Posted: 04/12/2016 in While in America

Sonja and I travelled from New York to Athens, Ohio, all night. She then defended her proposal, and I took her by cherry blossom trees and took some photos!




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New York 2016

Posted: 04/12/2016 in While in America

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in The New York Times Portfolio Review, which was started by The New York Times Lens Blog editor James Estrin, the best person ever, and is held every year in conjunction with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. This is where I met my mentor Jose R. Lopez, former editor for the NYT two years ago, and this year, Jose and his wife Caitlin, hosted a party for myself, Alex and Saiyna. It was a lunch that lasted 6 hours!



You can say that for me New York is not only time to meet professionals in my field, but it’s a place where I reunite with old classmates and good friends. And it’s also the place I meet new people, like Sister Nelly.


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And this is Zuzi, one of my favorite friends I have. We go way back when she came as an international student to Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky. So I stayed with her and her man, my big bro, the one that the last time I was in New York, wrote ‘Nicoletti’s sister’ on a piece of paper, put it in my car, and parked it in front of NYPD. My car stayed there for 4 days and I did not get towed! But this time around when I told Zuzi I was visiting, she said: No problem, we will leave you the key in the mailbox, you just have to walk the dog. I love her!

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I can never get enough of this city! Cheers to my NY life!




Posted: 03/28/2016 in While in America

My friend Luke lives up on this hill in Brooksburg, Indiana, and when his girlfriend Wenting and I showed up there, the moon was full and orange. It felt like I arrived to some castle! I couldn’t wait for the morning to come to see the Ohio River behind his house.



This the view from the house, but we went into town of Madison, walked over this bridge on foot, and at the end of the bridge is Kentucky!

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We celebrated Easter with Luke’s family. I taught them about the egg fight, and I did an egg hunt for the first time in my life!


And Luke’s grandma was so lovely, she told me all about her love life.


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Why is it that when I present all the technical things go wrong? Marcy, Stan and I spent 35 minutes fixing the sound, and then the tech guys showed up and that took another 45 mins. The audience waited, my Athens friends, APP friends, and one elderly lady who completely left me speechless when she walked into the theater.

I started the presentation. Disco style.




And how many tech guys does it take to fix the sound?


It takes one Stan!


Yes sir, we’ll do whatever you say.




Things that happen before the presentation.



Thank you secret person for this wonderful message and everyone who came out! Thanks Margaret for making it happen! And my friend Luke shares a dark joke with me: “This could have been a good time for your funeral, you know, all the people who admire you showed up, they loved your work, you’ve enlightened them…” Really Luke? : ) Peace and love! D.


Tomorrow night, I’ll be presenting at Ohio University.

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As I’m preparing to speak at Ohio University Thursday, March 24, 2016 at Scripps Auditorium, I wanted to share the articles from Allegheny College by Shea, Jaclyn and Alex. Thank you guys!


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Full article:

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Full article:

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Full article:

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Welcome the Stranger

Posted: 03/11/2016 in While in America

There was a young woman during my presentation, she clarified that one question: “What can a person do to be more sincere to refugees?” When I answered her, she was wiping her tears. She left such a deep impression on me, but I couldn’t find her after the presentation. 

New friend Andy Colwell said that you couldn’t even hear a pen being dropped during my talk. But I only remember the familiar faces in front of me. Cheryl Hatch and Stan Alost on the left. Richard Sayer and Nasiha up front, Josh Birnbaum on the floor to my right. Carrie Kahn was somewhere in the middle. And David Gilkey was all the way in the back. Then the lights got dim, and I could no longer see David. Then I had to focus on those I didn’t know. And for the first time in my life, I publicly talked about my own experiences as a child during the Bosnian war, myself as a refugee in America, and as a photojournalist recently covering the Middle Eastern refugees passing through Croatia.


But before I started, this amazingly beautiful woman, Emerald Collie, she said a few sentences in Bosnian and she even said, “See, I speak Bosnian so well!” Then I wanted to show a video that sums up the Bosnian war for me, but the light bulb went off and we didn’t have a spare one, so we had moved to another theater. I thought half of the people would leave, but the place was packed and I was so happy.

And this wouldn’t have been possible without Cheryl, who found me on Twitter. The whole program, Welcome the Stranger, was great. I loved that Cheryl asked students to say something in their native language before the speakers took over.



