For most migrants, Bosnia is but a pit stop on their way to western Europe. Many live in squats in the northwestern town of Bihac, preparing to cross the border to Croatia irregularly. Whenever the squats are cleared by police, the migrants are brought back to the overcrowded Lipa camp – further away from the border.
At the end of the deserted road that leads to the now-defunct Krajina Metal factory on the outskirts of Bihac, dogs can be heard barking. This is their home, and they share it with hundreds of migrants who have taken up refuge in the skeleton that remains of the former factory, Info Migrants writes.
The ground is covered with mud and garbage. The windows that used to dress the former factory complex have been replaced with gaping holes, and in many places, the roof has caved in.
In the least damaged part of the factory, hundreds of migrants have set up a squat. While the larger space serves as a place to gather around the fire, the smaller spaces are used as dormitories. Twenty-six-year-old Abdullah from Afghanistan shares a small dark room with nine other people. He has fragile lungs – he has undergone a total of three surgeries in his life – and the smoke and the humidity of the squat is damaging to his health, he says.
The four windows of Abdullah’s room have been covered up with tarp, and a dirty carpet and old clothes cover the floor to preserve as much heat as possible. In the back of the room, a tent has been set up to provide some of the migrants extra protection from the cold at night. “Life here is hell,” says Abdullah, who arrived in Bosnia six months ago. His roommate, Gholestan, agrees. “We live like animals.”
‘Started walking as soon as we got off the bus’
But despite the harsh living conditions, both of them much prefer the squat to the Lipa migrant camp which is located some 30 kilometers northeast of Bihac. When police evacuated the squat and brought them back to the Lipa camp two weeks ago, neither of them hesitated to return to Bihac. “We started walking as soon as we got off the bus,” Abdullah recounts.
For most of the 8,000 migrants currently living in Bosnia, the poor Balkan country is but a pit-stop on their way to Europe. Many of them therefore want to stay as close to the Croatian border as possible in a bid to eventually make the illegal crossing into Croatia, an activity dubbed the “game”.
Living in the Lipa camp, which has been set up on a windy plain on the top of a hill overlooking the Bihac valley, just means they are further away from making the crossing.
On March 17, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated 935 migrants to live in the Bosnian-run camp. But according to the NGO No Name Kitchen, that number changes all the time. What remains constant, however, is the migrants’ back-and-forths between Bihac and the camp.
Groups of migrants, wrapped in blankets or towels, can be seen walking along the winding road from Lipa to Bihac. By foot, that journey takes nearly five hours. The migrants are either on their way to Bihac to have a go at the game, or are returning to Lipa after a failed attempt.
Written by By Julia Dumont, reporting for InfoMigrants from Bihac