When Aya, a little girl who escaped the war in Syria with her father, called Ajla Mujanovic ‘mama’, the Bosnian woman decided to take on that role and be part of their life.
Aya and her father Mahmoud fled Syria four years ago. They travelled through Turkey, Serbia and Northern Macedonia, and ended up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they are now seeking asylum.
Mujanovic explained that she met the two in January when she went to donate clothes her daughter grew out of for a Syrian girl in downtown Sarajevo.
“I met Aya who called me ‘mama’. She was with her father. I did not know their fate at that moment. When Mahmoud told me the fate of Aya's mother I could not back down. I decided to be a part of her life,” Mujanovic said, adding, “thank God that happened.”
Aya’s mother remained in Syria when her daughter and husband left because she was pregnant.
She gave birth to another daughter, Esma, before she passed away in February.
But Mahmoud does not have refugee status in Bosnia and cannot bring Esma to the country, so the family remains separated.
“Mahmoud has subsidiary protection for a year,” Mujanovic explained, arguing that she sees this as “a punishment for a man who went through what he went through, came to BiH with a child in his arms, and lost his wife on the way.”
She said the explanation authorities provided is full of contradictions.
“First, they say that they have no evidence that Mahmoud is a refugee, and then they state that in the event of his return to Syria, he could be tortured or killed,” she said.
Aya and Mahmoud now live in the apartment next to the Mujanovic family, who, along with their friends, are helping the two any way they can.