Imagine having the police show up at your front door and confront you immediately and accuse you of hiding someone in your home. Imagine the confusion, panic, and utter disbelief that this is happening to you. It seems dream-like yet it happened to me. They came to my front door, accused me of hiding political propaganda and people, and searched my house without cause. I felt very violated yet in my state of fear and the fact that I was a Muslim woman, there was nothing I could do. Read on below for the full story.
The screeching sound of a police car slamming on the brakes and five policemen jumping out right in front of our house started me. I glance the pale faces of the refugees in my home. The front door shook with the violent pounding of a fist. I forced myself, in spite of my fear, to turn the knob, pull the door open, and stare into the hard faces confronting me
“Do you have any refugees here?” one of them asked sharply.
“Oh, oh, yes, I am hosting one family,” I answered in a quavering voice, afraid like a rabbit surrounded by wolves.
“We have to search your house,” the policeman said, and all of them came inside. Their footsteps on the wooden floor in the hallway sounded like thunder.
“How many are there?” asked the first policeman coming into my kitchen.
“It is one family, three brothers and this young lady with the baby.” I was shaking.
“Why did you let them stay in your house?” A blaze of anger accompanied his words and he ground his teeth.
I looked at his shoes and said, “A young couple with baby were on the street in the cold. I let them in to warm up in my home.” I paused. “This isn’t the first time that I hosted refugees. Serbian families from Croatia stayed in my house twice. I helped them too.”
“It is not the same. This is the Serbian Republic, and we have to help our people, but we cannot help Muslim refugees. Do you know that?” He raised his voice. “These people could be soldiers. Did they bring any weapons?” He paused. “Where are they?”
“Belkisa with the baby is here,” I looked around. “My son is sick. I took him to the doctor, and we came back a few minutes before you arrived,” I said trying to find the best answer. “Belkisa, do you know where your husband and his brothers are?”
“They went to obtain transit visas for us. We couldn’t cross the bridge and go to Western Europe without them.” I noticed her trembling hands holding her baby. All of the customary brightness and gentleness was gone from her face.
“Do you have extra medicine in your house?” The policeman moved his gaze from the baby to the china cabinet.
I looked at my sick child and my throat tightened. “My son was sick for two days. I do not have anything to give him, nothing to lower his fever. I took him to the doctor today even though I don’t have insurance,” I felt pitiful and couldn’t talk any more.
“We are going to search your entire house. We will see what you are hiding here,” the policeman said firmly and gave an order to his squad where to search. I didn’t know what they were searching for. What did they hope to find?
Why did the policeman ask me about the medicine? What is their plan? Will they accuse me of being an illegal drug dealer? I had hidden all my money in the books upstairs in my room. For sure they would take it with them. Oh, and I also have some religious books. Policemen and soldiers didn’t like the books in where God’s names are mentioned, especially if they are written in Arabic. Will they burn my books and perhaps my house along with them?
I don’t have any weapons, but they could bring a few guns and “find” them in the house. The five of them are going to witness against me. Are they going to take me to jail, or kill me here? Will these be the last minutes of my life?
The room was spinning around me. I became ice-cold, trembling and shivering like I was falling apart. Samir, Nana, and Belkisa looked at me. I stood up, walked to the window, and looked at the quiet garden. Belkisa joined me, and our eyes met. We were quiet. Even the baby didn’t make any sounds.
Objects, mostly books, were falling on the floor. The policemen’s belittling laughter struck me. They sneered at all that they touched.
“Are those materials from your Muslim political organization?” asked one of them from another room.
I wasn’t sure that I was able to shout back so I walked to the hallway. I found him looking through piles of materials from Social-Democratic party meetings.
“I am not a member of any Muslim political organization. I don’t have any of their written materials,” I said, just above a whisper, my mouth dry and bitter. My tongue could barely move, and I wasn’t sure he heard me well. I collected my last strength and said, “I am a congressional representative of the Social-Democratic political party in our local government. I have their written materials. Do you want to see them?”
He turned his hands from the materials as if they were on fire, walked a few steps toward me, and opened his eyes wide.
“Are you an active member of the government?”
“Do you go to the government meetings?” He frowned and his eyebrows moved close to each other. He came closer, trying to distinguish my weak voice from noise that other policemen were making as they searched the house.
“Yes, I do. Do you want to see the materials from the last meeting? We have discussions.”
He interrupted me, “No, no, you are fine. You are fine. I am sorry, we made a mistake. This is our mistake,” he said softly. Suddenly he looked like he were scared of me, an unarmed Muslim woman.
“Hey, guys stop your work immediately!” he roared, “all of you. Put back everything where it was and clean up your mess. Did you hear me?”
Silence. The policemen picked up all books from the floor and placed them gently on the shelf. They straightened other books that they hadn’t even touched before.
“I am sorry, Mrs. Softic. I did not know that you were a representative of the government. You didn’t warn us when we entered your house. How would I know that?” he paused. “We didn’t harm you. We really didn’t do anything wrong. Your rooms will be in the same shape as before our visit. You have unknown refugees in your house and we wanted to protect you; to be sure you were safe. That is all.” Suddenly his voice was as soft and gentle as though he were my guardian angel.
I was confused by the sudden change in the behavior of the policemen.
“Mrs. Softic, can you come to my office tomorrow morning, please, and register them? Bring the I.D. cards of the people who are in your house. They don’t need to come with you. They can pursue their transit visas through Croatia, no problem. Poor people. Look what the Croats are doing to them! They are taking money for nothing. Everybody can go through Croatia without visas except the poor Bosnian refugees,” he said, smiling.
The other policemen walked quietly through the house. Nobody mentioned any religious books or money that they found. As they closed the front door and walked toward their car, I ran upstairs. Everything looked as it had before their visit. All the books and the money were in the same place. I thanked God for His intervention, to help this positive outcome.
After a few minutes the refugees came back into the room quietly.
“How did you disappear? Where did you go?” I asked.
“We jumped over the balcony fence and went into the garden. We didn’t even want to cross paths with the policemen,” said the youngest.
“Soldiers took our father and he never came back,” said Muharem, Belkisa’a husband. “That day we jumped out the window of our home, ran to the woods, and thank God we survived.”