British Bosnian Community
Bosnians began arriving in Britain in early 1992 fleeing violence spreading across Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia). Most who came did so not because they requested it or even wanted it, but because they it was arranged for them by international agencies such as the Red Cross in collaboration with the British government. The vast majority were forced by events to leave their homes and families behind and most had very little idea of the sort of environment they were coming to. Most settled in London, East Midlands, and West Yorkshire, while smaller numbers were settled in Newcastle upon Tyne and Scotland, as part of a government programme designed to coordinate local authority responses.
Most of those early arrivals were given temporary “leave to remain” status, which was to be renewed annually, giving them little security and adding to individual and collective stress, anxiety and fear that entire families would be returned to at any point. Although fighting was halted with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) in December 1995, tensions remained simmering as large parts of Bosnian were completely ethnically-homogenised through genocide, mass rape, incarceration in concentration camps and large-scale destruction of the built environment. Some families temporarily resettled in the UK, fearing imminent forced return to Bosnia, decided to relocate to the United States which happened to view Bosnian refugees more favourably at that time.
The British people showed great humanity and support for the Bosnian people, both those arriving as refugees as well as those displaced in Bosnia, which helps to explain why the Bosnian community is so well integrated and settled in Britain today. Currently there are approximately 10,000 to 15,000 Bosnians living in Britain, including those originally resettled during the war and their descendants.
North East Bosnian Community
The number of Bosnians living around Newcastle and Gateshead has fluctuated since the first arrivals in 1993 and it is estimated that approximately 200 live in the region today. Many of these families and individuals originate from regions which came under Serb / Bosnian-Serb occupation during the 1992-5 war, including Zepa and Srebrenica, where virtually the entire non-Serb population was either slaughtered, incarcerated or brutally expelled in 1995. In addition, there are many families from the southern region of Herzegovina, including Mostar and Stolac which came under Croat / Bosnian-Croat occupation or siege in 1993-4 and suffered a similarly brutal fate.
Members of the North East Bosnian community gather at the Newcastle Civic Centre 2018
As mentioned above, most of these individuals came as part of a government programme in collaboration with international agencies, but there were also several families that came to Newcastle on their own initiative or with the help of local people, some of whom took part in aid convoys to Bosnia. The people of the North East were so incredibly supportive in both sending aid to Bosnia, through initiatives such as Geordie aid, as well as helping to bring families here and support them to settle.
These families arriving as part of the official government programme were initially housed in a temporary reception centre on Linden Road, Gosforth where they were helped and encouraged to regain a kind of normality within a safe environment. As they slowly regained vitality and confidence and started to adapt to life in Britain, most began to learn English. Gradually, the community was dispersed into accommodation around the city, mainly in Byker and Fenham.
This collection of individuals and families from various parts of Bosnia has managed to forge itself into a strong, mutually-supportive community that is closely integrated into British life. Upon arriving in the North-East, the community quickly established a “Bosnian Club”, which sadly ceased to operate many years ago. It was housed in various locations across the region including Heaton Library and Chillingham Road Primary School, acting as a meeting point for celebrations, weddings, community events and so on.
During the time at Heaton Library, the community built a “Bosnian Room” containing traditional furniture and artefacts. There was also a Bosnian language school organised to maintain the Bosnian language, culture, and identity within the younger members of the community, many of whom have English as their first language. The development of a community is one of the ways in which the Newcastle or North East Bosnians have re-created part of their homeland to help them cope with exile.
Sadly, most of these activities have now ceased but community or sense of community is still important and maintained by visiting one another frequently to share coffee and meals, engaging in sporting and recreational activities and by holding events to commemorate the genocide. The Bosnian community in the North East is small but highly integrated into British life, its members positively contributing to the region as architects, academics, doctors, pharmacists, engineers, social workers, drivers, builders and so on. All members of this largely invisible but vibrant community are proud to call the North East their home, whilst maintaining social and cultural attachments to their homeland.
If you have any questions about the North East Bosnian Community or if you wish to collaborate with us in any way, please feel free to get in touch.