1994: Smajo Beso
When I was nine, my family and I came to Newcastle as refugees from the war in Bosnia, where Muslims like us had been the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
The refugee centre on Linden Road was the first place our whole family was together since my Dad had been taken away and put in a prison camp a year earlier. When we arrived there, I felt complete.
Human beings need more than food, shelter and water to thrive: we need to feel safe. Nobody chooses to leave their home, their culture, all of their friends and neighbours, and for a long time I wanted to go back to Bosnia.
But the people of Newcastle welcomed us into their community. My first teacher in Newcastle, Claire Webster Saaremets, taught our class a song in Bosnian that we all sang together. I remember literally skipping home from school that day, because after years of being targeted and attacked for who we were, we had found a place where total strangers were willing to reach out and help us to be happy again.
Today I am 100% Bosnian and 100% Geordie. That’s what makes Newcastle a great city: it is a place where we are all the same because we are all free to be different.
Philip Cussins House Care Home in Gosforth, formerly refugee reception centre