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Bosnia-Herzegovina: The train to nowhere

21-06-2000 Feature by Nancy L. Torner

   

Capljine. Trains sheltering displaced people.

Ref. BA-D-00004

   

Capljine. Trains sheltering displaced people.

Ref. BA-D-00007

   

Food distribution. Ref. BA-D-00009

   

Ref. BA-D-00006

   

Food distribution. Ref. BA-D-00008

 

About 75 train wagons have been parked on the outskirts of Capljine, in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina, for the last six years. They're not going anywhere soon, and neither are the 150 or so people living in them.

All the residents have been displaced from other parts of the country. They can't go home because either their houses have been destroyed or someone else is living in them. About 25 of the train dwellers are children, some of whom were born there and are already school age.

" I would like to go back to my home, and I would like to stay living here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, " says Ivanka Ivankovic. " Most of the people here want the same. But in some cases, whole villages have been destroyed, so an individual doesn't have any chance of going back to that village. " Ivankovic fled from central Bosnia-Herzegovina after her husband was taken out of their home and shot.

" I think international humanitarian law is very well intended, but it's just a little piece of paper, especially when it comes to displaced people, " Ivankovic says. " We're still just waiting. We live day by day because people don't have any money to start anything, and they can't get any employment to get resources. We're just waiting, hoping someone is going to do something, because we're not in a position to change anything. "

Each family has its own wagon; the size varies according to the number of people per family. Beds and cupboards are supplied by the local government. There's little room for personal things, but most of the families have lost everything an yway. Several wagons have been transformed into communal toilets and showers; shower curtains serve as the only doors to each stall.

One large wagon serves as a storage room and kitchen where communal meals are cooked three times daily. Food is donated by various organizations. At mealtimes, residents file past the kitchen's open door with plastic pails and metal bowls to collect their share of the food.

" The outside world isn't as interested as before, but we still have all the same problems, " Ivankovic says. " We have a right to live a normal life just like everybody else. What the world is doing now is very little. The world could have stopped this in the beginning if it wanted to. "

Life on the train has exhausted Ana Gric, who came here six years ago with her husband and son, who now is 12 years old. Gric is uneasy about having visitors and nervously straightens blankets on the already tidy beds.

" My health is not too good, and it bothers me that I'm in this wagon. My heart aches from this. If only I was any place but in this wagon, " says Gric, whose skin has a gray pallor. " I will be a minority if I return to my village. Nobody else wants to go back, and I can't go by myself. There are refugees living in my home anyway. "

On the other hand, Ruza Bradaric is relieved that her family has joined the train. She was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage when the family was forced from their home in Kakanj and had to sleep on the streets.

" I'm unemployed and I have three children. We had a lot of problems coming to here, but we're taken care of here, " Bradaric says. The family boarded the train 15 months ago, after she and her husband failed to find work in Capljine. " We were told they don't hire displaced people. What kind of rights are those? "

So Bradaric - and everyone else on the train - sits and waits as the hours and days tick by, hoping that someone somewhere will set things in motion.

" We all want normal conditions to live in, because these are not normal conditions, " Ivankovic says. " We just want a normal life. "

(Extract from the interviews made during the ICRC campaign " People on war " ).

Ref. BA_NLT_Train