COVID-19 brings to a halt Hajira's search for freedom
Hajira* (35) and her family left their homeland Afghanistan a year ago. At the time, Hajira had two boys, Naji (13) and Jabar (3), and was pregnant with Abed who is now 5 months old.
„I am a gynecologist,“ says Hajira who worked in a hospital in Afganistan. „We had everything in Afganistan, a house and a car. Both me and my husband who is a civil engeneer had decent jobs.“
In the province where they lived, women are not allowed to leave their house alone. They must be accompanied by their husbands or someone else from the family. Being educated and having a job, Hajira defied the cultural norms of the province Tahar where the family lived.
"Sometimes they called my husband and threatened to kill me if he didn't keep me in the house. Weapons are everywhere, and on every corner, you can expect someone to threaten you and even kill you."
One evening a woman who was pregnant and in severe pain called Hajira on the phone, asking Hajira to come to her house and examine her.
„I couldn't because it was dark outside. I was afraid someone would kill me. I told her to go to the hospital. Later, her case became complicated and she died.
The family left their homeland for their own safety. And the safety of their children. Now, Hajira and her family reside in the Reception Centre Ušivak in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), near Sarajevo, the capital of the country. "I lost everything. I have been studying and trying to help people for 20 years, and now I am in a situation where others are helping me. It is hard.
Hajira's family goal is to reunite with their cousins who are in Switzerland. Hajira and her husband long to become valuable members of the community where Hajira is allowed to work, and once again be able to provide for their children. Along with the difficulties they face attempting to immigrate into the European Union, COVID-19 forced them to put their dreams on hold.
Due to the preventive measures aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, the movement has been restricted to the citizens of BiH, including its temporary residents.
Every day, Hajira visits a family and child-friendly corner in the camp. Hajira visits the Mother-Baby Unit and her children stay in the Child-Friendly Space.
„Every day, when I pray, I say a prayer for the people working here. I am happy to have you here and I feel free to communicate my needs,“ says Hajira.
Since the World Health Organisation announced COVID-19 as a global pandemic, prevention of the disease became a top priority in Ušivak Reception Center: with the help of donors, camp administration and all personnel working in the camps have come together to stop the spread of the global pandemic COVID-19. Mother-Baby Unit and Child-Friendly Space staff wear protective equipment, disinfectants are strategically spaced, and everyone entering the space is reminded of the need to disinfect their hands. Stay Healthy! posters with prevention tips for children in English, Arabic, and Farsi language are on the walls, and educational leaflets have been distributed to families. In addition, according to the camp protocol, all personnel entering camp must have their temperature taken by the camps' health-care staff.
With the support of UNICEF, through a project funded by the European Union World Vision BiH is implementing the project Ensuring protection and access to basic social services for refugee and migrant children in the RRC Salakovac - Mostar and TRC Ušivak - Sarajevo, aiming to provide a sense of stability to children on the move, assist unacompanied minors and provide psycho-social support to mothers and future mothers. The Child-Friendly Space, the Mother and Baby Unit, and the unaccompanied minor protection service - UASC 24/7, are all part of these efforts to ensure migrant and refugee children are cared for and protected.
In addition, World Vision's global partnership, have been contributing to keeping the child-friendly activities up and running.
„My children have recovered here. They used to be unhappy and anxious. When they stay with you they are happy. Especially Zaher. He enjoys every moment spent in the Mother and Baby Corner. He has changed a lot, and he began to communicate more,“ says Hajira.
The long-term goal and dream of Hajira's family were to move to Switzerland, where Hajira 's two brothers live. Traveling for a year now, their priorities might have shifted:
„Borders are difficult to cross and the journey costs a lot. The only thing we know for sure is that we want a normal life, a house, a job, freedom and education for our children."
*Names in the story are changed for the purpose of identity protection
Note: Publication of this article was funded by the European Union. World Vision is exclusively responsible for published content which may differ from the official opinion of the European Union.
Learn more about and/or support World Vision’s global work to limit the spread of COVID-19 and support the children impacted by it on our COVID-19 Emergency Response Page.