With thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Bosnia by EU border controls, aid organizations say that the country’s complex political process and ineffective governing have been preventing them from operating. That has left some NGOs with little option but to take on international volunteers without the correct paperwork.
More than 16,769 migrants were registered in Bosnia between the start of 2019 and 15 August, according to the Migration Flow site, a platform run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). That figure is more than 15 times the total number registered in Bosnia in all of 2017.
Many of these migrants intend to use Bosnia as a transit destination on their way to Western Europe, but with EU member state Croatia aggressively enforcing border controls, it is extremely difficult for migrants to cross into Croatia, and some have been even injured in the attempt. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which provided medical care for refugees and migrants in Bosnia’s Miral camp until January 2019, told Amnesty International (AI), that between June and November 2018, MSF staff treated up to 80 patients for injuries reportedly suffered at the hands of Croatian border guards, including broken limbs and ribs, and serious cuts and bruises.
Human rights organizations such as AI and Human Rights Watch, along with journalists, have reported Croatian border police beating and robbing those trying to cross the border.
As the number of migrants has risen, some local authorities have tried to find their own solutions.
Hundreds of refugees from Bihac have been relocated by the canton of Una-Sana to the nearby Vucjak camp, despite warnings about the site from several organizations, including IOM. Not only do unexploded landmines in the area from the Bosnian wars pose an acute danger, but the camp sits on the site of an old landfill, risking a methane gas explosion if fires are lit. The camp also lacks sanitary facilities.
IOM has refused to work at the site due to its unsuitability. The organization’s Western Balkans coordinator Peter Van der Auweraert told TOL, “We have identified additional sites where we could potentially set up accommodation for the migrants as an alternative to this site, but of course we need political approval for that … You need the authorities to engage and that has been a very slow political process.”
Van der Auweraert put the delayed response down to the “decentralized nature of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” and the failure of politicians to form a government after elections last year.
Bosnia’s notoriously complicated system of government involves three presidents – representing the country’s three main ethnic groups – who serve on a rotating basis, over a four-year term. Following elections in October 2018, parties representing the different ethnic groups have failed to negotiate to form a state-level government, thereby stalling decision-making.
Speaking on Bosnia’s N1 television channel in February, Bihac Mayor Suhret Fazlic expressed frustration that local calls for help from the central government have run into walls. “We sit down for a meeting with state ministers and then they complain to each other about how the state is not functional. That is very frustrating.” In contrast, he praised the work of international organizations, but said “I agree that we [local authorities] should help, and we have been helping since day one. But being left to ourselves in this is very difficult for us.”, Relief Web reports.