The nightmare of ‘blocked’ migrants in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina is currently a passing nation for migrants who travel the so-called “Balkan Route”. The external border of the European Union is closed and thousands of them cannot move forward. Many sleep in abandoned buildings, makeshift tents or, as is the case outside the city of Tuzla, in abandoned freight cars.

“The temperatures are well below zero degrees Celsius. Hundreds of people, like Salman and his brothers, have to sleep outside, without heating, in the dead of winter … Why aren’t these people transferred to shelters We are investigating it in Bosnia-Herzegovina, “says Hans von der Brelie, a Euronews reporter.

“We slept inside an old wagon. Okay? Life here is not good. We made a big mistake coming to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was our big mistake,” laments Salman, a migrant from Pakistan.

The friendly conversation is interrupted by an upset migrant approaching, brandishing a knife. The film crew decides to leave the scene.

In the morning, Salman explains that some of his colleagues have developed mental health problems during their trip from Pakistan. Middle-class families raise thousands of euros to send their children to Europe. Now many are blocked midway. There is no way to advance, nor to go back.

“It is very cold here. It snows. Every day it snows. You see it? Everything is too difficult. Here life is not good because … you see, in what conditions we live,” adds Salman.

Local authorities refused to open a migrant camp in the Tuzla region, although it remains an important transit station between Serbia and Croatia. NGOs, like Emmaus, intervene and offer migrants a place to take shelter. Many are “economic migrants” from Pakistan or North Africa, as is the case with a group of Algerians. Brahim Radi and his friends have tried before to reach the European Union.

“A Croatian border guard broke my tooth with his truncheon. He hit me in the mouth and broke my tooth. Other people lost an eye. Some had several ribs broken. Look at the photos. This one was beaten several times. height of the ears, “says Brahim Radi, a migrant from Algeria.

In a center of Emmaus, migrants can shower and dress in clean clothes. A young lawyer named Dženeta Delić-Sadiković runs the place.

“The problem of violence on the border with Croatia must be solved. Migrants do not want to stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A way must be found for them to leave for community territory,” says Dženeta Delić-Sadiković.

At Christmas, part of the lipa camp, in the west of Bosnian territory, was devastated by a fire. Who caused it? The investigation is ongoing. Set up as a summer camp, it was not winterized.

The International Organization for Migration (OIM), sounded the alarm and withdrew. The Bosnian government found another location, near Sarajevo. But local protests made the transfer impossible. To prevent people from freezing to death, the Interior Ministry took over and installed heated tents.

“We have to travel about two kilometers away to fetch water because they give us three jugs of water a day for a group of around 40 people,” says Suleman Shahid, a migrant from Pakistan.

Currently, there are about 9,000 migrants in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The EU ambassador in Sarajevo has told Euronews that it should not be extremely complicated, to shelter all of them, according to international standards. Thus, he urged the authorities to speed up the processes.

“Everyone comes from the camp to this fountain to shower. There is no hot water. As you can see there, is this adequate accommodation? All those immigrants have to shower in this place,” explains Ziaullah Zaheer, a migrant from Afghanistan . “I ask the EU to take serious action on these immigrants and to do something for them,” he adds.

In Bihać, near the Croatian border, there are about 60 occupied houses. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) distributes food and medical supplies. Although the EU channels, each year, the sending of some twenty million euros to the country, destined to the management of migration, one of the main problems is represented by the dysfunction of the state structures.

The decisions of the federal government are blocked by the local authorities. Some Bosnian regions, such as the “Republika Srpska”, refuse any kind of division of responsibilities when it comes to hosting immigrants.

“The situation is dire, serious. These people need basic living conditions, as you can see. Here, we have 120 people but there are about 1 000 people, throughout the region, occupying places and buildings like this one that is located my back “, says Nataša Omerovič, delegate of the OIM in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Anoosh calls himself Azerbaijani and Iranian and claims he is a victim of political persecution in his home country of Iran. Together with his partner Milad, after a long journey, he has just arrived at the abandoned building, designed to be the Bihać nursing home.

“Three years ago I started my journey from Iran to here. The border is closed but what can we do? Maybe seek the help of some friends, smugglers, I don’t know … maybe we have to fix it with money …”, explains the Azeri immigrant, Anoosh Mostafaei.

Until September last year, the Bira factory, in the center of Bihać, was a refrigerator factory. It was used as a temporary camp hosting about 2,000 migrants. Neighbors are irritated by the soaring rise in robberies, says Seid Šehić. But that is not all. When he was growing his potatoes in his backyard, adjacent to the old Bira camp, he had a rather unpleasant time.

“Five immigrants entered my garden. One of them was carrying a knife and tried to attack me but, luckily, he couldn’t stick it in my stomach. I took a few steps back, picked up a pitchfork and hit him with it, at the same time he asked, to screaming, letting go of the knife, “says Seid Šehić.

A top diplomat unofficially warns of the character of Mustafa Ružnić, Prime Minister of the Canton of Una-Sana. He defines him as a man who was willing to leave the migrants to die of cold. Ružnić justifies his harsh anti-migrant stance, citing security problems and the high number of crimes committed by them in his canton.

“What do you mean when you say: there are 3,000 crimes?” Asks Euronews reporter Hans von der Brelie.

“In the Una-Sana canton there are permanent fights between Pashtuns and Hazaras, between Shiites and Sunnis … Over the past three years, migrants have committed more than 3,200 crimes. There are rapes, murders among migrants and various assassination attempts against our citizens. They start fires and enter private homes … All migrants who roam our city should be deported, they are here illegally, “says Mustafa Ružnić.

At the entrance to the Bira camp, several posters show the rejection of the local inhabitants; oppose the reopening of the enclosure, which is fully equipped.

In April last year, Bihać experienced a major clash between rival groups of migrants, in which some 450 people were implicated. In September, the camp was closed. But all the infrastructure is still there. To solve the urgent problem of migrants sleeping in the open in the middle of winter, the EU suggested reopening the facilities. The local authorities prevented it. Decision that they regret within the International Organization for Migration.

“This place can be used urgently, if necessary. It is prepared for it. We have a total of 250 accommodation units and, in each of these units, six people can be accommodated. So this brings us a number of 1,500 people who can be accommodated in this camp, “concludes Nataša Omerovič, IOM delegate in Bihać.

On leaving Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Euronews reporter makes a stop in Istanbul. There, at the airport, some passengers are accompanied by IOM staff, who help the voluntary returnees with logistics and airline tickets. Last year, the agency helped 303 ‘blocked’ migrants find their way back home.