Emotional visit to site in Bosnia where more than 8,000 massacred, for city delegation

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This must never happen again.

That was the message heard by Birmingham delegates during a visit to the site of what the Secretary-General of the United Nations described as the ‘worst crime on European soil since World War II’,

20 years on from the Srebrenica massacre during the Balkans conflict the group travelled from the Midlands to Bosnia to learn about the genocide and apply their learnings to their own communities.

It was in 1995 that in the UN-declared ‘safe area’ in the space of 10 days, the Serbian army massacred over 8,372 Bosnian Muslim boys and men after UN peacekeepers handed over the town to Serbian General Ratko Mladić.

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Delegates travelled with the Birmingham charity Remembering Srebrenica, which organises educational visits allowing people to talk to genocide survivors and families whose loved ones were killed.

Participants then pledge to take action in their UK communities to challenge hatred and intolerance. Those taking part came from the organisation Community Foundation, an independent, cause neutral charity based in Birmingham that works on grassroots projects.

Nozmul Hussain, Chief Executive of Community Foundation, who led the delegation, said: “Interest to take part in the programme was huge. We were inundated with hundreds of applications from people across the UK. It was quite a task selecting the 17 delegates, as most applicants were of a very high calibre.”

Khadija Allen, 19, who studies Medical Science at Birmingham Metropolitan College, said she learned: “Hate speech was the root of the genocide. This experience completely changed my outlook as I realised how much of an impact a few generalised words can leave on a once harmoniously co-existing nation.

“Dialogue was an important part of my experience in Bosnia” and as a result, she has opted to deliver a workshop at her workplace, a Christian based non-profit organisation, in a bid to increase understanding and promote meaningful discussions between individuals from diverse backgrounds.”

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The emotional experience saw the group visit key sites such as mass graveyards, DNA labs and met the women termed the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ who in moving and heart wrenching accounts, relayed their stories of the painful losses of their husbands and sons.

Many have yet to find the remains of loved ones, as mass graves are still being uncovered to this day, with various parts of remains found in several locations. With some families not finding any at all.

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One particularly moving moment for the group was when one of the aged mothers explained how if she had the opportunity to take revenge – she wouldn’t.

She told the delegates: “It is very difficult to live with the pain on a daily basis, but to think about hurting another person – I couldn’t bear that.

“Because finding a single finger of any of my sons is worth more than the whole of this world. And that is why we have to fight together to prevent evil happening, and we have to fight it at the very beginning, not when it spreads.

“The most important thing to us is that what happened here must not be forgotten, and that it never happens to anyone ever again.”

Rešad Trbonja, an ex-soldier who fought in the 47 month Sarajevo siege, and now leads delegations travelling to Bosnia, said that the project between Bosnia and the UK was an: “Opportunity to explain and warn people how things can go wrong if hatred is not tackled at the very beginning.”

Sophie Thornton, 19, who studies International Relations and Politics at the University of Birmingham, admitted having never previously heard of the events of Srebrenica before.

She said: “I felt strongly that such ignorance needed to be corrected, and I would like to pass on my learning’s from the trip to other young people”.

An element she described as “truly humbling” was hearing first hand accounts from the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ which resonated with her deeply, stating: “They taught me that forgiveness is the road to peace”.

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