At the age of 24 Almir Mustafic decided to leave everything behind him. He is a skilled worker, a plasterer. He works in the building trade – as do 90 per cent of Bosnians who migrate to France.
“I arrived in France in 2004. In my country where I was born, I did not have too many things to do, especially after the war. There were no jobs. Everything was destroyed. So I tried my luck in France,” said Almir.
After the Dayton Peace Accord which brought the Bosnian war to an end in 1995, Almir fled his village of Bratunac, not far from Srebrenica – which is now part of the Republika Srpska – and settled elsewhere in Bosnia. But the Muslim-Croat Federation still did not feel like home.
“I lived in the federation, so I wasn’t in my own home, but I was still in Bosnia as a refugee. I lived in a house that was not mine, we had refugee status, even in Bosnia in our country. And as I had friends here in France, they said ‘maybe it can work with the right papers. You must try your luck’, so I decided to leave Bosnia.
“In three days, I travelled the 1,400 miles separating Bosnia from France. Walking and sometimes hitchhiking, carefully avoiding checkpoints.
“When I arrived in France I immediately asked for political refugee status, and after that, I waited a year and a half to get a definitive answer. Now I have French nationality, so as soon as I got my papers, and a 10 year residence permit as a political refugee, I found a job, I found accommodation. As soon as I could I applied for citizenship. Now I really feel at home.
“At first it was very difficult, we lived anywhere we could, in squats and derelict buildings, we got moved on by the police for entering houses illegally. We didn’t have the right to return but we we had to live somewhere, so we found a park. We bought tents and we set up a squat where I stayed for eight months. Now I am married. I have a son who is three years old so I am really good at the moment.”
Mensour, Almir’s younger brother was reunited with him in France a year later. He also has papers but it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain refugee status. Hundreds of Bosnians live with the fear of expulsion. Since 2005 Bosnia has no longer “officially” been considered a dangerous country.