VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia – Zeinaf Jabar, 11, learned some English while spending a year at a migrant camp in Greece and is now trying with her family, repeatedly, to cross into Croatia in what they call the ‘Game’, in search of a better life in western Europe.
“I stay here, don’t go school,” Zeinaf, a serene Iraqi girl with black plaited hair, told Reuters. “I miss too much school. We just go Game and come back, go Game and come back”.
With her parents and two siblings, she has just been pushed back into Bosnia after yet another unsuccessful attempt, amid bleak, wintry conditions, to get into EU member Croatia on their way to wealthier western Europe.
Her family, which left Iraq three years ago, is among some 8,000 migrants from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa who remain stuck in Bosnia. Many live in tents in the woods or in houses and factories destroyed in the Bosnian war of the 1990s.
The Jabar family share a room in a deserted house near the border with another five-member family, from Afghanistan.
Zeinaf’s father Husein Halaf Jabar, 52, said he was hit in the stomach by a Croatian police officer who he said also disrespectfully threw a copy of the Koran onto the ground.
“Look here, she’s ill, he’s ill, everyone’s ill,” Jabar said, pointing at his children.
“What fault is it of ours with all these children, where are our human rights,” he asked tearfully, showing bruises on his abdomen.
Migrants and humanitarian agencies have repeatedly accused Croatian police of using violence to push illegal migrants back over the border, accusations the police deny.
The International Organisation for Migration delivers daily food rations to the Jabbars and the Afghan family in their shared room, which they heat when there is enough firewood.
Hundreds of other migrants are scattered in the woods near the border town of Velika Kladusa in northwestern Bosnia, staying in nylon tents and cooking on improvised fires.
“We are very cold, and we are drinking canal water,” said Sahid from Bangladesh. “We are suffering very much.”