Two Years ago, 750 Migrants entered Bosnia-Herzegovina, this Year 30,000

January 28, 2020 3:45 PM

 

Two years ago, just 750 migrants were recorded passing through Bosnia. In 2019, that figure rose to about 29,000 — most of them fleeing conflict or poverty in Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan.

“It’s the only route currently open if you want to get from Greece to the other parts of the European Union,” said Peter Van Der Auweraert, head of mission for the International Organization for Migration, a department of the United Nations.

But that depends on one’s definition of open.

To leave Bosnia, migrants must cross the icy hills and mountains that line the northern border with Croatia. Former battlefields, the slopes still contain land mines from the Balkan wars.

Migrants who make it safely through the snow are usually met with a brutal response by the Croatian authorities.

In Northern Europe, the 2015 crisis is over — and the Croatians are determined to keep it that way.

For more than a year, the Croatian police have systematically seized migrants spotted entering the country from Bosnia and forced them back across the border without letting them apply for asylum.

In interviews in Bosnia last month, dozens of migrants, residents, doctors and aid workers provided a consistent account of migrants being deported without due process — and often beaten and robbed before being dumped in remote areas, like Glinica.

“When they catch you, they take everything,” said Sajid Khan, who fled Kunduz, Afghanistan, in 2015, when the Taliban captured the city.

“They take your jacket, shoes, socks,” said Mr. Khan, 24. “They just leave your trousers and T-shirt.”

The detritus in the woods near Glinica gives credibility to these assertions. A stream runs through the woods, under a small footbridge that connects Bosnia to Croatia. The Bosnian bank is covered with jackets, trousers, sweatshirts and shoes.

Here and there are smashed phones and ripped-out SIM cards. Also sardine tins, a toothbrush and an olive jar.

According to villagers and shepherds, this is one of the places where the Croatian police briefly enter Bosnia, dumping migrants rounded up along the border and stripping them of their belongings. It is also where police officers fired bullets to scare migrants in October 2018, nearly hitting Ms. Cuturic’s son, she said.

“We have a significant amount of patients who’ve experienced violence,” said François Giddey, who leads local operations for Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity that treats wounded migrants.

That violence includes being burned with lighters and being submerged in the icy river, Mr. Giddey said. But “the most common” thing, he added, is being beaten with sticks.

“It could be all over the body,” he said, “especially legs and feet, to prevent them from walking.”, The Union Journal reports.

Starving, thirsty and desperate, migrants would scour a nearby village for food and water, sometimes breaking into houses and scaring the few villagers still living there.

In a historical irony, the villagers had fled their homes 25 years ago, when the mountainside was contested by Bosniak, Serb and Croat troops. Some never returned, and many of the houses stand empty to this day.

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