Refugees in Bosnia get homes after Jolie's visit

AP News
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Posted: Nov 03, 2011 2:39 PM
Refugees in Bosnia get homes after Jolie's visit

With tears in their eyes, 13 Bosnian refugees moved Thursday into 'Villa Angelina' _ a brand new U.S.-financed apartment building built after Angelina Jolie drew attention to their plight.

The 13 mainly elderly tenants were the last in their refugee camp, an old rundown school for people displaced by the fighting in Bosnia that ended 16 years ago. Some cried as they walked over the thresholds of their small flats.

For years, authorities in Rogatica tried to find a permanent solution for them, but it wasn't until after Jolie and her partner Brad Pitt visited last year that the U.S. agreed to donate $500,000 for housing.

Jolie is a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. refugee agency. The refugees in Rogatica are convinced that her lobbying aided their cause.

The new tenants could hardly wait for the speeches to be over to receive the keys to the fully furnished small apartments in the bright yellow downtown building. Villa Angelina is the only building built in Rogatica after the 1992-95 Bosnia war that killed 100,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Surrounded by low, grim houses and apartment buildings, the yellow building stands out for its beauty _ one more reason to name it after the Hollywood star, people in Rogatica say.

After years of sharing a room with her sister and a bathroom with the rest of the refugees, Lena Babic, 79, finally held a set of keys in one hand and a photo of herself, her 73-year-old sister Mara, and Jolie in the other.

Even after she unlocked the door and sat on a sofa she and her sister now can call their own, Lena never put the photo down.

"Angelina saw everything," she remembered, recounting the star's visit to her old tiny room with the broken sofa next to the bathroom everybody used for washing clothes and dishes.

"She said, if I can do anything, you will have your own bathroom. She could not have done it on her own, others also helped, but she is the one who is in my heart," Babic said, pressing the photo against her chest.

Babic opened drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, then returned to the living room and sat down, only to get back up again and check the closets _ everything was so perfect, she gloated.

The apartments belong to the municipality but the former refugees will be able to stay in them as long as they live.

"It's a real pleasure to be here, to see these people, how happy they are to establish their new homes in Villa Angelina," said Patrick Moon, the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, who opened the two-story building.