Young Algerian Finds Bosnia a Hair-Raising Experience

Chemseddine Berafta dreams of playing football for a living in Italy one day – but in the meantime he is helping a local family run a hair salon in the Bosnian border town of Velika Kladusa.

Visitors popping into the local barbershop in Velika Kladusa, in northwest Bosnia, may well find their cuts being done by a resident from far-off Algeria.

Chemseddine Berafta, 24, is one of thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle east who have become trapped in northwest Bosnia, prevented from pushing on to the West by the police in EU member state Croatia.

His nickname is Chemsou, but people in town use a local variant of his nickname, Semso, which is what the Beganovic family call him as well.

He has found a home with this welcoming family after reaching the Balkans from his homeland in North Africa.

Over 10,000 migrants were registered this year in Bosnia, official data show, as the country wrestles a growing migrant crisis – which has mounted ever since the former migrant route to the EU through Serbia and Hungary was shut down in 2016.

Since then, migrants have been using new routes to reach the West via Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and sometimes Serbia.

Zaim Beganovic, known as Begi, says his life has changed completely since Chemsou walked into his hair salon, which he runs together with his wife, Jasna, right next to a pizza place whose owner has turned it into a humanitarian kitchen for migrants and refugees.

From the beginning of the refugee crisis, many migrants have stopped at Jasna’s for a haircut and Chemsou, a hairdresser by training, offered to help her deal with them.

The migrants “have specific haircuts, and Semso knows that. He offered to show me what they actually wanted right away,” Jasna Beganovic recalls.

“I didn’t understand what they were telling me – one of them wanted it done one way, the other wanted something else – it wasn’t complicated, but you have to understand what they are saying to be able to do it,” she added.

Chemsou continued to stop by at Jasna and Zaim with whom he became friends. Soon after meeting them, he moved into their place.

Zaim and Jasna Beganovic Photo: BIRN

Zaim Beganovic says he has become like a son to them and they live together as a small family.

Chemsou helps out with the translations at the hair salon, which many of the migrants use, not only as a hair salon but for the company as well.

He is always willing to step in when Jasna needs help. The Beganovics are meanwhile waiting for his residence status in Bosnia to be resolved, so they can register him as an employee.

Chemsou is one of a host of new residents in town.

In a field not far from the town, a tent city has sprung up as a temporary home to some of the 1,200 migrants and refugees who have found their way forward blocked by the Croatian police; both Velika Kladusa and nearby Bihac are close to the Croatian border.

Around 3,000 asylum seekers and refugees were placed in Bosnia’s Una Sana Canton, one of ten cantons in Bosnia’s Federation entity, awaiting a decision on where they would be housed; 1,500 in Velika Kladusa and the same number in nearby Bihac.

However, that number has fallen as they slip into other countries, Dragan Mektic, Bosnia’s Security Minister, noted earlier this month.

“Many of them have managed to go to Croatia, which is one reason why this number has dropped,” Mektic told the media.

The accommodation problem of the remaining migrants camping in the tent settlement in Velika Kladusa must be resolved as a priority, international organisations have warned.

However, disagreements between the various different authorities in Bosnia means nothing has been done so far.

Official data show that some 1,000 migrants and refugees have expressed a wish to claim asylum in Bosnia, although none has received it so far.

Most of migrants and refuges are from Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan followed by Algeria and other countries.

Meanwhile, Chermou has his work cut out in the salon.

“He does haircuts as well sometimes. Some of the customers pay, others have no money, some leave a pack of cigarettes,” Zaim Beganovic says.

“Once we solve his paperwork, we can register him and let him work. Until then, he can continue helping us this way. Besides, those papers are more important for something else – they will enable him to start playing for Krajisnik,” he adds.

Football means much more to this young Algerian than haircuts, and is one of the main reasons for his decision to head towards Europe.

Chemseddine Berafta on a football  filed in Velika Kladusa Photo: BIRN

He says that before he reached Bosnia and Herzegovina, he crossed all the other borders using a sports visa.

He joined other migrants in Serbia and crossed into Bosnia. He wants to go to France or Italy, to work or make a living from playing football – but he likes Bosnia, too.

Chemsou was born in 1994 in the Algerian town of Sidi Moussa, which was heavily affected by Algeria’s internal turbulence from 1991 to 2002.

He spent most of his early childhood in fear of the various death squads rampaging through Algeria at the time.

The village of Rais, where one of the worst massacres of the Algerian conflict took place, is only a few kilometers from Sidi Moussa. The war is over now, but the consequences have remained.

“There are no jobs in Algeria. The country is still recovering from war. All I want is to work and play football and make a living from it, Chemsou says.

“If I can do that here, I’d be happy. I like it here, I have a mom and dad both in Algeria and here as well,” says Chemsou, who calls Zaim and Jasna “papa and mama”.

In Algeria, he played for a lower league club, Harrach Feth Chabab. He is now waiting for documents to complete his registration with the Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and start playing for Krajisnik club in Velika Kladusa, which competes in the Second League of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – West.

Semso playing football in front of his new home in Velika Kladusa Photo: BIRN

Fans say he is a fast player with a good ball control, who knows his way around both when picking a pass and running for the ball.

He calls Chilean player Alexis Sanchez, who plays as an offensive winger, just like him, his role model.

Chemsou is currently in the process of trying to obtain asylum status. Until his status is solved, he cannot play official competition games.

In the meantime, he is training devotedly and playing friendly matches, in which he gets a chance to show what he can do.

Based on what he has demonstrated so far, the club can’t wait to see his paperwork completed.

Local fans eagerly awaiting the first official appearance of the Algerian winger for the Krajina club.

Chemsou says he is young and sufficiently motivated enough to prove himself on the pitch – adding that his ambition is much greater than the Second League of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – West.

*This article has been made with support from the Independent Media Empowerment Programme, IMEP

Adis Nadarevic