There are many children on the move in Bosnia, escaping war and poverty in the Middle East and Asia. Some of them have been travelling for as long as five or six years. In November 2021, in collaboration with UNICEF and Save the Children North West Balkans, we worked with children staying in a reception centre in Northern Bosnia. We gave cameras to children between eight and thirteen years old and asked them to photograph whatever interested them, and then choose the picture the most wanted to show the outside world. Then we asked them to tell us about that picture and why it mattered. Here is what they wanted to share with us.
This is a picture of a gate inside Borici. You enter to go into isolation. If you are not vaccinated, you go into isolation. If IOM says you go, you go. We didn’t go when we arrived because we were vaccinated. I was in quarantine one time, but the door was open so I could go outside. Also, if they do a COVID test and you have it, you go downstairs and if you don’t have it, you go upstairs. If you stay out after 4 o’clock, you have to go into quarantine. If they go out on the Game they also have to go into quarantine if they come back, but not if they are vaccinated. We went on the Game a few nights ago, but the police caught us in Croatia. At first it was one policeman, he was good and acted like he did not see us. But then other policemen came with a dog, and my sister started crying, and they put us in a car and took us to the top of a mountain, but the car was very bad and the police left us on the mountain. We walked for six to seven hours to come back. We found an empty house, and a man found us and texted IOM, who came and took us to the camp. I am not happy to be back, I am sad because we have been here a few weeks and didn’t manage the Game. But I do like the classes in school. I want to be a doctor. I want to go to Switzerland or Germany. Why don’t they open the borders and let people in?
I chose this picture because my father took it, I was not going to let him have the camera but he took it anyway. I do like the picture. I am in our room. Four people live there. It’s just my family, because my father gets headaches so we are allowed to have our own room. I sleep on an upper bed, so does my mother. We have been here three or four months. That light is from the window. I am happy here. Life is OK. I want to be a policeman when I grow up. My mother told me if I was to become a policeman, I would be a very nice one.
I like this picture. It was a nice day. We played games. We are in the child friendly space and we are playing a game where you get rid of all your cards and the last card down is the winner. We play it in Afghanistan and they play it in Bosnia. It’s called Shaduya. I like playing cards, I play a lot. Sometimes I win. Life here is good. We are happy, we play games, I go to informal school in the mornings. I learnt English from my sister. She learnt it in Afghanistan and she taught us. We left four years ago and we have been in Bosnia three months. I liked Turkey best. We were there for a year. There are many beautiful cities and it is a really good country. We had a house but my father couldn’t find a job so that’s why we decided to go. I went to school there and I speak Turkish, Arabic – I learnt that in Greece – and I speak Greek. I want to be a doctor in the future. I have seen them in the movies and they help people.
I chose this picture because it’s beautiful. This is my best friend. She is in the room where children play. I entered that room with my friends, I wanted to play there. This woman asked me my name, where I am from and then when I left, she hugged me and said goodbye. I don’t know how to explain what she does. She draws with the children; she plays with us and she teaches. And she does not just help children, she helps older people as well, like my mother. I don’t know how long I have been here. We came here from Mostar. We have been travelling for maybe a year. I am not sure when we left my country. I feel a smile when I look at this picture. I feel nice.
I chose this because I love Turkey. When I got to Turkey, I really loved it. I come from Syria. I was in Turkey for a year and a half. I love Turkey because it’s very beautiful, everyone sings and there is a lot of music and there is the sea as well. When I swam there were no sharks, just dolphins and the fish were very small and did not bite. I saw sea urchins and when I caught one it didn’t hurt. Even bread is free. When I went to market to buy something, the seller would not ask for money because we were children. I loved the food there; the food was delicious and they are very good people. If any child hits you, the child does not apologise directly, but goes to his mother, asks her to buy a gift and comes back with the gift and then apologises. I went to school there, and we had a house, we lived by the sea. And there is a lot of work there. There are not so many problems. We were not exhausted in Turkey. We left because we have to go to Germany; my mother’s brother is in Germany and that’s why we want to go there.
