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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - So close, so absurd!

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

Even though she is now safe in Italy, a gypsy woman finds events in Bosnia hard to believe.

Interview by Giuseppe Lococo
Legal coordinator of the Italian Refugee Council

I am a gypsy woman. I am 45, but I look much older because of the difficulties of the last five years.

I lived with my family in a humble house in Foca, in a country once called Yugoslavia. In the fall of 1992, during a bitterly cold night, the world fell on my head. My town was attacked by the Serbs. I have only a very dim and confused memory of that event because in 1993 I was struck in the head by a bullet and have been suffering from amnesia ever since. I remember only that my husband hurried me out of bed and, whispering, told me to get the children and flee to the woods otherwise we were all going to die.

I will never forget the noise of gunfire and the screams of all those people who were trying to run away. Those who escaped walked until dawn when we managed to scrape together enough courage to go into a nearby village. The soldiers hosted us for three or four days then took us by truck to Sarajevo, where we stayed with some of my husband's relatives. We were 11 in a small house, but we were safe and we were together!

On 16 March 1993, while I was going back home to my children with the little fruit and a half kilo of bread I had obtained in the market I heard a burst of machine-gun fire behind me. I turned and I saw my husband lying on the street, in a pool of blood. This is my last memory and it continues to pass before my eyes because after another few moments which now seem like an eternity I felt a blow to my head. And then only darkness. When I woke up in hospital they told me I had been hit by a stray bullet. I am sure it was a sniper.

I was discharged 10 days later, against the doctors' will. I wanted to go back to my children. One single moment did what two long years of war had not been able to do: destroy my family and my life. Life went on nevertheless. I suffered together with my children from hunger and cold. In winter I had to find old tires in the streets to burn them for heat but often there were not even tires to burn.

I held out as long as I could. Then, in 1996 I fled to Italy. Now I am living in what is described as a "camp" for gypsies, which for us is the only possibility. People call me zingara or gypsy and treat me with annoyance and contempt. Because of a complex and bureaucratic mechanism which I do not understand, it is very long and difficult for me to legalize my position. I am living in a camper and I share my poor condition with many others. I get by anyway.

The situation here is far from positive but I do not complain. Compared with the hunger, the fear and the cold I suffered just a few hundred kilometres away, I do not live with the terror that my children might be killed by a sniper or a landmine.

I would have many more episodes to tell about the war, every day survival. But from here, everything seems to be so absurd. Even I can hardly believe it really happened to me.

From 1993 to 1996 the Italian Refugee Council carried out a census to determine the number of "de facto" refugees from former Yugoslavia in the municipalities of Turin, Padua, Vigonza, Florence, Milan, Venice, Rome and Bologna. Among its findings the census showed a high percentage of gypsies among the refugees. In June 1996, the Municipality of Rome asked the Refugee Council and the Italian Consortium of Solidarity to give the refugees legal and social assistance.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)

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