This is Sara, from South Sudan who made me cry. She spoke in her native language before introducing David Gilkey who just arrived from South Sudan and shared some of the images from there.


This is David. And David is amazing.


And this is me, showing a clip I put together. The music comes from a video I used to watch during the war, and I remember the two girls dancing. But for my presentation, my friend Aldin Sehic, on his accordion, recorded this sound for me.



By Curt Chandler.




This is my sister Nasiha introducing herself during the first day of the conference.


Logan, Emerald and Michael.

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The Strangers.


Stan the Man.


My Babushka, Cheryl, the woman who made it all happen. I asked her why the scarf, and she said:”Oh, I washed my hair.” Is she secretly Bosnian?:)


Carrie hiding.


David, Cheryl and Andy.


This is beautiful Alysia. She gave me a book she wrote to honor her grandmother, Delta Jewels. I am so glad I have met her!


Richard, the great man who took most of these images! Josh, me and Cheryl.


I even spoke in two classes: Shanna Kirschner’s Human Rights class, and Caryl Waggett’s Global Health Transitions. I loved speaking with students, and I am beyond thankful!

Trump welcomes the strangers. (I really just came back to vote for him).


And the day before my presentation, I joked if things go wrong, we’d demonstrate the pictures. Richard said, “Yea, we’ll throw a little dance too..” Next thing you know, the light bulb went off, we had to move to the other room, and so Richard and I danced! : )


In small letters it says ‘video’.


That’s my video. : )


But here, enjoy a little scene from the presentation.


And now I’d like to take a moment and thank all of you! To you Cheryl, my new friend Margaret for bringing Nasiha to Meadville, who had the patience to stay with us for several days! Thank you for doing all these things for me! To David, Alysia…To Stan the Man for everything. Thank you Richard, Jeff, Shea, Alex and Jaclyn for all the interviews and photos you did of me! The amazing Emerald. Andy, Rebecca, Brittany, and all the students from classes that impressed me! To Richard and Jeff who told me they wept as well. And while my intentions were not to make anyone cry, I was quite honored that these great people were not afraid of their feelings, and that we were able to openly speak about refugees and immigrants. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Times crew, Octavio, Boyzell and Will who first published “I’m a Refugee”. And thank you Jose!

And of course, to my family, my brothers, my Dad, and those close to me, my cuz Anja, and my mates and friends! And to the student who said to me, “Now I will be more sincere to the refugees.” Peace and love!

This was my airplane in Amsterdam, on my way to PA. Next presentation at Ohio University March 24th, 2016 at 7PM! More info to come.





Valentine’s In Sarajevo

Posted: 02/16/2016 in In Bosnia











Girl With The Red Balloon

Posted: 02/14/2016 in In Bosnia

She was jumping in front of me, touching every phone booth on the wall in Tito’s street in Sarajevo. Quietly, my friend and I joked how she lives in her own world, just like I do. Then she turned around and said, “You dropped something..” But I have already figured this little soul, her character and a heart yearning for affection. “We didn’t drop anything, but here, take this balloon.”


This balloon I previously received from another young girl who was with a group of friends. Each one of them carried a balloon, and hid behind them when I took their photo. But when they passed by me, the one girl said, “Here, you have a balloon too. Then she ran off.” She made my day.

I knew I’d give the balloon to someone else, I just didn’t know who that would be just yet, until this little heart started hoppin’ in front of me. The moment I gave her the red balloon, she removed her hat, and despite the rain, she started dancing! Then she sat down on the side of a road, and said, “Can you hide from the rain, and wait until I draw you a heart?”


Then the wind blew the balloon. But we didn’t chase it, we lived in the moment in which she drew, and I was photographing her. Then, an elderly man arrived, and said, “Here is your balloon.”



I took one more photo of her, and went to the restaurant. At the restaurant the people at the nearby table were loud, and I was thinking how I did not want to let anything ruin my happiness, my love for life, and the fact that I fall in love with spirits that so selflessly give their hearts to strangers. But I couldn’t wait to leave. Then, as I was walking out, I saw the red balloon on a chair. This little charm hopped all the way to the restaurant too, and as if she appeared just to remind me of happiness again. And how beautiful life can be!



