Related topics

Bosnians Adapt to America, Wonder Why So Few Given the Chance With AM-Refugees-Turuljas’ War,

January 22, 1994

Bosnians Adapt to America, Wonder Why So Few Given the Chance With AM-Refugees-Turuljas’ War, AM-Refugees-Holland

SEATTLE (AP) _ Emir Grcic, a blond Muslim with a new checkbook and a churchful of friends, is baffled when U.S. authorities say America can absorb only several thousand Bosnian refugees a year.

As a fresh alumnus of a firing squad - a Serb officer recognized him as a soccer star and spared his life - Grcic qualified as a Bosnian terror victim and chanced upon a rare U.S. visa.

″People are so welcoming here,″ he said, knocking back apple cider at a Holy Family Catholic Church social, surrounded by people who cannot imagine losing 50 pounds in a concentration camp.

Helped by sponsors, Grcic found his own job and bought a car so he no longer gets up for a 5 a.m. bus. His two sons study in English. His wife is happy. And his new soccer team now dazzles the league.

Refugee workers say that Emir Grcics across the country put into question U.S. policy that lets in only a trickle of desperate Bosnians on grounds that communities cannot make room for them.

″This country could take many, many more Bosnians,″ said Melody Lanzolla, whose Seattle affiliate of Church World Service seeks families to help refugees settle in. ″Response is phenomenal.″

In October 1992, after cameras showed walking skeletons in Serb detention camps, U.S. officials allowed 1,000 visas for released prisoners. Volunteer agencies made a nationwide appeal for sponsors.

″I had 200 calls in two days,″ Lanzolla said, ″and we’re only one of seven agencies in Seattle. Multiply that by the rest of the country.″

Because of bureaucracy and poor communication, she said, it was eight months before the first refugees arrived. They waited in grim camps in Croatia while some sponsors moved on to other causes.

Last March, the annual quota was raised to 3,000 so Bosnians in the United States could bring in close relatives. But despite a huge demand, U.N. and U.S. officials processed only 2,000 cases.

Senior State Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, blamed slow processing on a reluctance to accept refugees at a time when Americans are believed to be wary of foreigners.

Although the quota was raised again to 10,000, they said, they expect no major effort to make room for Bosnians. Perhaps a million Bosnians seek refuge outside the Balkans, but few borders are open.

″A refugee allergy has grown in Europe and here as well,″ said Morton Abramowitz, a former deputy assistant secretary of state who now heads the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

At the Holy Family rumpus room, however, the view is different. Chris Fox, a Seattle lawyer, is selling Enisa Grcic’s pastries at the ″Taste of the World″ food fair, featuring a score of cuisines.

″It has been a wonderful experience, wonderful,″ Fox said, offering yet another Grcic-comes-to-America story. This one is about stopping the car before making a turn off the freeway.

Among the handful of other Bosnians in the Seattle area, the enthusiasm is similar.

Meliha Babic, 16, started school as a sophomore. She’d missed two years of class, running for her life. She so outshone her classmates that she was bumped up to senior.

″Now she tutors her American friends,″ said Betty Turulja, Meliha’s aunt, who has lived in Seattle since 1957. ″Everyone loves her.″

Emir Dizdarevic is back in Seattle again. He first came for electronics training at Boeing. When his visa expired, authorities would not accept homeland-in-flames as extenuating circumstances.

After a year of shelling, confinement, starvation and torture, he managed to leave Bosnia again. His friends at Boeing found him only after he obtained a U.S. visa and was headed to another state.

His family of four is jammed into John Stannard’s suburban home, but all nine occupants say they would not have it any other way.

″You can’t believe what we went through trying to get him here,″ Stannard said. A second friend joined in to describe what he called impenetrable, unhelpful official American bureaucracy.

Even with local support, refugees face problems. They need someone to drive them around to social welfare offices and doctors. Most spend hours at the dentist, often losing a mouthful of teeth.

Social activity often centers around a church or a Jewish temple, worrying parents who want to keep the Muslim faith fresh in their children’s minds.

Dizdarevic, an electronics engineer, can’t find even unskilled work. A few Bosnians, unable to adapt, end up wishing they had stayed home.

But most no longer have a home. Return is impossible. With a little pocket money from sponsors and basic welfare coverage, families work their way into the American dream.

Grcic is on the fast track. Handsome and humorous at 33, with blue eyes, a beautiful wife and kids who might be Norwegians, he shatters stereotypes about the Balkans and Islam.

″They wanted me to fight for some stupid idea,″ he said. ″I did not want the war. We are innocent civilians and we have lost everything we had.″

His wife, Enisa, sniffed trouble early and took the boys over the river to Croatia. Within days, Serbs attacked their town, Brcko, and sealed the bridge.

″In a few days, they killed 5,000 people,″ he said. ″They put the bodies into a factory that grinds up animal bones. They dug holes for people. All day they killed. I was ready to die.″

Grcic was lined up to be shot but, at last minute, a Serb saved him. Instead, he spent eight months in a concentration camp, so starved that he could not stand up. For months, Enisa had no news.

Eventually, he was freed in a prisoner exchange.

″I feel like I never have been in that country,″ he said. ″I am lucky because I am here. First, I was Yugoslav. Then I was a Bosnian. Now I am an American.″

Update hourly