Twenty-three Years after the End of the War, only 42 Percent of Bosnian Refugees have returned to Bosnia


Bosnia and Herzegovina made limited progress in 2018 towards addressing long-standing human rights problems. Members of national minorities were ineligible to stand for the presidency in the 2018 general elections because of the ongoing failure to amend discriminatory provisions of the constitution. Authorities did not provide basic support to thousands of asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in 2018. Journalists continued to face threats and interference in their work. War crimes cases continued to be resolved at a slow rate.

Ethnic and Religious Discrimination

Despite multiple rulings of the Bosnian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that the constitution discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities, there was no progress during the year towards amending it to allow Roma, Jewish, and other minorities to run for the presidency in 2018 October general elections.

Authorities in Mostar failed again to change the city’s electoral statute ordered by the Bosnian Constitutional Court in 2010 to reflect the one person, one vote principle, scuppering an idea to hold local elections in Mostar in 2018 at the same time as the October general elections. Political disagreements mean the city has not held local elections since 2008, disenfranchising its voters.

A survey conducted in April 2018 by the United Nations Development Programme showed Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to face many difficulties accessing and enjoying, health care, education, housing, and employment, notwithstanding some improvements in living standards. Many Roma lack identification documents necessary to access services.

Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons

The numbers of asylum seekers and migrants entering the country increased significantly during the year.  According to the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, between January and November 2018, 21,163 asylum seekers, most of whom have either lodged claims or indicated an intention to lodge asylum claims, entered Bosnia and Herzegovina, compared to only 755 in the whole of 2017. The three largest nationalities were Pakistan, Iran, and Syria.

The state did not provide adequate shelter, food, and access to medical assistance to the new arrivals, particularly in Velika Kladusa and Bihac municipalities. In November 2018 there were only two state-managed centers for migrants and refugees—an open asylum center with capacity of about 154, and an open refugee reception center with capacity of around 290—and two temporary accommodation centers for migrants set up with support of international organizations. The lack of accommodation and services forced thousands to live in the streets, abandoned buildings, or tents.

The lack of official accommodation means that many would-be asylum seekers cannot register a place of residence upon arrival, a requirement to apply for asylum. This leaves many without access to asylum procedures even after they register their intention to apply. Among the 2018 arrivals, over 19, 900 asylum seekers expressed intention to apply for asylum, but only 1,314 applied.

Twenty-three years after the end of the war in Bosnia, only 42 percent of Bosnian refugees have returned to Bosnia, according to the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees, and 91,813 remained internally displaced at the end of June 2018, many still living in 156 collective centers. At time of writing, 737 homes for internally displaced had been built under the Regional Housing Programme. A plan to build housing for displaced people living in 121 collective centers by 2020 under a Council of Europe Development Bank-funded project had started but was moving slowly in most municipalities.


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