When I was young, I never loved any toys except teddy bears. When I was in Iran, if I went with my mother to buy a toy, I always chose a teddy bear. I didn’t like Barbie. When my friends and family came to visit and they wanted to give me a toy, they knew what to bring: it was always a teddy bear. When I was in Greece, I put teddy bears on my table. We had a house in Greece and we lived there and I bought teddy bears and put them all around the room. It was nice in Greece but we decided to go to Bosnia, because friends called us and we want to go to Germany. I loved Greece and I have many happy memories. I had one teddy bear who slept with me every night. I do not have any here. My friend gave me this notebook in Greece before she left for Germany. She knew how much I love bears. But the note book was so big and heavy I could not bring it, so I just took this picture of the cover and left it behind. And I wrote on it: I love you. When I get to Germany and have my own room it will be a room just for teddy bears.
My sister took this. I like it. It shows that I am grown up now. They did a video of me in Italy where I told my story, but I was very small. Now I am 13. I was a translator in Greece, working in a hospital, they paid me. Working as a translator was good for me. I translated Greek to Farsi. I knew the language and I wasn’t shy. I learnt Greek on Lesbos in Greece. I went to school there and they took me to football. We lived there for one and a half years. First in Kara Tepe I was helping translate for the security and I learnt from watching TV; and then in Athens I helped in Hospital Sofia. We wanted asylum in Greece but we were not accepted. So we went to Albania, then Montenegro, and then we came here. We have been here a month. Now I am learning English. My father speaks Turkish, English, Greek, Russian, Arabic and Farsi. I would like to go to Portugal, because of the football. I got a medal for football in Greece. The Ambassador for Afghanistan in Greece came and gave us football clothes and shoes, and he gave me the medal. I want to study and be a football player and be successful.
This is my class at school and I love them a lot. They are my friends; they like me and I like them. We play, we study. I have been in school from first grade, now I am in third grade. I have been in Bosnia for three years, one year in Mostar and two years here. I can speak Bosnian. I learn lots of things. My favourite subjects are science, mathematics, the Bosnian language and sport. I’m good at sport, I play striker in football. I support Real Madrid and Barcelona. I am sorry my teacher is not in this picture because I like her so much. She teaches everything except religion and the English language and she’s always good. I want to be a footballer when I grow up. We want to go to Belgium, because both sisters are there.
I chose this picture because when we are in school, they tell us to choose a picture and tell a story about it. I always choose this one because I want to tell this story. There is one cat, and there is also another. They are husband and wife, but they are divorced. The boy cat comes here alone and he is suffering. He comes here every day and he is waiting for his former wife and hoping they will be friends again, but she never comes. It is a sad story. I have an aunt, she is in Germany, we lived together in Iran and then she left for Germany when I was eight. I am eleven now. Because I loved her very much, I cried every day. She called sometimes and she was telling us to come to Germany, and now we are coming. That painting is not mine, so I cannot put in another cat. But I would like them to be together again.
This is a great picture. I like that person and I took her picture because she was a good teacher. When we were inside the classroom, she was nice to me. It was fun taking pictures. The camera gives a good photo, the phone doesn’t. I am from Afghanistan; I don’t know when I left. We have been here 2 months. We want to go to Germany because my brother is there. I want to be a footballer when I grow up.
I chose this picture because I like the school, because if we go to school, we can become something in the future. I want to be a dentist. I know one in Iran. He was good, he helped people. In school we are learning maths and we do some art and we learn Bosnian. We go to sport with an Arab guy from the Centre. I have been going to the school for 15 days. The last time I was in school was in Afghanistan. I went for 18 months before we left. That was five years ago, then I had no school before this one. We were in Turkey for 12 months but I did not go to school because you need a card and you only get it after a year and when the card came, we were gone. We couldn’t go in Greece because we were in some hotel. I don’t know if I will go to proper school here because maybe we will go on “the Game”. The Game means going to Croatia. I don’t know why they call it that. It is the word my father uses. We have been in Bosnia six months and we have tried 20 times. The Police don’t let us go. They don’t hit us but they take our phones. They do hit people who are in smaller groups. One time we almost got to Slovenia. There was a river and on the other side there were Slovene police, but the Croatian Police brought us back here. I do whatever my father wants us to do. He wants us to go to Switzerland because they will give us money and send us to school.
