Forced to Flee - Honouring World Refugee Day
Our HR and Admin Manager, Tijana Gluhovic-Mihailovic, opens up about her journey from war-torn
Bosnia to the shores of Tofino
Tofino represents something different for everyone who ends up out here. For Tijana Gluhovic-Mihailovic and her husband Dragan—both of whom are integral parts of the LBLR family—Tofino represents a safe place to for them and their three children to call home. And that safety gives Tijana a chance to move forward and put her painful past behind her.
Tijana grew up in Bosnia’s capital city of Sarajevo until the breakup of Yugoslavia, which resulted in the Bosnian War.
“No person in the world can believe that such madness could happen in such a quick time,” remembers Tijana.
She was twelve years-old at the time, the youngest of three sisters. After their father realized how bad things were about to get, he organized for the girls to join a convoy of civilians—mostly young children who had been separated from their families—to flee to the relative safety of Serbia.
Tijana says she’ll never forget her father walking them through the city, suitcase in hand, shells exploding in the distance, and loading them in a jeep that was bound for the airport.
After that, the girls were loaded onto a huge military plane with 500 other people and flown to Serbia. No seats. No seatbelts. Just 500 scared humans fleeing from a country transformed by horrific war.
Four years passed before the war ended and Tijana moved back to Sarajevo to reunite with her mom and dad. She was in a refugee camp for almost that whole time, constantly worrying about the situation back home.
“Nothing upset me more than not knowing what was happening to my parents,” says Tijana. “I think the hardest part for refugees is being separate from families.”
Tijana met Dragan after she moved back to Sarajevo. He’d been a soldier in the war and was shot three times over the course of the conflict.
But even though the war had ended, Tijana and Dragan didn’t find peace. After they became pregnant with their first child, they decided to take a chance and follow Tijana’s oldest sister to Canada.
“All I was picturing was that if war happened again and comes to my child I can’t survive that,” says Tijana.
First they went to Fort MacMurray, then Yellowknife, then Nanaimo. And not long after they moved to Nanaimo, they headed west and were struck by the serenity of our rugged west coast.
“I think that’s why we choose Tofino because I originally felt calm here,” says Tijana. “First time when I came to Tofino and I saw the ocean I felt relief and I could just breathe.”
“With all my stress and trauma I need something to not be stressed,” she adds with a laugh.
One interesting thing to note about Tijana and Dragans’ journey to Canada is that, since the war in Bosnia was over when they left, they were never officially granted refugee status. But even though the fighting had stopped, Bosnia was a broken country.
“One time refugee, always refugee. That’s what is always following you in life,” explains Tijana. “Going through war, and then the war ends, you can’t just erase everything that happens.”
Of course not all refugees are as open as Tijana about their struggles. But Tijana hopes that sharing her story will help others, and that people in peaceful places might understand what it’s like to leave everything behind and hope for a better future.
“For people who go through hardships with war the only way to survive is to think positive,” she explains.
“They say when you have this positive energy and you believe, you can move mountains.”
. . .
Huge thanks to Tijana for sharing her story. If you’d like to help make a difference in this global struggle, please consider donating to the Red Cross: