, who has been living with his family for more than 20 years in various ‘collective centres’ around the country.
Ajanovic is originally from the town of Cajnice near Gorazde in the east of the country, which suffered brutal ethnic cleansing during the war. He had to leave his hometown with his family.
“I have my wife with me and together we had to raise four children inside this centre,” he said.
Ajanovic still owns some land in Cajnice but after so many years have passed, he doesn’t feel like going home any more.
“I have a small job and I can survive, somehow. In Cajnice, there is no way I could find a way to make a living,” he said.
Life inside the collective centre is far from easy. Most families have only one or two rooms for sleeping and preparing their meals. To have a private bathroom is considered a privilege.
“Some families are a bit luckier and have their own private toilet inside their rooms, but we have shared showers and toilets,” explained Miralem Salcin, a 51-year-old war veteran.
Salcin has also been living at the centre at Hrasnica for years, together with his wife, Elvedina, and their daughter Azra, who is 11.
The family is from Sarajevo, but they lost their home during the war. They do not pay rent or utility bills at the centre. However, this is scant compensation for their other losses, they explain.
“We don’t have jobs and we don’t receive any kind of pensions or benefits. Most of us just survive on small daily jobs,” Miralem said.
Elvedina Salcin, 35, recently had cancer surgery and is on medication. “Luckily, my health insurance covered the surgery but I still have to pay for my pills. It’s tough. I’m constantly sick,” she said.
The Bosnian authorities have repeatedly promised to build alternative homes for the families at Hrasnica but none of the residents expects any improvement soon.
“We receive some support from some NGOs but the state and Federation [entity] authorities have completely abandoned us. The only ones who care about us are the people working in the Ministry for Refugees in the Canton of Sarajevo,” Miralem said.
The Hrasnica collective is far from unique in Bosnia.
Twenty years after the war ended, 7,247 refugees still live in 121 such centres across the country, according to the Union for the Sustainable Return and Integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Unfortunately, this problem has not been solved despite the efforts of the Bosnian authorities and international donors,” Mirhunisa Zukic, the president of the Union, told BIRN.
“There are some strategies and plans to build new houses for these people but unfortunately the work is proceeding very slowly,” Zukic said.
“The biggest problem is that around 700 people living in these collective centres are under 17 years of age, which means that kids who were born in these buildings during the 1990s have never left and are now having their own children,” she added.
Source: Balkan Insight