Newcastle teacher reveals to students she was child refugee

Newcastle teacher reveals to students she was child refugee

  • By Philippa Goymer and Chris Robinson
  • BBC News

Image caption,

Mia Suljic as a toddler arriving in the UK

A teacher has shared with her pupils for the first time how she arrived in the UK as a three-year-old refugee.

Mia Suljic fled war-torn Bosnia in 1994 and was relocated to Newcastle with her family, where she is now head of performing arts at Benfield School.

Her dad was killed three months before she was born and she spent more than two years living in an active war zone until she made the North East her home.

“Community became everything, we were embraced,” she said.

The family slept for three weeks in a sports hall in Shrewsbury when they reached the UK, previously living in a refugee camp in Croatia.

They were finally placed in Newcastle in January 1996.

Image caption,

Teacher Mia Suljic relived her childhood to students at her school as part of Refugee Week

Unable to speak English when they arrived, Ms Suljic, now 30, teaches the subject at the same school she attended as a teenager.

She remembered being taught about the Holocaust but not having the “confidence” of disclosing to classmates the genocide people suffered in her homeland.

‘Dream was real’

Ms Suljic recalled a dream she had as a teenager of playing with her brother as a child when they heard “horrible explosions”.

“My brother lay on top of me and dragged me under a park bench,” she said.

“When I think of how incredible my life has been since, it’s quite sad that’s the first thing my brain stored.”

Image caption,

Mia Suljic revealed to her students that she was the little girl in the photograph

The Bosnian War resulted in the death of around 100,000 people, and the displacement of over two million men, women and children.

A campaign of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide was perpetrated by Bosnian-Serb troops under the orders of Slobodan Milošević – former president of Serbia.

‘Never give up’

Ms Suljic’s dad – who was a non-Muslim – was killed when her mum was six months pregnant with her. She said just because he had married a Muslim it was enough “for a target on his head”.

Image source, Fehim Demir/EPA

Image caption,

Women with a banner in June, 2023, showing pictures of the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, where more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were executed

“During the peak of the conflict in my town anyone who was a Muslim man or a teenage boy were being rounded up and taken into what they called work houses – but everybody knew that the people that went to these places would never come back,” she said.

“They came in the morning, they took him, they took all of the Muslim neighbours.

“My dad always said that he would never step foot into what they called ‘the white house’ which was unfortunately infamous for being a torture house.”

She added: “On the very first day he was taken they had lined up these men and he had broken out of the line, grabbed a shot gun and shot some of the Serb soldiers, and shouted, ‘never give up Bosnia!’

“He was shot dead on the spot.”

Desperate for news, her mum cycled a 12-mile round trip each day while six months pregnant.

“Everybody there knew exactly who she was, exactly who he was, exactly what had happened, but they didn’t have the heart to tell her.”

Image caption,

Mia Suljic, with some of her students, credits the school as changing her life

She still remembers the kindness shown by the people of Newcastle when she and her family first arrived, and the community has around 150 people living there.

Her story was shared during special assemblies marking this year’s Refugee Week.

The school itself has some students who came to the UK as refugees and could not speak English.

“Our kids are incredible here, they are so receptive of people’s stories and there was not a second doubt in my mind that the kids would be anything but perfect,” she said.

“The school means so much to me, it’s my way of making it just a little bit better by teaching the kids about other people’s lives and what there is out there.”

  • June 25, 2023