After four months you need to have a job

Foto: MANHATTAN IS BIG Azemina stares at the strangely tall skyscrapers in Midtown, Manhattan. "Strange", the 5-year-old from Bosnia says.

It is a bleak May afternoon in the Bronx, New York City. Once home to the wealthy but now one of the poorest districts in the city.

Along the main street, Grand Concourse, the brown highrise are covered with graffiti. This is the building where the Bosnian family, Saha, Midhat and the five year old daughter Azemina have just moved in.

They have been in the US less than 24 hours when we come to visit them. At 7.30 p.m yesterday, they landed at JFK airport and came to a new life in a new part of the world.

What do you think about the situation?

”Everything is better than where we come from,” says Midhat, a serious young man, in a denim shirt and black trousers.

He looks absently at his shoes while Teuta Selimi, an offical at the voluntary organization IRC translates what he has just said into English. Saha listens with curiosity.

It is Teuta Selimis job to help the family with their new life in America. She once was a refugee too.

The young couple does not know a word of their new countries language.

The family has lived as refugees for so long that the daughter Azemina with blond hair, blue eyes and a flame-coloured west in plastic, knows no other life.

In the summer of 1995 the Bosnian family were forced out of Srebrenica and lived as refugees in someone elses house outside of Tuzla. They had no electricity, running water or money.

The war dispersed their families over the whole world. Sahas big brother Ismet (who’s story we told yesterday) paid human smugglers to take him to Sweden. She has forgotten to which city and has lost the note with the address.

”But I do know that he is allowed to stay.”

The siblings have not met since December 2000. And now it is a very long way between the Bronx and Växjö.

Fact: The plane ticket to the US is a loan which is to be paid back over a period of three years.

We have coffee in paper cups at the neighborhood restaurant El Buen Ambiente. It is less than two months since Saha and Midhat sought asylum through the US refugee program. When they had managed to flee from eastern Bosnia to Croatia they were questioned by US authorities. Saha being pregnant speeded up the process, which usually takes up to a year. Only a small swelling appears under her striped sweater.

”Eight months pregnant,” she says, smiling broadly, nodding towards Azemina, who is small and slender for a girl who is almost six years old.

Azemina will soon begin school in the US. Her mother and father are being offered English lessons for beginners, arranged by the IRC a couple of blocks away.

(Within nine days in the US the IRC found an English teacher who volunteered to give the family lessons at home, three nights a week.)

What are your dreams, what do you want your life here to be like?

”To find work,” Midhat says abruptly.

Teuta Selimi expects that Midhat, who has worked in agriculture in Bosnia and has no higher education, will be able to start looking for a job within a month, perhaps in a factory or at a construction site.

Fact: Every refugee family recieve 800 dollars to cover the initial expenses the first three months. Subsequently 220 dollars biweekly the first month for food, sanitary items, clothing and transportation. After that the family have to manage on 50 dollars per adult and week for food.

Teuta found an apartment for Saha and Midhat, through a landlord she knows. Many refugees live in the Bronx.

”Because the rents are low.”

A one bedroom and kitchen apartment on the fifth floor costs 850 dollars a month. The IRC pay the rent, heat and water the first four months.

During the past week Teuta has procured chairs, a table, and a sofa for the apartment. For the beds she has bought flowered quilt covers. Today she has brought their first food check (220 dollars) with her and the family goes grocery shopping at the supermarket around the corner. They end up with eight bags of food. Saha looks happy when the refrigerator is almost filled to the rim.

On Monday we meet the Bosnian family again, now on the 25th floor of the Chanin Building, Midtown Manhattan, where the IRC offices are located.

Azemina, dressed in a black coat with a leopard-skin collar and shiny patent-leather shoes, looks down at the yellow cabs on the 42 Street – ”Look, tiny!”

Saha is just as happy as she was when we met her on Saturday. Midhat is still resolute

Teuta Selimi behind the desk asks them questions in their own language and fills out several documents that the authorities request about realtives, education, state of health...?

Soon the family will receive their Social Security Cards. This card is necessary if you want to be able to get a job, and an apartment – necessary for surviving in America.

The family will also undergo a medical examination.

Teuta Selimi is the family’s most important contact during their first six months in America. She has to teach them everything. How to find their way to the post office, the doctors, the school, how to understand the traffic signs, how to use the subway.

Learning the language will have to come later...

Maria Trägårdh, Bo Lidén