Damir Junicic remembers the day his childhood ended.
He had just graduated sixth grade and was happily heading home to show his parents the top marks he’d received at school – the result of a year’s worth of hard work.
The then 13-year-old turned the final corner in his neighbourhood – and was stopped dead in his tracks.
Instead of the familiar sight he had expected, his apartment building was surrounded by nervous-looking soldiers.
That day – May 15, 1992 – the war tearing Bosnia apart finally reached his hometown of Tuzla, 100-odd kilometres north of the capital Sarajevo.
Damir, a senior case manager with Tangiers International, said: “The transition from boyhood to adulthood was quite brutal and fast.
“Obviously, it has some sort of impact because I was just 13 years old when the war started. I had to take care of all of my family, so from a young age, I was forced to navigate a lot of things myself.
“I remember asking one soldier ‘Who is going to help us? And he answered ‘What help? And from who?’ Reality was pretty brutal back then.”
Being thrust into a war zone at such a young age had a profound impact on Damir’s perspective on life, and underpins his professional philosophy with Tangiers.
He said: “I figured out that what defines us is what we do in life. It’s easy to be materialistic but it’s compassion and readiness to help others which is what we should strive for.
“There’s no pay-off for that, it’s its own reward.”
Damir graduated from law school in Sarajevo in 2009, also passing the bar exam in Bosnia, before joining Tangiers as a field agent in the same year. He became a case manager in 2011, working across the Balkans as well as further afield in sub-Saharan Africa.
As a senior case manager, Damir is responsible for overseeing cases – ensuring they go without a hitch and offering advice and guidance to case managers working in some of the world’s most remote or volatile regions.
“When field agents are working in Uganda, Kenya or the Congo, for example, these countries are huge and to locate an address in remote areas can be challenging.
“That’s the advantage of having field agents on the ground. However, there’s also the security concern.
“In certain areas, it may not be safe to travel between two locations. Safety is my primary concern. I want to make sure that these agents come home unharmed.”
His experiences growing up, as well as his time in the field, have had a deep impact on how he approaches conflict – and how he resolves it.
“I know where the boundaries are when treating people with respect,” he explained. “My position is it’s better to talk and negotiate for one hundred years than fight for a day, so communication is key.”
Damir added: “I guess those early days defined me to a certain extent. But they also inspired my desire to help claimants, to make sure they always receive proper care.”