Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Calling: Canadian Youths Return Horrified by Bosnian Misery

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Canada Calling: Canadian Youths Return Horrified by Bosnian Misery

Article excerpt

Canada Calling: Canadian Youths Return Horrified By Bosnian Misery

By Faisal Kutty

At an age when most of their friends are preoccupied with fast cars and the opposite sex, two young Canadians had experiences they will never forget during a month spent working to alleviate the suffering of Bosnian refugees.

Bilal Ibrahim, from Scarborough, Ontario, and Abdulrahman Lawendy of Waterloo, Ontario, left Canada on Aug. 3, 1994 on a relief mission organized by Mercy International that took them to Zagreb, Varazdin, Zenitca and Sarajevo.

Michigan-based Mercy International sends relief supplies and funds orphanages, medical centers, and meat canning facilities in Bosnia and Croatia. The mission to help refugees was the organization's first.

Ibrahim, 17, and Lawendy, 19, told the Washington Report that of the 22 million people that made up the former Yugoslavia, more than four million have been displaced since the April 1992 outbreak of fighting. More than two and a half million of those uprooted are Bosnians.

Ibrahim and Lawendy spent the first week and a half distributing supplies for Mercy International and Human Relief Agency, an Egyptian organization, among some of the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 refugees in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, which has become the operational center for international relief groups.

Having grown up with the material comforts enjoyed by most North Americans, it was difficult for them to face the fact that many lining up for handouts were once well off--as evident from the torn designer clothes on their backs.

For Ibrahim, the saddest event in Zagreb was his visit to an orphanage where most of the children were the result of rape. Some 50,000 to 60,000 Muslim women allegedly have been raped by Serbian thugs. If these children survive the war, they can only look forward to a life devoid of a mother and father. "They will never experience the love and warmth of a real family," noted Ibrahim, who hails from a family of six.

Their journey took them next to Varazdin, about an hour north of Zagreb, where they visited abandoned army bases now being used to house refugees. "The people in these bases had to live through the biting cold winters without windows," remarked Ibrahim.

Two weeks into the trip, they traveled from Zagreb to Split, on the Adriatic Sea, and from there to Medcovich, which is about 15 minutes from the Bosnian border.

At Medcovich the Mercy group joined a Danish relief convoy for the five-hour drive across Serbian-occupied territory to Zenitca. This stretch of the trip revealed the extent of the Serbian destruction and brutality. They saw, in Ibrahim's words, "numerous abandoned villages where there was not a single house left untouched except for the odd Serbian houses which were left in perfect condition."

The trek also took them past Mostar, where Lawendy, a first-year university science student, said he was shocked by what he called the "architecture of misery and destruction, whereby rows upon rows and blocks upon blocks of houses were leveled and thousands made destitute."

Bread and Beans

In Zenitca itself, they visited a school which was converted into a refugee camp. The small classrooms were used as dormitories with as many as three families--women and children but almost no men--crammed into a room. The rooms were overcrowded with hundreds of "sick, extremely skinny children" suffering from a variety of diseases due to malnutrition. His voice breaking with emotion, Ibrahim explained that the children lived on one meal per day, consisting of a piece of bread and some beans. Astonishingly, even under such miserable conditions, the people found the courage and commitment to try to teach their children.

Their next destination was Sarajevo, which in peacetime was only a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Zenitca. Unable to take the direct route because of Serbian blockades, the two went back to Zagreb and flew into Sarajevo on what they described as "Maybe Airlines," whose motto according to Ibrahim is "If you are scared to fly then don't come. …

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