Vesna Maric was born in Mostar in 1976. When she was sixteen she left Bosnia-Herzegovina and travelled to the UK, an experience she tells in her best-selling novel ‘Bluebird: A Memoir’ for which she was on the long list for an Orwell Prize for literature in 2010.
She lived in Hull and Exeter, and studied Czech literature at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London before working for the BBC World Service. She is now a travel writer and journalist who has worked for Lonely Planet, Time Out and BBC Online.
Vesna lives in London and is currently writing her first novel.
In Bluebird – a memoir, she writes:
‘The British had, understandably, expected something a little more like ‘proper’ refugees: people suffering, hardship visible on their faces, clothes torn and wrinkled, children’s eyes crusted with tears. Dragan wove through the crowd, closely inspecting everyone’s outfits by pinching a shirt, a skirt or a trouser between two fingers, rubbing it to feel its quality, a look of disgust on his face. It seemed we were well below standard. But the unspoken motto of these Bosnian mothers was: ‘If we are going to be refugees, lets not advertise our misery, let us at least look good’, and I could understand how they felt. It’s not easy suddenly becoming a refugee.’
‘It seemed to me that we, the victims, and they, the rescuers, would have perfectly defined roles, and I imagined us swimming together in the comforting sea of empathy. I didn’t yet understand what I came to understand later – that between a rescuer and a victim stands human nature and aside from empathy, there are self-righteousness, expectations, self-fulfilment, ad roles which at first are defined and clearly demarcated often become muddled and intertwined.’
– Excerpts from ‘Bluebird – a memoir’, 2009
Between 1991 to 2001 various conflicts were fought on the territory of former Yugoslavia. The wars accompanied the breakup of the country and are generally considered to be a series of largely separate but related military conflicts occurring in and affecting most of the former Yugoslav republics, including Croatia and the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There was a 71% increase in asylum applications from 1990 to 1991, due to an increase in applications from Zaire, Angola, Pakistan and Ghana. The pressure of these rising numbers and increased demand upon housing and welfare in areas of settlement led to the introduction of a more coordinated approach. The 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act therefore became the first piece of primary legislation in the UK to deal specifically with asylum. It was designed to increase decision making and deal with the backlog of asylum cases. It introduced finger-printing for asylum seekers, reduced rights to housing, denied entry to those who had travelled via a ‘safe third country’, and made it compulsory to apply for asylum on arrival.