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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Armin Budimlic
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Armin Budimlic at work in Rochester. (MPR Photo/Erin Galbally)

Rochester, Minn. — Armin Budimlic grew up in the city of Prijedor, located in the northwestern corner of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was born in 1964 into a family of non-practicing Muslims.

Budimlic went through the Bosnian school system, and after graduating from college he secured a job with a ship painting company in the neighboring state of Slovenia. His wife and young daughter stayed in Prijedor. Budimlic planned to make enough money to move back permanently, build a house and raise his children.

But in 1991, the former Yugoslavia began to fall apart. Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence, angering Serbia. Soon Prijedor was occupied by the Serbs, who conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing and set up concentration camps around the area.

It was during this time that Budimlic lost contact with his wife for several months. When they were finally reunited, he learned the she and his young daughter had spent a week imprisoned in one of the camps.

After fleeing Prijedor, Budimlic and his family lived in a refugee encampment in Croatia for a year and half. Finally they gained admittance to the United States and moved to Rochester in 1994.

Now Budimlic is associate director of the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association, which helps refugees and immigrants settle into life in the Rochester area.

He returns to Bosnia every other year to visit with family. He says nearly a decade after the conflict, mass graves continue to turn up remains of missing relatives. Budimlic says he feels lucky to be alive.