It was a quiet Christmas day at the family home in the village of Risula in southern Croatia.
The kids had been playing with toy cars for a few hours when their mum went to help her mother’s father, a local carpenter, who had just lost his wife and three children.
“The kids were so happy they didn’t know where they were,” the mother said.
“They had their toy cars out, and when they were playing, my husband was really upset.”
He came home and said ‘I just want to tell you that my wife and children have gone to another country.
They are not coming back to me.’
“His wife and two children had gone to the remote Croatian town of Viborg for Christmas, and the family was expecting them to come home to them on New Year’s Day.
The family didn’t want to travel because it was so remote, but the family wanted to celebrate the Christmas holidays in Viborge, a village near the Hungarian border that is now home to several thousand refugees from the former Yugoslavia.
But when the family returned home that morning, the children were gone.”
It was not because they were afraid.
It was because of the emotions they were feeling,” the mom said.
The children had disappeared, and there was no way for the family to trace them.
It took three days for the local authorities to track down the family.
They told the family they needed to get the children’s parents back from Hungary, and asked them to leave the village.”
My husband was so angry.
The family’s ordeal was not an isolated incident.”
So we told them to get their parents back.”
The family’s ordeal was not an isolated incident.
Across the country, people who lost loved ones to natural disasters have told of being overwhelmed by grief and depression.
In many cases, the family members have fled to neighbouring countries, often leaving behind the children they had with them.
In Croatia, the country’s main destination for refugees, the number of people seeking asylum from the crisis in the region has jumped by 60 percent since the beginning of the year, according to data from the UN refugee agency.