‘I made split decision to save baby thrust into my hands days after losing my own child’

Mevlida Lazibi decided to take five-week-old infant Sara during the horror of the Srebrenica massacre 25 years ago – now they’re a family and it was ‘best decision of her life’

    Mevlida Lazibi and Sara Hukic have now settled in London (Image: Jamie Lorriman/Triangle News)

    Explosions going off all around her, drained after fleeing genocidal troops, ­Mevlida Lazibi looked at the sleeping baby and made the decision of her life in a split second.

    Desperate to get the five-week-old infant away from the hell of war, her grandmother thrust the child at Mevlida and begged her to take her.

    There was no time to think. Mevlida tucked the baby, wrapped in just a blanket, into her coat and ran for her life, emotions tearing through her mind.

    Just days earlier she had delivered her own stillborn baby while fleeing soldiers who slaughtered men and raped women.

    Mevlida had buried her little girl in an unmarked grave in woodland.

    Mevlida Lazibi’s adopted daughter Sara Hukic
    (Image: Jamie Lorriman/Triangle News)

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    Now, two days after her 25th birthday, she was being given a chance with another baby who had been abandoned in Srebrenica as chaos and panic swept Bosnia in 1992. 

    The three-year war that followed saw horror upon horror. But for Mevlida and baby Sara Hukic, there was an escape – to Britain.

    And today, in the week of the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre and 28 years to the day that she rescued Sara, mother and adopted daughter talk about their unbreakable bond.

    Mevlida, 53, said: “The choice was to leave her to die or take her and save her. And I would never leave someone to die.”

    Sara, 28, said: “I feel so proud of my mother. You can’t do anything without a backbone and that’s what my mum has.

    Mass grave where remains of more than 100 executed people are buried outside the village of Pilica
    (Image: EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

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    “Not everyone is able to go through a war, let alone take a child that isn’t biologically theirs and look after that child, especially when they have nothing.

    “It’s made me who I am today, especially with my own kids, seeing how she was towards me and the love that she had towards me.

    “I don’t know where I would be without my mum, she might not have given birth to me but a mother is not somebody who births you, a mother is somebody who raises you.

    “Honestly, I’m so grateful for her – she’s one in a million.”

    Ratko Mladic at the Hague in 2012
    (Image: Getty)

    The Srebrenica Massacre saw more than 8,000 Bosniaks – ethnic Muslims, mostly men and boys – slaughtered between July 11 and July 22, 1995.

    The killings were carried out by a Bosnian Serb army controlled by Ratko Mladic – known as the Butcher of Bosnia. In 2017 he was jailed for life at The Hague for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

    Mevlida, then a trainee teacher, was among many who had to flee as the Bosniaks were persecuted. She was born into an affluent family and, with her husband Azan and extended family, lived on her parents’ farm in Srebrenica, on the border between Bosnia and Serbia.

    The breakdown of socialist Yugoslavia led to bloodshed as states such as Croatia and Slovenia agitated for independence.

    Mevlida and her adopted daughter Sara when she was a child
    (Image: Triangle News)

    Bosnia was declared independent following a referendum in 1992 and war erupted soon after. Neighbours turned against Mevlida’s family because they were Muslim.

    All hell broke loose as Bosnian Serb troops moved in – capturing and torturing Mevlida’s oldest brother Mustsfa simply for being a wealthy Muslim. Other family members were taken away in buses.

    Then the bloodshed began and people either ran for their lives or were rounded up and butchered.

    Mevlida said: “They slaughtered people like they weren’t even animals.

    Mevlida and her brother Mustsfa at a mass grave site in Srebrenica
    (Image: Triangle News)

    “They were taking men, women and children to the bridge and slaughtering them and throwing them in the river.

    “The river was completely red with blood from the Muslims. We tried to hide, we tried to escape.”

    Two of her brothers tried to defend people with broken tail pipes torn from motorbikes.

    Mevlida became separated from her husband in the chaos and still does not know what happened to him.

    She managed to hide and escape with her parents Husein and Hafib, and her brother Sadik’s wife and children.

    They fled to a forest and watched horrified as their home was torched and farm animals were burned alive.

    Mevlida’s brother Sadik and his son Samir
    (Image: Triangle News)

    Another brother Ibro reached them and gave Mevlida and her mother an explosive device each – saying they should blow themselves up rather than be captured. 

    She said: “He said to me, ‘If they come to capture you just kill yourself. It’s better to kill yourself because they’ve started raping and torturing women and young girls’.”

    Yet more heartache was about to come. Mevlida was heavily pregnant, starving and cold. Her baby stopped moving and she gave birth to the stillborn girl two days later. She buried the child among the trees.

    In desperation, the group headed to the centre of Srebrenica, where Mevlida’s married sister Hafiza gave them shelter.

    It was then that fate brought Mevlida and Sara together.

    Mevlida said: “A girl whose mum I knew had left her. Unfortunately many mothers left their babies, sometimes they couldn’t watch them be hungry and also it’s the stress, mentally. I took her and just wanted to look after her.”

    Melvisa’s brother Ibro who was killed in the war
    (Image: Triangle News)

    A United Nations humanitarian team sent Mevlida and Sara to hospital in Tulsa. It was a gruelling five-hour journey and some women, desperate for treatment, did not survive the trip.

    After recovering in Tulsa, Mevlida and Sara headed for Denmark in 1993 and were accepted as refugees.

    She formally adopted Sara and trained to be a social worker.

    Mevlida visited London as part of an Oxford University project looking at refugee integration.

    Against a rising current of Islamophobia in Denmark, Mevlida eventually moved to England in 1999.

    It was here that she met and married second husband Djamel. 

    She said: “I can never forget Denmark and what they gave to me, but life in Denmark as a Muslim meant you had to answer every day why I am who I am. In England I have never been asked to explain who I am.”

    Mevlida now runs charity shops for Human Relief Foundation, which supports communities in some of the poorest regions of the world.

    Mevlida Lazibi had a life and death decision with Sara Hukic
    (Image: Jamie Lorriman/Triangle News)

    She and Sara live in Islington, North London, and say they cannot thank the UK enough for taking them in.

    Addressing Sara, Mevlida said: “You were always more than a daughter. You’re a daughter, a friend – actually it was you that helped me come through all of this.

    “I remember you were probably four years old when my brothers died and I was sitting crying and you said to me, ‘But you know Mum, you have me and I have you.’ I never forget that – I realised we only needed each other.”

    Sara, who works at Brent Cross Shopping Centre, added: “I think that’s what makes us really strong together as well, we’re like best friends. I’m Bosnian but England is my home.”

    Sara’s birth mother was called Zina and is understood to be alive.

    But Sara has no wish to be reunited with her.

    Mevlida Lazibi had to make a life or death decision
    (Image: Jamie Lorriman/Triangle News)

    She has travelled back to Bosnia and one day will explain to her children – aged five and six – where she came from.

    The memories of 1992, meanwhile, remain hauntingly vivid for Mevlida.

    She cannot forget the Serb troops constantly bombing Srebrenica for “target practice” from the nearby Tara mountain.

    Thirty-six members of her close family were murdered during the war – including her brothers Sadik and Ibro, identified by DNA from bones found in unmarked graves. Six family members have yet to be found.

    Sister Hafiza and brother Mustsfa still live in Bosnia. Their parents survived too and Mevlida did see them again, though they have since died.

    Mevlida has been back to Bosnia many times to identify and rebury loved ones.

    But, thanks to her, one name isn’t among the list of casualties – Sara.

    The proud mum said: “It was a decision that changed my whole life and I’m so thankful I made it.

    Sourse: www.mirror.co.uk

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