The cargo ship containers by the Sedra hotel in Cazin, Bosnia | Photo: Shâyân for InfoMigrants
The cargo ship containers by the Sedra hotel in Cazin, Bosnia | Photo: Shâyân for InfoMigrants

InfoMigrants spoke to Shâyân*, an Iranian engineer who lives with his family in a migrant camp near Bihac in Bosnia. Although the rest of Bosnia is no longer under lockdown, the migrant camp remains in quarantine after a doctor at the camp tested positive for the coronavirus.

"We’ve been in quarantine for three months in the Sedra hotel in Cazin. It’s a former tourist hotel that was converted into accommodation for migrant families and unaccompanied minors by the International Organization for Migrants (IOM).

Me, my wife, my 17-year-old son and my 10-year old daughter live in a room on the third floor of the main building. We’re lucky, because the others have to share their rooms with other families. But we don’t use the shower upstairs because it’s very dirty, we prefer to hear water and wash ourselves in the sink in our room.The Sedra hotel in Cazin, Bosnia, which has been converted into temporary accommodation for migrant families and unaccompanied minors. Photo: Shâyân for InfoMigrantsThe lockdown has been lifted in some camps in Bosnia, but we stay quarantined. Outside of the camp, the Bosnians now have the right to party and go out, but we don’t have the right to as much as put a foot outside to go food shopping. It makes me angry, I feel like an animal stuck in a cage.

It’s unfair, we have nothing to do with the spread of this virus. Someone from the outside brought the virus here. It was a doctor who regularly visits the camp and who was sick. Since then, several of the people he saw have been quarantined in containers for two weeks.

I almost drowned in front of my children

I don’t understand why none of these people have been tested, there’s even a pregnant woman among them and a man with heart problems who’s had to go back and forth to the hospital because of problems breathing. It’s horrible to be put aside in containers like that. They should test us all for COVID-19! Personally, I’ve been in contact with some of these people. I’m worried about my health, especially when it comes to protecting my children.

The children are bored here. Before the lockdown, they had two days of school per week, but it was more activities to keep them busy rather than real classes. Last year, and before we came to Bihac (20 kilometers from Cazin) to attempt ‘the game’ [illegal border crossing into Croatia to reach the European Union, eds note], we lived in a camp nicknamed “the American camp” in Sarajevo. My son went to school there. I brought the children to school every day, it gave them a purpose. In the camp, I helped to cook.

But there are neither jobs nor a future for us in Bosnia – the economic situation here is worse than in Iran. And so we waited until the end of the 2018/2019 school year, so that my son could finish high school, before we attempted “the game” in the summer.

It lasted for 14 days. We walked through the forest and the path was just on the edge of a river. I ended up slipping and fell into the water. The current was very strong, and I almost drowned in front of my children. Another night, I had to tell my wife: ‘Take Mahine* [my daughter] in your arms, cover her eyes and step away from here very carefully.’ We were just a few meters from a wild boar, and I didn’t want her to get scared. After all of that, the Croatian police ended up arresting us. They confiscated our phones, and took anything we had that was of value: a Parker pen in gold that I had brought with me from Iran, and a ring with a turquoise that was very dear to me.

They threatened to kidnap my daughter

When we came back to Bihac, I had to get a new phone since ours had been confiscated. There’s a grocery shop here that sells second-hand smartphones for €50-€80. Everyone knows about the place. But after buying a phone and turning it on, I realized it had been stolen from another migrant. I think it had belonged to an Iraqi. There were photos of him and his children in the phone. I felt so bad about it that I asked to get a refund.

We don’t have a choice, as soon as the quarantine is lifted, and if the weather allows for it, we have to try “the game” again. I’ve lost so much money: €23,000 in all between the Croatian police, financing “the game” and our daily life in Bosnia for two years.

The reason I left Iran in 2017 was mainly for the sake of my children. Or for the sake of my daughter to be precise. My wife comes from the Arab tribe Khorramshahr (from the border with Iraq). We met in Tehran because her family had fled the south during the war with Iraq. We fell in love and got married in secret because she’d been promised to her cousin, which is custom in her tribe. We had two children, and with time, her family seemed to have accepted us. But after my daughter was born, they have insisted on marrying her off to a member of the tribe.

The older my daughter gets, the more threatening they get, and I don’t trust the Iranian authorities to protect us from them. There’s a risk they will kidnap my daughter which is the reason why we left, and have tried to get as far as possible from them. Today, I just want to find a place where I can work and be able to provide for my family. It could even be in Croatia if I find a job there.

We had a very good life in Tehran. I had a sea freight services business. I’m an engineer specialized in maritime transport. We handled cargo ship container bookings for import-export purposes as well as parcel transport services.

It’s the same type of containers that we have here in the camp and they remind me of those that we used for cargo goods. I think that’s why I hate them so much and want to leave Bihac as soon as possible.”

*The names have been changed