For 21-year-old Sarfraz Ali, the border manifests itself in scars left on his hands from beatings. He was one of the residents of the recently demolished Vučjak migrant camp, in northwest Bosnia near the Croatian border.
It took the Pakistani boy six months and seven thousand euros to get to Bosnia from Pakistan, travelling about five thousand kilometers through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. Then, beaten up by Croatian border police, he couldn’t go any further. He’s been waiting in Bosnia for more than two months, though in the meantime he’s also tried to reach Italy five times. Others have tried up to fifteen times.
Like Ali, sixteen-year-old Muzamil was forcibly pushed back by Croatian police. Muzamil is, like twenty percent of refugees travelling the Balkan route, a minor. His feet are wrapped in gauze, his eyes dismayed. “The Croatian police arrested me, beat me, took my shoes, my money, my phone. I returned to the camp almost naked”.
Sarfraz Ali once tried to pay a trafficker three thousand euros to be taken across the border by car, but he was stopped. His uncle had lent him the money. Now, he says, his pockets are empty. “In my hometown in Pakistan they say if you leave, you stay forever, that is, you remain in the minds of your loved ones after you leave.” He wants to work, to repay the money. He can no longer return.
Emergency in Vučjak camp
Recently, with freezing temperatures in Bosnia, conditions in the Vučjak camp reached a state of emergency. Some of the makeshift tents collapsed under the weight of the snow and the rain. On December 10, authorities began dismantling the camp and evicting its residents. About 750 migrants were transferred on fourteen buses to camps near Sarajevo and Salakovac, 250 kilometers away in western Bosnia and Herzegovina. Others, instead, were moved to the overcrowded Bira camp run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bihać, a mountainous town in northwest Bosnia, on the border with Croatia.
Until last summer, many migrants were living in abandoned houses and city parks in the town of Bihać. In June 2019, police raided those spaces, chasing the refugees out. Refugees were given a working over and forced to board buses that took them to the Vučjak camp run by the local Red Cross eight kilometers from town and eleven kilometers from the Croatian border.
The camp was built over a landfill in the same area where the front line was during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. According to the local Red Cross, the camp recently housed some 600 migrants. Many of them said they did not want to be moved further from the border, despite the camp’s reprehensible conditions, made worse by harsh winter weather, because they wanted to continue trying to cross.