Skakutala je ispred mene i dodirivala telefonske govorinice jos okacene na zidu u Titovoj ulici u Sarajevu. Saputali smo kako, kao ja, zivi u svom svijetu, a ona kao da je cula, okrenula se i rekla: “Ispalo ti je nesto…” Ali vec sam ja skontala tu malu dusicu, karakter i srculence koje cezne za paznjom. “A nije nista ispalo, samo se zezas…ali evo ti baloncic.”

Baloncic sam ja prethodno dobila od jedne druge djevojcice koja je bila s prijateljicama. Sve su nosile po balon iza kojih su se sakrivale kada sam ih fotkala, a onda se jedna djevojcica zaustavila i rekla: “A evo vama balon. I otrcala je.” Uljepsala mi je dan.

Znala sam da cu i ja baloncic pokloniti nekome, ali nisam tacno znala kome sve dok nisam ugledala ovo malo cudo sto skakuce. Kada sam joj dala crveni baloncic, istovremeno je skinula kapu s glave iako je sitna kisa padala. Pocela je od radosti da plese. A onda je sjela ispod nekog ulaza i rekla: “Mozes li se skloniti od kise i sacekati da ti nacrtam srce?”

Dok je crtala, vjetar je otpuhao balon koji sam joj poklonila….Nismo trcale da ga spasimo, zivjele smo u tom trenutku u kojem je ona crtala, a ja nju fotkala. A zatim dolazi starac i kaze: “Izvoli svoj balon.”

Djevojcica je ostala vani, a mi smo otisli jesti…U restoranu su neki ljudi pored nas bili tako bucni, da su mi uistinu smetali. Zeljela sam da idem sto prije jer nisam htjela da ista pokvari moju srecu, moju zaljubljenost u zivot, u duse koje koje tako nesebicno daju svoje srce strancima. I najzad, izlazim iz restorana, kad ono malo cudesno stvorenje! Ono je doskakutalo do restorana, sjedi, a balnon u klupi pored nje. Kao da je znala da treba da se opet pojavi i da me podsjeti na srecu! Kako zivot zna biti lijep!

I zato, sretan vam zivot prijatelji!



Welcome the Stranger

Posted: 02/05/2016 in While in America

I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Allegheny College this March as part of the journalism conference: Welcome the Stranger. I will be showing my “I’m a Refugee” work. This is quite an honor and I look forward meeting other speakers and everyone who will join us. Thank you!

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Zenica’s citizens gathered at the Jewish cemetery today to remember the Holocaust victims. It was my first time to see this cemetery, and I was surprised that many young people arrived. People of almost all religions in Bosnia participated: Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish…










Sunny Zenica

Posted: 01/15/2016 in In Bosnia

When the sun sparked Zenica after many months, I feel my life has also been sparked with new people and friendships. Enjoy the pictures of spring in the winter.

















January 11

Posted: 01/10/2016 in In Bosnia


(Google photo).

Welcome 2016!

Posted: 01/04/2016 in In Bosnia

After debating whether I should go and celebrate this New Year’s, I ended up celebrating for three days! Darko’s friends from Zagreb came, and before we headed to the village of Ticici, we wandered the streets of Zenica.


Then it all began.


Belmy and I nearly killed each other:) over getting dressed, then we headed outside to watch the fireworks, but somehow Belma only remembers the sparkles.







The day after New Year’s, we played Pictionary 12 hours straight. And I must say my teammate was the best! In addition to his super amazing drawing skills, he figured out the way I think and see the words. Now I’m officially addicted to the game. The third day we left Ticici, came to my house and continued playing until 2AM! Happy 2016 everyone!!


In Search for Lukomir

Posted: 12/28/2015 in In Bosnia

Best thing that happened this year was meeting Nedim and Zenina early this year. So when they revisited Sarajevo from Salzburg this weekend, we headed in search for this untouched, beautiful village of Lukomir. We’ve seen images of it, people speak about it, and it’s just a place you must see! It almost sounds too good to be real.


And I’ve been dying to see Lukomir for too long, so we drove until we reached macadam, and when our car couldn’t go any further, the locals advised us to turn to the main road. But the road was wrong. Other locals told us of a different route, and the next thing you know, we were on top of a mountain, a much smaller place than Lukomir, still beautiful, but not quite what we wanted. We found Umoljani.