It’s a nice picture because we are hugging, which is a sign of love. It’s inside Borici, inside the classroom where we do homework, we talk with teachers, we laugh, we watch movies. When we cannot play in the camp, like just now when it’s bad weather, we come in and do maths and homework. I go to school in town with Bosnian children, my friends. I have been here around a year and a half. We came here, then we went to another camp, then they closed it and we came back here. I left Iran when I was five and I have been on the move for six years, I am eleven now. It was good in Iran, and the food was so good. But they killed Christians, that’s why we had to come. I want to write under this picture: be happy and have good friends, they will always help you. My father’s friends always helped him and I want to be like that. You have to be good to your friends or you can lose them.
My mother took this picture of me and I chose it because I love it when my mother takes pictures of me, because I love my mother. I am wearing clothes that I love. I was happy on that day and I am glad the picture was taken.
I chose this because she’s a nice person, because when I see her, she calls me my dear, and she does not say that to other children, just me. She goes with the children to school and she comes to the camp and she teaches us. She speaks Farsi, Bosnian and English. She talks a lot with people in the Bosnian language and she talks a lot with people from Afghanistan. She helps people who are asking for help. This is a beautiful photo. I took it in front of the school. I like going to school because I like learning languages so I can help my mother and father. I am learning, but there are still some words I cannot translate. For example, I can ask for clothes in Bosnian and Afghan with simple words, but not everything. These clouds are above the teachers face and it looks like she is in the sky. She looks like an angel.
I chose this picture because everyone loves that baby girl, because she is beautiful. I like playing with her and when I do, she laughs. Life here is good for babies because the baby girl has a mother and she is good to her baby, she plays with her and feeds her, sometimes with breast, sometimes milk. I like life here. It is good because we have a room with my mother and father and brothers; there are 5 of us in the room. I don’t know how long I have been here. We come from Afghanistan, but I was born in Iran. I don’t remember when we left. I was doing the Game in the last days but we came back here this morning. And because we have been vaccinated, we did not have to go into isolation. And I have seen the baby girl. Her room is close, so I am happy.
I took this because of my dad, because I love him. One time he let me go into town to play with some other children who were my friends, and sometimes he gives me chips which I like. I think it is a beautiful picture. I would like to cut the picture just to focus on my father. He is a good man because he plays with me and sometimes, he makes me laugh. He’s funny, he likes jokes a lot, although not always, because sometimes he is not in the mood. He takes care of me. I love this camp because they let me go to school. All the people inside the camp are nice to me. I like going to school. I want to learn English because that can help me. I want to go to Canada.
I took it because it is beautiful. It is a nice thing, It’s very nice. It looks very interesting but I don’t know what it is. In Iran they had many things like this. But I haven’t seen anything exactly like this before, nothing like a C. The photography was a nice experience because I never used a camera before, it’s very different from a phone. Like sky and earth.
I want this picture because it shows all this road that we need to travel for the future. We cannot get to the finish, but we are doing our best. We have been on the way for three years but still not reached our final destination. I came from Afghanistan to Iran, from Iran to Turkey, to Greece, to Albania, Montenegro, to Bosnia. We have tried day and night, we want to go to Switzerland, it is a dream from way back. I would have liked to stay in Albania, they have the most beautiful country and they are the best people in the world. When we were in Albania people from that country gave us everything as a gift, but there was no reason to stay, because there was no camp. It was nice but there was no future in that country. We have tried the Game seven times. We always go through the forest, but sometimes at night we go on that road, when there are no people. Things are good here. I like Bosnians. But we don’t have a future here in Bosnia. I want to be a Doctor in Switzerland. I speak a little English and when I ask people where is the best country: Afghanistan, Iran, Bosnia… Everyone says Switzerland is the best. We Afghan people are forced to go all this way for a better future. We don’t have a choice. Our country is destroyed and we don’t have a future there.