This week is Refugee Week, and at DVIP we wanted to recognise this week and its relevance to the domestic abuse field. Amra, our National Lead for Domestic Abuse services at Richmond Fellowship, including DVIP, is a refugee from Eastern Bosnia. Today, Amra is sharing her story and speaking on the importance of not only supporting refugees but also asylum seekers who are victim to domestic abuse and violence. At DVIP we understand asylum seekers dealing with Domestic Abuse and Harmful Practices face additional challenges and are a particularly underprivileged group, we stand in solidarity with them.
I was born in Foča, Eastern Bosnia, where I spent the first three years of my life before moving to Sarajevo. I have very fond and happy memories of my childhood before the war, summers in the countryside, and time with members of our large family. I was in Foča when the war broke out, I was 6 at the time and was visiting my uncle and aunt to spend time with them before starting school, my parents were still in Sarajevo. I ended up being separated from my parents for a year and a half during the war.
I remember the days in the run up to the war, there was definitely a shift in atmosphere that I didn’t really understand at the time. Then people from the surrounding areas started arriving to our village. They told us stories of their houses and farms being burned down and they had had to flee. After that, we started to sleep in our clothes, so we would always be ready to run. One night, our neighbour came and started banging on our window shouting “They’re coming! They’re coming! Get up we have to go!”. We fled the village with my aunt and her daughters, but my uncle had to stay behind. That was the last time I saw him, and to this day we still haven’t located his remains.
We walked for miles and slept in abandoned houses and I remember the adults discussing what was happening in the rest of the region, I sometimes think the only way we were able to survive was because of the kindness of others. People took us in to their homes and shared what little they had with us. I remember people being very kind. It was both incredibly beautiful in the mountains and incredibly scary as we were attacked numerous times on our journey. We had to shelter from air raids and would emerge to the most horrifying destruction. One day, we tried to get a bus but couldn’t get on it so we waited for it to come back but it never did. Later we found out that all the passengers on that particular bus had been killed. We eventually made it across the mountains to a small town just outside Sarajevo.
Living in occupied Sarajevo was very hard. We were house bound because we couldn’t go out as the city was under siege and constant shelling and sniper fire. We had no electricity or running water as it was controlled by the enemy, and my mum had to go to the well and carry water to the house. I couldn’t go to school because it was too dangerous. Children were killed just walking to school.
As an adult I now realise what my family went through and especially how the women had to survive. I witnessed my mum having to stay home and look after all of us, making food with no ingredients, washing blood-soaked clothes without detergent or a washing machine, protecting children and having to keep them constantly sheltered from all that is going on around them. It’s heart-breaking. We lost a lot of family in the war.
All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a new country, learning a new language and culture. We were fortunate to have had a warm welcome and had support to navigate the systems which unfortunately a lot of the clients that come through our services have not received.
I was placed in school and managed to achieve my GCSE’s and A-Levels having not spoken a word of English when I arrived. Witnessing the trauma my family and community were living with I decided to study Psychology and Criminal Justice at University and later achieved an MSC in Forensic Psychology. This helped me to not only understand what my family and I went through, but was also a process of healing for me, and a way to give back.
My first job was at My Time CIC, where we worked with new communities and supported them in a culturally appropriate therapeutic and practical interventions to deal with their trauma.
I witnessed so many women who come through our services who had no access to public funds, who had experienced horrific sexual, physical, and psychological abuse and were treated as third class citizens.
Families torn apart, who had fled war torn countries only to be told to go back where they came from, when they had no say in the matter. Sadly, this hasn’t changed in the 13 years I’ve worked in this field.
There is still so much misconception of refugees and asylum seekers in our society. They are often misunderstood and overlooked, these are people who back in their home countries had lives, had educations, job security, and often they find themselves with nothing when they come to the UK and have to start from scratch to re-build their lives.
In the majority of cases they will be dealing with varying levels of trauma, suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and in many case self-medicating. I have lived experience and great empathy for people who have lived and survived being uprooted from everything they know.
I am now the National Lead for Domestic Abuse for Richmond Fellowship, we provide specialist DA services to men who use abusive behaviours, their current and former partners and children. Some of the women supported by Al-Aman, one of our specialist projects in London delivered though DVIP, are indeed asylum seekers. Asylum seekers dealing with Domestic Abuse and Harmful Practices face additional challenges and are a particularly underprivileged group.
We stand in solidarity with our fellow specialist VAWG providers who champion and fight for these women’s rights and support the much-needed amplification of their voices so that we may see some change.