“There’s nothing past the mountain lodge, and you can’t really go by car, the road is terrible,” says a local man. We decided to go back to mount Bjelasnica where we were just a day before, sledding with their little son.


Then the adventure began down the narrow mountain road. However, we were warned by a man who said it was better if we waited 30 minutes because a funeral was going on, and cars would be coming. But we ignored him, thinking: “If the place has 9 houses, no more than 10 cars could be coming our way.” So we decided to drive and pull aside if needed. Fifteen cars passed by. Then the bus full of people. The bus got stuck on a huge rock trying to go over, but Zenina got out, moved the rock, and the bus passed. We continued, and at this point we were on the curve, unable to see anything. Cars didn’t stop appearing. We couldn’t go in reverse, it was downhill..We tried backing up, but they all passed us, not from the left, but from the right where one little wrong move, and you’d be off the cliff.


It was such a rush to make it to the funeral, and for us, a survival on this road! And who died in Umoljani that day is a mystery because so many people arrived to a place far away from civilization, more than you’d see at funerals in the city. Finally, we made it back to mount Bjelasnica, and the man sledding with his daughters, told us of the right road to Lukomir, he was there during the war. But until we find it by foot in the spring, it will remain an imaginary place for me.


But sledding went for hours. These people have given me the best few days of my life! With them I wept happy tears, laughed so much and seriously, how is it possible to meet someone for only two times and feel like you’ve known them for an eternity!?




Sun for a dollar

Posted: 12/22/2015 in In Bosnia

Up on my mountain you see both the moon and the sun. And yes, I feel like I’ve just been on a vacation somewhere far, far away! I had to escape because I started to feel, let’s say, not good! I reminded myself of people from the movie Antarctica if you’ve seen it. It’s pretty amazing. One thing that stayed with me is T3–syndrome that develops due to the lack of the sun since half of the year is daylight and half is night, people even lose their memory. Well, I’ve never had a winter in my life without the sun. But this year, my town is covered in fog; I had to find the sun. And for the first time, half way to the mountain, the bus drove me for only a dollar, and the rest of the way I walked. What an adventure!




Prevod moje priče

Posted: 12/15/2015 in Uncategorized

Moja priča koja je objavljena u novinama na Floridi u Tampa Bay Times, je za samo par dana obišla svijet. Iskreno, nisam se tome nadala, ali mi je drago. Evo prevod i na naš jezik. Puno vam hvala dragi ljudi!


Na dan kada sam napustila Bosnu, moja prijateljica Tanja je došla u potrazi za mnom. Bile smo razdvojene za vrijeme rata u BiH u 90-tim, Tanja je otišla da živi u Italiju. Ja sam ostala, posmatrajući ljude koji su se doseljavali u moj rodni grad, bježeći iz okolnih sela. Donosila sam im odjeću i hranu, a oni su imali naglasak drugačiji od mog. Naše škole smo pretvorili u skloništa za njih i zvali smo ih izbjeglice.

Ubrzo sam se pridružila u njihovom letu. Uhvatila sam ‘posljednji bus’ za Ameriku, i gledala poznate ljude kako nestaju u daljini. Moja baka, moji prijatelji. A jednom kada napustite svoj dom, uvijek se vraćate, bez obzira da li on i dalje postojao ili ne.

Vratila sam se u Bosnu po prvi put u 2001. godini. I dok sam se s Tanjom vozila u vozu, tragovi rata koje sam preživjela, moj novi život u Americi, sve se kulminiralo u jedan trenutak dok sam posmatrala kako se njeno nježno lice odražava u prozoru. Ko sam ja? Tko sam postala? Muslimanka-s očeve strane obitelji, ili katolik, s mamine strane. Da li će me religija definisati? Samo sam znala sam da nisam htjela da se definišem ovom riječju: izbjeglica.

Izbjeglica je bio onaj stari madrac na kojem sam spavala svoju prvu godinu u Americi. Izbjeglica je bio podrum u kojem sam se sakrivala dok su avioni bacali bombe. Izbjeglica je bila prljava kao škola u kojima su izbjeglice spavale, i gotovo 20 godina kasnije, izbjeglica je prljava kao izbjeglički kamp Opatovac u Hrvatskoj, gdje sam nedavno prisustvovala najvećoj migraciji izbjeglica u svijetu.

