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Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina—“I don’t want my daughter to live the life I ran away from, and that is why this journey from Iran to Bihać makes sense, no matter how difficult it is”, says Ajša* (42), beginning her story. Born in a traditional Iranian family, Ajša’s hand was promised to her father’s cousin when she was a little girl. At the age of 12, she ran away with her mother and sister from her father, and she has been on the run since. In the meantime, she met a man, she fell in love with, married, started a family and gave birth to two children she taught self-worth and that they have the right to live the life they want. To save her 10-year-old daughter from child marriage, they left Iran three years ago. They have been staying in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the past year, of which six months in the Temporary reception center (TRC) Sedra which, as Ajša says, differs from other centres because it has a Women and Girls Center where they feel alive again as women.

In the past year, since it was established by the UNFPA, Women and Girls Center in TRC Sedra, provided 2700 women and girls’ empowerment services for migrant and refugee women coming from Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea etc. Since October 2019, the women empowerment program is co-funded by the European Union.

Besides the empowerment program, beneficiaries of the Center have access to psychosocial support with about 1100 services recorded, as well as workshops on sexual and reproductive health and individual consultations. A psychologist daily works with migrant and refugee women older than 15, and they also have English language courses, literacy courses, and numerous creative workshops.
The program for protection and empowerment of migrant and refugee women and girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina is implemented by the humanitarian organization Médecins du Monde.


A workshop on sexual and reproductive health where migrant women and refugees are educated and informed about their health and rights, and additional individual or gynecological services.

We speak in a universal language – the language of emotions

“For me, this is a women’s corner, a place where I can forget my fate. These women have helped me a lot, and for this I am eternally grateful to them”, says Ajša. “For us, every daz is the same, and in the morning when I get up, I get ready with a smile on my face and eagerly await 10 o’clock. This is the only place where us women can be alone, where we can talk about our girls’ topics, and we also have support from experts. These women are my friends. Different women who speak different languages, but together we dance, talk, drink coffee and socialize. I have shared my deepest secrets with them, those I wouldn’t tell my mother or sister. That feeling is indescribable. I cannot imagine my life without the Center now”, stressed Ajša.

Education and confidence through creative work  

“Here, you can do anything you can think of, even the things you thought you didn’t know. We discover the secrets hidden deep within ourselves”, says Ajša, who first seriously encountered painting at the Center. Today it is a hobby of hers with the help of which she expresses her emotions, but also works on her confidence.

“My son is going through puberty. He’s 16 years old, and it is very difficult for him to cope with our situation. Neither my husband nor I knew how to deal with the increasing frequency of conflicts. This situation was hurting me deeply. Thanks to advice from psychologist from the Center, we managed though our crisis. My son and I get along well now. I even got him to start painting. Now we share the same passion for art, and we have a special bond. That makes me very happy.”

“When we get to our final destination, we deserve to be happy”, Ajša continues. “My son wants to be a football player, and my daughter wants to be a ballerina. I will work with my husband, but I will not stop painting because here, in this Center, in painting, I have found myself again.”

From the heart we created for children of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

At the recently held the Diplomatic Winter Bazaar in Sarajevo, the UNFPA presented arts and crafts from the beneficiaries of Centers, including Women and Girls Center in TRC Sedra, Bihać. They raised about 300KM which will be donated to children charities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“We are so proud of our achievement,” says Ajša. “We’re mothers too. We might be in a difficult situation, but at least we are with our children. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like for them without us by their side. It’s not much, but we felt important, and we are happy we can do something for the children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

The UNFPA is the leading agency in response to gender-based violence in humanitarian settings and works on issues of reproductive health often overlooked in these situations. The UNFPA, along with its partners, works on improving the lives of women and girls, and training service providers to give the best support to women and girls in humanitarian settings.



*Name has been changed for privacy protection



Story E.L. Photo H.A.