The Washington Post
May 24, 1992
SPLIT, Croatia – Visitors to this sunny Adriatic resort often arrive wearing sandals, but Munevera, an exhausted refugee from Bosnia-Hercegovina, showed up in the only shoes she owns — snow boots.
Munevera, a 31-year-old factory worker, and her husband, Sefik, a prison guard, spent 45 days walking from village to village in war-torn Bosnia after their Muslim home town was bombed and overrun by Serb militias. Still too frightened to give her last name, Munevera said the pair often carried their two small children over forest paths and mountain trails rather than risk capture on roads patrolled by Serbs who are showing little mercy toward Muslims.
When Yugoslav army helicopters flew overhead, the family hid under the trees. When snipers fired from distant perches, they dove into the mud or snow. At night, they knocked on doors at isolated Muslim villages.
“We couldn’t stop moving,” Munevera said in an interview. “I could have been raped, my family killed. We had no choice.”
It is impossible to confirm Munevera’s story, but it fits a pattern of misery and horror that waves of Bosnians are enduring at the hands of Serb militia who have been accused of killing civilians. Relief groups have been prevented from evacuating more than a few refugees from the war zones.
Munevera is only one of 700,000 people who the United Nations estimates have fled Serbia’s bloody seizure of two-thirds of Bosnia. Their exodus is sparked by violence and fueled by fear. After her house in Foca was hit by a mortar shell, after spending a night in a cellar with her hands over the ears of her crying 5-year-old daughter, and after snipers fired at her husband, Munevera and her light blue snow boots headed for the hills.
That was on April 8. They arrived in Split on Thursday night.
Her family’s new home consists of a mattress laid along the mid-court line of a basketball arena converted into a shelter for the thousands of refugees pouring into this scenic port. The arena is filled with crying children, dazed adults and the smell of unwashed clothes.
Munevera has tried to call relatives in Foca. She says a stranger answered the phone. “Your friends do not live here,” the voice said. “This is a Serbian apartment now.”
Munevera’s attractive face shows a half-empty look of shock, the kind of expression that can be seen in the grainy photographs of World War II refugees. It is easy to understand why: Munevera said her family walked for 10 hours a day in the cold mountains, her children feverish.
An underground railroad developed among the Muslim villages, with a resident from one settlement often guiding the group over forested trails to the next. Villages often sheltered the refugees for a day or two in homes or school halls, but they could never stay long. Food was short, and the feared Serbs could come at any moment.
After a week, the group had more than 20 people. After several weeks, it had become too large for single villages to handle, and it split in two. Munevera does not know what became of the other group.
About a week ago, her group arrived in the mountains above Sarajevo, Bosnia’s besieged capital. There they found refugees taking shelter at an isolated hotel built to house athletes and officials during the 1984 Winter Olympics.
From there, escape became a cold, day-long ride on flatbed trucks and an overloaded bus to Split.
Munevera’s future, like that of the other refugees, remains uncertain. She does not expect to ever return to Foca. She has only the clothes on her back and the snow boots on her feet, which she was wearing as the temperature here approached 72 degrees. She is not complaining.
“I feel very safe and very relieved,” she said. “The conditions here are very bad, but we feel good. No one is shooting at us.”