19. septembra 2015. godine sam gledala izbjeglice i migranate s Bliskog istoka koji su se iskrcali iz autobusa na granici Mađarska-Hrvatska. Reporteri su se postrojili, čekajući vrata da se otvore. Razmišljala sam o tome koliko puta su se ti ljudi suočavajli s graničnim prijelazima. Od napuštanja svojih domova pređu najmanje četiri zemlje pješice prije dolaska u Hrvatsku, a na svakoj granici mediji ih ‘napadaju’. Distancirala sam se od ostalih fotografa. Posmatrala sam kroz prozor izraz ljudi, željeći da pronađem jednu osobu koja bi mi vjerovala, i kojoj ne bi smetala moja kamera.

Vidjela sam dvije djevojčice i bebu. Kada su izašli, potrčali su do mene, izgrlili su me.

Bila je mirna noć. Samo se čulo šuštanje vrećica; skoro niko nije pričao. Ja sam napisala svoj e-mail za djevojke na komadić papira, nadajući se da će preživjeti svoje putovanje i da će mi jednog dana pisati. Učinila sam isto s nekoliko ljudi s kojima sam osjetila duboku povezanost. I kada su se djevojke udaljile od mene, baš kad sam krenula, neko je vikao:

“Kako se zoveš?”

Okrenula sam se i izgovorila svoje ime, ali njeno ime je odjekivao preko granice dok je hodala na drugu stranu: “Lilian”.

Na trenutak sam pomislila kao da sam poznavala ovu djevojčicu. I jesam. I ja sam bila to isto dijete iz Afganistana, Sirije i Iraka, na vozu, autobusu ili brodu. Hrvatska je bila prolazna stanica i na mom putu, i mir je bio najbolja bajka mog vremena.

Dan kasnije, reporter iz Agence France-Presse, me pitao, “Kada te djevojka zagrlila, otišla je u takvoj radosti na drugu stranu. Sjećas li se njenog imena? “Suze su lile niz njegovo lice, baš kao i moje kada je Lilian prešla granicu. Pitala sam se zašto je ovo uticalo na njega? Je li on nekada bio izbjeglica? “Nije nego, kao profesionalci, ponekad zaboravljamo da se ponasamo ljudski,” rekao je. Nikada neću zaboraviti ovakve trenutke, i ova cijela izbjeglička kriza je postala priča koju sam morala dokumentirati.

Stigala sam kada medijima više nije bilo odobreno u kamp, bez obzira na akreditaciju. Ali moj plan je bio da dokumentujem unutar kampa. A sada nisam bila sigurna što da radim. Moji prijatelji su ostali na granici, a mjesta za spavanje bila su podaleko. Onda sam primijetila ljude iza sebe, policiju ispred ograde, pazeći da niko ne izađe. Prišla sam kao da sam tu bila cijeli dan. Niko me nije ništa pitao. Brzo sam shvatila da ljudi na toj strani čekaju 48 sati prije nego ih autobusi prevezu u drugo hrvatsko selo ili na željezničku stanicu u Tovarniku. Odatle su odvedeni najbližem ulazu u Mađarsku, često ilegalni granični prelaz, neko dvorište, ili kroz šumu. I prije nego izbjeglice uđu u autobuse, policija im naredi da kleknu na koljena, kako bi kontrolisali masu.

Dok sam posmatrala ovaj strašni prizor, mlada žena s bebom mi je prišla, “Moja kćerka Sara neće znati odakle je, promijenili smo toliko zemalja.”

Mislim da su svi pretpostavljali da pripadam tamo, a ako bi policija vidjela druge medije, izbacili bi ih. Te noći ljudi su odbijali da napuste svoje mjesto u redu, spavali su na trotoaru umjesto u šatorima; svađali su se oni u bijegu iz rata i oni iz bijega ekonomije. Ljudi su se razboljevali, bilo je jako hladno. Neki su se pretvarali bolesni, nadajući se da će im to biti prednost da napuste kamp. Bila sam svjedok boli onih koji su izgubili članove porodice, nadajući se da će doći. I bila sam iznenađena malim brojem žena.

