In Depth

Liverpool star Dejan Lovren urges compassion for refugees

Defender tells LFC TV how his family were forced to leave their home and flee war-torn Bosnia

Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren has spoken out about his experience of a refugee after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and called for compassion for people forced to flee their homes.

He also painted a stark picture of how quickly his "comfortable" life in the Bosnian town of Kraljeva Sutjeska, north of Sarajevo, disintegrated as rival groups turned on each other.

In the interview, Lovren: My Life as a Refugee, broadcast on Liverpool's LFC TV on Wednesday, the defender said: "We had everything, to be honest, everything. We never had problems. And then it happened.

"It just changed... War between everyone, between three different cultures. People just changed - we heard so many stories on the radio and the television."

The "most horrific" violence was outside the cities, he said, revealing that his uncle's brother "was killed in front of other people with a knife".

His story provides a "searing insight into the fear and dislocation of refugees", says The Independent, with the 27-year-old describing "his family’s desperate 17-hour overnight escape from war-torn Bosnia" and urging "those who are implacably opposed to welcoming those fleeing conflict to think again".

Lovren's family made the decision to flee after spending a night cowering in a basement to escape bombing raids. "They left everything," he said. "They took one bag and, 'Let's go to Germany'."It was a long, long ride because at that time you didn't have the best car. I think they said 17 hours we were driving.

“It was tough. I couldn’t imagine today to run away with my kids and to really be scared for your life. It's about your life. It's not about a job or something like that. You’re leaving behind everything you had before – and we had everything."

His family were lucky, he added, as they had family in Germany and they were allowed into the country: "If they hadn’t allowed us to come in, I don’t know where we would’ve gone or where we could go. I never ask about that."

However, they were forced to leave Germany once the war had finished and had to return to Croatia, where they eked out an existence, living from hand to mouth.

Reflecting on his own children, Lovren said: "I don’t know if they’ll ever understand my life or my situation, what I’ve been through, because they live in totally different worlds.

"When I see what’s happening today [with refugees] I just remember my thing, my family and how people don’t want you in their country. I understand people want to protect themselves, but people don’t have homes. It’s not their fault; they’re fighting for their lives just to save their kids."

It was "a remarkable piece of television", says Daniel Taylor of The Guardian, not least because it is "rare to see a Premier League footballer speak of such jarring memories on a club’s own TV channel".

The Liverpool Echo says the interview opened old wounds, with Lovren's decision to tell his story reducing his mother to tears.

"But the Liverpool defender felt a duty to relive the harrowing experiences of life as a refugee," it adds.

"In the current climate it’s a burning issue and Lovren deserves great credit for having the guts to speak up."

His story even has sports websites grappling with weightier topics. "It is an account that needs to be heard, needs to be digested and needs to jolt and jar at a time when walls are being built instead of arms opened to millions of ordinary, innocent people that have been caught up in unspeakable hell," writes Melissa Reddy of Goal.com.

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