Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Yearning for Derventa

As a refugee Meho longed to go back to Derventa, drawn by his love of the river that flows by the town.

Yearning for Derventa describes the difficulties faced by a Bosniak returnee, nicknamed Captain Meho, to the northern Bosnian town of Derventa. Meho, 73, fled the town at the beginning of the Bosnian war (1992-95), after it was taken over by Bosnian Serb forces.

Before the war, Derventa had about 55,000 inhabitants – 31 per cent were Bosniaks (or Muslims), 24 per cent Croats, and 26 per cent Serbs. During the conflict, Bosniaks and Croats fled or were expelled and dozens were killed. Very few returned to Derventa after the war, and the town is now predominantly Serb.

Before the fighting, Meho had several boats and used to take people from one bank of the Ukrina river to another - that's how he made a living. During the war, he lived in the city of Zenica together with 1,000 other Bosniak refugees, but missed his home and the river so much that he decided to return to Derventa as soon as peace returned. The German humanitarian organisation World Vision bought him four small boats and helped him start his business again.

Today, local Serbs help Meho and he has many friends among them. Meho's son went abroad and the old man has no relatives in Derventa now. He lives alone, but has his boats, his river and a few friends who keep him company.