Obukla sam jaknu Crvenog križa zbog hladnoće. Postala sam volonter za vrijeme poplava u Domaljevcu, BiH, prošle godine. Predstavila sam se ekipi iz Crvenog krsta i pustili su me da ostanem u skloništu preko noći. Te noći izbjeglice su pronašle alternativni put u Hrvatsku nakon što su kružile glasine da se službene granice zatvaraju. Bila sam zapanjena kako su pronašli drugi put.

Iznenada, vozač autobusa me je pozvao da slikam u autobusu, ali policajac mi je rekao da trebam izaći, jer žene ne žele da se slikaju. Bio je u pravu. Neke žene prekriju lice rukama, ali ne znam kako da objasnim, ali u nekoliko minuta sam stekla njihovo povjerenje. A zatim, njihova djeca su me počela grliti. Bilo je magično. Tada mi je dopustio da ostanem u busu. Povezala sam se s drugim sirijskim porodicama koje su se pod kišobranom skrivale od sunca. Nakon što sam ih upoznala i kroz njihov jedvagovoreći engleski, saznala sam da su oni dobro poznavali Bosnu zbog rata. Nakon toga, kada bih fotografisala nešto drugo, njihova kćerka me je pratila s kišobranom da me štiti. Reporteri iz Belgije su me pitali da li sam putovala s njima, i opet, osjećala sam se kao da sam vječno poznavala ovu porodicu, iako je to bio samo 15 minuta.

Nikada nisam željela da se definišem kao izbjeglica, ali me je to zauvijek oblikovalo u ženu koja sam postala: fotoržurnalist sposobna da podijelim najintimnije priče od onih koje sam upoznavala po prvi put. I za ljude koje sam dokumentovala, nije bilo bitno koje sam religije. Sve što je bilo važno je da sam saosjećala njihovo putovanje i prihvatila ih za ono što oni zapravo jesu ispod njihove izbjegličke odjeće.

Ono što je zaista označilo ovo iskustvo za mene je e-mail koji sam nedavno dobila. Dvije djevojke i beba su stigli u Švedsku, njihov brat mi je pisao. Sada imam jos veći razlog da nastavim ovu priču, da posjetim one koje sam upoznala u Hrvatskoj i pokažem kako ih njihovo putovanje kao izbjeglica definira i igra ulogu u njihovom smislu pripadnosti u novoj domovini.

My narrative published

Posted: 12/14/2015 in Uncategorized

The best crew over at Tampa Bay Times published my first-person narrative on refugees migrating through the Balkan Peninsula. Thank you Boyzell, Octavio and Will!!

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I am a Refugee

The day I left Bosnia, my friend Tanja came looking for me. We were separated during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, Tanja went to live in Italy. I stayed, watching people pour into my hometown, fleeing from surrounding villages. I delivered clothes and food to them. They spoke with different accents, much like someone from Boston finding themselves in Nashville, and we turned our schools into shelters for them. We called them refugees.

Soon, I found myself with no choice but to join them in their flight. I caught the ‘last bus’ to America, and watched familiar people fade in the distance. My grandma, my friends. And once you flee your home, you always go back, whether it still exists or not.

I returned to Bosnia for the first time in 2001. I reunited with Tanja, and while on a train ride with her, the traces of the war I survived, my new life in the US, all culminated into one moment when I watched her gentle face reflect in the window. Who am I? Who have I become? A Muslim—my father’s side of family, or Catholic, my Mom’s side. Is religion what will define me? I knew that I did not want to be defined by this word: refugee.

Refugee was that old mattress I slept on my first year in the United States. Refugee was the basement I hid in while planes dropped bombs on my town. Refugee was as dirty as my school where refugees slept and, nearly 20 years later, it is as dirty as camp Opatovac in Croatia where I recently witnessed the world’s most recent refugee migration.

On September 19, 2015 I watched Middle-Eastern refugees and migrants being dropped off by bus at the Hungarian-Croatian border. Reporters lined up, waiting for the doors to open. I thought about how many times these people faced border crossings. Since leaving their homes, they cross at least four countries on foot before reaching Croatia, and at each border media ‘attacks’ them. I distanced myself from the rest of the photographers. I looked at faces through the window, wanting to find that one person I could connect with, that would trust me and not be annoyed by my camera.

I saw two girls and a baby. When they stepped off, they ran up to me, hugging me.

