AFZAL KHAN: Reflections on Srebrenica Genocide

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Afzal Khan MP at Srebrenica in Bosnia

In July 1995, Srebrenica experienced a genocide on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered; women were raped; children were slain in front of their parents; and bodies were pushed into mass graves using bulldozers.

The scale of the crimes exceeds comprehension.

My journey with Srebrenica goes back almost to the very beginning. While Yugoslavia was disintegrating, I was involved in organising demonstrations here in Manchester against the persecution of Europe’s Muslims. I remember clearly the first coaches that came to Manchester carrying Croats and Bosniak Muslims fleeing the war. I was involved in helping them settle down, find houses, doctors, schools, all of the everyday things people need to survive. Many who arrived were separated from their families. I remember helping efforts to reunite a young man who was engaged to marry a woman who had already arrived here in the UK months before him. When he finally arrived to join her, he had nothing, and so the community chipped in to pay for their wedding. The couple went on to have children who grew up here in Manchester and went to university.

Seeing the Bosnian community flourish here in Manchester demonstrates the strength of humanity. Despite experiencing such atrocities, they were able to start a new life here in the UK and provide their children with a better future.

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Afzal Khan with Munira Subasic, president of “Mother’s of Srebrenica”

In 2015 I travelled to Srebrenica for the 20th anniversary of the genocide, on a trip organised by Remembering Srebrenica. While there I was shocked to learn that they were still discovering mass graves containing 50 bodies or more and having to carry out DNA tests to inform families. It is hard to comprehend the pain and suffering that would come from finding out that a member of your family had perished 20 years prior in a massacre.

Yet amongst the suffering were stories of hope. I was honoured to spend time with Munira Subasic, who had lost both her husband and son at Srebrenica. She founded the “Mother’s of Srebrenica” and has dedicated her life to travelling all over the world to share her story and teach others about the atrocities of genocide. I later met with Munira again at the European Parliament in Brussels when I was working on efforts to help Bosnia join the EU.

The events of Srebrenica have always stayed with me and are part of the reason I dedicate so much of my work to challenging hate and division in society.

From establishing the Greater Manchester Muslim-Jewish Forum, to helping found Stand Up to Racism, and to speaking out about the persecution of Kashmiris, Palestinians, Rohingya, the Uyghur’s, I have always remained dedicated to calling out Islamophobia and persecution wherever it arises.

A mother prays for her son at the massacre site Srebrenica

As we mark 25 years since the tragedy of Srebrenica, we must be as vigilant as ever to the hateful rhetoric that made it so easy for neighbours to turn against neighbours, and to eventually kill one another.

It is a tragedy that to this day, minority groups around the world are still being persecuted, with politicians in our own country repeating racist tropes that fuel fear and division in our communities. From New Delhi to Leicester, Islamophobic rhetoric is being used to spread lies about Muslim communities and to blame them for the spread of Coronavirus.

Relatives mourning at Srebrenica

After the Holocaust, we said never again. Yet what happened in Srebrenica proved that words are not enough. They must be met with action. As we mark 25 years since this harrowing tragedy, we must all reaffirm our commitment to challenging hate, wherever and whenever it arises, and take action to prevent events like Srebrenica from ever happening again. Every Action Matters.

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