At a time when an uncaring, mean spirited and unelected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is content to retreat from a promise made by her predecessor, for Britain to take in thousands of Syrian child refugees; the Liverpool football Dejan Lovren has taken part in an excellent 22 minute documentary telling his first hand account of what it is like to be a child refugee.
Lovren is now a famous and wealthy footballer, but he has not forgotten where he came from. He was a child refugee from the Bosnian war. His family had no choice but to flee their village, Kraljeva Sutjeska, outside of Zenica.
He says: “Zenica was attacked because it was a bigger city. But it was in these small villages where the most horrific things happened …people being brutally killed. My uncle’s brother was killed in front of other people with a knife. I never talk about my uncle because it’s quite a tough thing to talk about, but he lost his brother, one of my family members. Difficult …”
Reflecting on his life before the war began, he says: “We had everything, to be honest. We never had problems. Everything went well with the neighbours – with the Muslims, with the Serbs, everyone was talking very well between each other and enjoying the life, everything was how they wanted. And then the war happened.
“I wish I could explain everything but nobody knows the real truth. It just happened. It just changed through the night – war between everyone, three different cultures. People just changed. I just remember the sirens went on. I was so scared because I was thinking “bombs”. I remember my mum took me and we went to the basement, I don’t know how long we’d been sitting there, I think it was until the sirens went off. Afterwards, I remember mum, my uncle, my uncle’s wife, we took the car and then we were driving to Germany. We left everything – the house, the little shop with the food they had, they left it. They took one bag and ‘let’s go to Germany’.”
“We had luck. Our grandad was working in Germany and because of that he had the papers. If not, I don’t know what we could have done. Maybe I could see my parents and me under the ground. I don’t know what could have happened. One of my best friends in my high school – his dad was a soldier – and I remember he was crying every day. I was thinking: ‘Why?’ And he said: ‘My dad died.’ So, you know, it could have been my dad.”
The family lived in Germany for seven years. But then they were told to leave a country they by then thought of as home.
Lovren recalls: “My mum and dad were asking for permission to stay more but every six months it was declined. The authorities said: ‘When the war is over, then you can go back.’ So every six months my mum and dad had their bags packed to go back. It was quite tough – you never had a future in Germany.
“Then that day came and they said: ‘You have two months to prepare your bags and go back.’ For me it was difficult because I had all of my friends in Germany, my life had started there. I had everything, I was happy, I was playing in a little club, my father was the coach – it was just beautiful. My mum said: ‘Germany is our second home’ and it’s true. Germany gave us their open hands. I don’t know which country could have done that, at that time, to welcome refugees from Bosnia.”
And so it was that the Lovren family moved to Croatia. Lovren was picked on because of his German accent and his parents struggled to settle. He says: “My mum was working in Walmart for €350 per month, about £280. My father was working as a house painter. We had a difficult situation with money. My mum said: ‘We cannot pay the bills for electricity, for everything,’ and for a week we didn’t have money.
“I remember my dad took my ice skates. One day I asked my mum: ‘Where are my ice skates?’ because I loved to skate in the winter. And she said through tears: ‘Dad is selling them now … we don’t have money for this week.’ I swear this is the point in my life that I said: ‘I don’t want to hear this any more.’ He sold them for 350 Kuna, it’s about £40. My ice-skates: sold. It was a tough time for my parents.”
His story was almost never told. His mum pleaded with the adult Dejan to stay quiet about the past.
He says that before he sat down to make the documentary… “Mum said to me: ‘Don’t tell them,’ and I said: ‘I will tell them.’ And she was crying again. It’s always sensitive to speak about. She remembers everything.
“When I see what’s happening today with refugees I just remember my thing, my family and how people don’t want you in their country. I understand people want to protect themselves, but people don’t have homes. It’s not their fault; they’re fighting for their lives just to save their kids. They want a secure place for their kids and their futures. I went through all this and I know what some families are going through. Give them a chance, give them a chance. You can see who the good people are and who are not.”
In these times when so many Premier League footballers are rightly on the receiving end of criticism for displays of selfishness, it’s good to hear Dejan Lovren thinking of others and speaking so much sense.
Here is that fine film. Please try and watch it in its entirety.