It was a quiet night. You could only hear the rustle of bags being picked up; almost no one talked. I wrote my e-mail for the girls on a piece of paper, hoping the scrap would survive their journey and one day they would write me. I did this with a few people I felt a deep connection with. The girls got further away from me, and just when I was about to leave, someone yelled:

“What is your name?”

I turned around, shouted my name, and her response echoed across the border as she walked to the other side, “Lilian.”

For a moment I felt as if I’ve known her all of my life. And I did. I was that same Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi kid on the train, bus or boat. Croatia was a stop on my journey as well, and peace was the best fairytale of my time.

A day later, reporter from the Agence France-Presse, asked me, “When the girl hugged you, she left in such joy to the other side. Do you remember her name?” Tears were pouring down his face, just like mine when Lilian crossed. I wondered why this affected him? Was he a refugee once? “It’s just that as professionals, sometimes we forget to be human,” he said. I’ll never forget those moments, and this whole refugee crisis became a story I had to document.

I arrived when media could no longer get in the camp regardless of accreditation. But my plan was to document inside the camp. Now, I wasn’t sure what to do. My friends had stayed at the border, and places to sleep were a far away. Then I noticed people in the back, police in front of the fence, making sure no one got out. I walked over as if I had been there all day. No one asked me a thing. I learned the people on that side had been waiting for 48 hours in the camp for buses to transport them to another Croatian village or to the train station in Tovarnik. From there, they are taken to the nearest entrance into Hungary, often not a legal border crossing, but someone’s backyard, or a trail through the forest. Before the refugees get on the buses, the police ordered them to their knees in an effort to control the crowd.

As I watched this scary scene, a young woman with a baby approached me, “My daughter, Sara, will not know where she is from, we changed so many countries.”

I think everyone assumed I belonged there, if police saw other news crews, they kicked them out. That night people refused to leave their place in line, choosing to stay on the sidewalk rather than sleep in tents; they were fighting, arguing between those escaping the war and those escaping the economy. People were getting sick, it was very cold. Some faked illness, hoping for a faster release from the camp and to be let on the bus. I witnessed the pain of those who lost a family member, hoping they’ll arrive at the camp. I was surprised to see how few women there were.

I was wearing my Red Cross jacket against the cold. I became a volunteer while helping during floods in Domaljevac, Bosnia, last year. I introduced myself to the Red Cross guys and they let me stay in the shelter overnight. That night the refugees found an alternative route into Croatia after hearing rumors of the official border being closed. I was amazed how they found their way into the country.

Out of the blue, a bus driver invited me to shoot inside the bus, but a policeman told me I should get off because the women wouldn’t want to be photographed. Initially, he was right. Some women put hands over their faces, and, I don’t know how to explain it, but in a few minutes I gained their trust. Then, their children began hugging me. It was magical.

I connected with another Syrian family that were shading themselves from the sun with umbrellas. After I got to know them in their broken English, I learned that they knew Bosnia well because of the war. After that, their daughter followed me with umbrella to protect me. Reporters from Belgium asked me if I travelled with them, and again, I felt like I knew this family for an eternity even though it had only been 15 minutes.

I never wanted to be defined as a refugee, but it forever shaped me into the woman I became: a photojournalist able to connect and share the most intimate stories of those I’ve met for the first time. And for people I documented it didn’t matter to them what religion I was. All that mattered was that I wished them well, that I felt their journey and accepted them for who they are beneath their refugee clothes.

What truly marked this experience for me was the e-mail I received recently. Two girls and a baby had arrived in Sweden, their brother wrote me. Now, I have a bigger reason to continue this story, to visit those I met in Croatia and show how their journey as a refugee defines them and plays a role in their sense of belonging in their new homes.

Big K

Posted: 12/11/2015 in In Bosnia

Passing through Velika Kladusa, a town in the far northwest of Bosnia, located near the border with Croatia.




“It used to be so many kids in front of the building playing. Today, only a few are there, everyone left,” says a local man.



Foggy in Zenica

Posted: 12/08/2015 in In Bosnia

Best part of my job is when I don’t get names from my subjects and later they contact me, or I happen to see them again. This day I have photographed so many people, some from the distance, so not all the names were recorded. Then the local papers published my photos, and a note awaited me in the inbox. “The whole time we were trying to take a family picture, but couldn’t. Now we have this one..” It’s moments like these that make me happy.