“You have to take sides—to speak the truth, even if your voice shakes; to stand on the right side of history. The people I worked with have suffered terribly, but they still want to live. They’re not giving up. And we cannot let them.”
Sadzida Tulić spent her childhood in Libya, where her father worked, after family plans to return to Bosnia were put on hold because of the Balkan War. When she was 13, they returned to Sarajevo, which had endured the longest siege of a capital city in modern history. Sadzida became a human rights attorney, and since late 2015 has been a volunteer assisting refugees from the Middle East who land in Greece and travel through the Balkans. She also has become a passionate spokesperson for their rights—and their humanity.
How did the fact that your own country had been through war influence your decision to work with refugees?
Although I grew up in Libya, attention was always directed at what was happening back home in Bosnia. There was no internet then, no way to get much information, so family members would take shifts calling home to try to reach my grandmother, aunt or uncle, just to see if they were alive. After we returned, I heard stories of cousins and friends who had hidden in basements, and there would be moments at school when I would see a classmate break down crying because it was the anniversary of his dad’s death. When I became a lawyer, I worked with survivors of sexual violence and war crimes. When the current Syrian migrant crisis began, it was happening in Serbia and Macedonia, literally right in front of me. Because I grew up in Libya, Arabic was my mother tongue, and Arabic culture is a huge part of me. It all felt very personal.
What made you decide to act?
When I watched video footage, it felt surreal. In the summer of 2015, refugees were not allowed to take public transportation, so they were walking down train tracks, humiliated and fighting to survive. I’d heard so many stories from my own country’s war. I felt a duty to do something.
In what way did you get involved?
In September, 2015 I went with two friends to Belgrade, then later to Croatia. I also spent three months on Lesbos, where many dinghies crammed with people were landing; at a camp at the border of Greece and Macedonia; and at Skaramangas camp in Athens. Since I had the privilege of speaking Arabic, I could serve as a liaison between military, police and refugees. My first weekend in Belgrade, the Serbian police were putting people on buses, and one woman was crying out “No!” I learned that she and her husband been separated from their very young children for four days. I was able to make calls and locate them at a reception center in Croatia, and drive the couple there. They had gone from Greece to Macedonia to Serbia to Croatia, thousands of kilometers, without sleep. When the kids saw their mom again, it was the most beautiful feeling ever. I worked as an interpreter in the hospital on Lesbos. There were children there whose mothers had been pregnant when chemical bombs were dropped, and born with severe problems. I don’t even know how to describe it. I still am in touch with some of these families.
What have you found hardest?
I hate the prejudice that exists against the refugees. I’m not trying to romanticize the situation or say that every refugee is a good person, but these are the people who have said “no” to carrying arms, “no” to killing. They are running from war, and want to live in peace. It is humiliating to stand in a food line. No one wants to be a refugee when they grow up. These are people whose situation does not define who they are. And life will never be the same for them. Someone who has come to another country may always been seen as “other.” They will have to learn a new language, explain themselves, teach people how to pronounce their names. I don’t even like to call these people “refugees.” They are human beings.
What did you find most inspiring?
I met many people who also had come to help, from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Austria, New Zealand. They crossed the ocean to take a stand.
What do you hope people reading this will understand?
You have to care. There is humanitarian work to be done, but this is not just a humanitarian issue; it is the result of national policies. You have to take sides—to speak the truth, even if your voice shakes; to stand on the right side of history. The people I worked with have suffered terribly, but they still want to live. They’re not giving up. And we cannot let them.
Read about Nobel Women’s Initiative’s #WomenRefugeesWelcome delegation, during which we met Sadzida.
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