“Finally a place to call my own”

A programme co-funded by the EU offers a Croatian refugee a new home and life in Serbia

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Mira Mihajlović (43) grew up with her father, mother and a younger brother in a village near Karlovac in Croatia. She had a happy childhood and studied tourism at high school and dreamed of becoming a tourism manager. Her life changed with the start of the war in 1995 when Mira was 17. “It was horrible; we didn’t know how to react, but our gut feeling said that we needed to move – to run,” says Mira.

So Mira and her family took to the road. Initially, they joined a refugee convoy and as they did not have vehicle, they were helped by a neighbour who had a tractor. Eventually, they ran out of fuel, and had to continue by foot for a few more days. While walking through the forest, Mira’s brother – who was only 13 – got separated from them so they had to turn back. Luckily, they found him but Mira says that her brother had problems and nightmares for some time afterwards because of this experience.

“I did not have much faith that I would be supported to get a house of my own. Actually, I did not believe it at all.”

Mira Mihajlović, beneficiary

When they first came to Serbia, Mira and her family lived in collective centres for refugees and worked in the corn fields, cleaned houses and chopped wood to earn a living. After a while, Mira got married, but the marriage did not work out, and two years later she divorced. She went back to live with her family. “It was very hard. It was difficult to find a job, and we had to pay rent and cover other expenses,” she says.

She moved out again, and settled with her young son in the village of Ratar close to Obrenovac. She was lucky to find a job as a cleaning lady in a nearby school, but it was still difficult to cover their rent with her salary.

Mira heard from a neighbour that the Regional Housing Programme (RHP) was helping refugees and people who have been displaced from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with housing problems. She decided to apply for their help, although she was very sceptical about the prospect of getting a roof over her head. “I did not have much faith that I would be supported to get a house of my own. Actually, I did not believe it at all,” she says.

Positive future ahead

The Regional Housing Programme, of which the EU is the main donor, responded positively to Mira’s request. They said they could offer Mira an apartment, or, if she had land, the project would support her in building a house on it. Mira chose a third option, where the programme helped her purchase the house where she was already living as a tenant.

 “For the first time in my life I have something of my own. I am really happy and relaxed. I fall asleep peacefully when I go to bed.”

Mira Mihajlović, beneficiary

When she finally bought the house, her life changed radically for the better with relief from the burden of rent. With support from Catholic Relief Services, she was also able to build a greenhouse in her garden where she grows vegetables which she sells in the local market for additional income. “For the first time in my life I have something of my own. I am really happy and relaxed. I fall asleep peacefully when I go to bed,” says Mira.

Mira says she looks positively to the future. Part of her plans include opening a small shop in the barn in her garden, as the village does not have a shop, and this would be a way to earn the income to provide a better future for her son. Now that she feels her luck has changed, she believes that she may get further support from donors for her enterprise.

About the project

The Regional Housing Programme (RHP) is a joint initiative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. The RHP aims to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced people following the 1991-1995 conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Based on the current pledges of the international donor community, by the end of 2022, the RHP should have provided a durable housing solution for 11,800 of the most vulnerable families – meaning over 36,000 people in the four partner countries. The total cost of these projects is €291 million, out of which €237 million (80%) will have been financed by the RHP donors and the remaining €54 million (20%) from the partner countries. With €235 million, the European Union is the main donor to the Programme.

 

Photo credits: Regional Housing Programme

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