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Bosnia: The number of migrants challenging for more functional countries

January 28, 2019
topic:Refugees and Asylum
tags:#migrants, #Bosnia and Herzegovina, #Muslim, #asylum
located:Bosnia and Herzegovina
by:Katarina Panić
In 2018, migrant, refugee and asylum seeker arrivals increased in Bosnia and Herzegovina from fewer than 1,000 in 2017 to approximately 22,400 (as estimated by the European Commission). Such an increase would be a great challenge even for the countries less dysfunctional than Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yet, some efforts have been made, including reception and detention facilities.

Some 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently in the country. The vast majority are in Una Sana Canton, the administrative unit which is closest to Croatia, the preferred next destination for most of the migrants who only want to reach the European Union (EU). According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 95% see Bosnia only as a transit country.

Migration led the headlines over the whole year. The coverage in the media has ranged from deeply emotional and sympathetic, to moderate reports, to conspiracy theories including the notion that “a million (white) people from Bosnia moving over the years to EU (Germany mostly) will be replaced by a million people from the Middle East”; a third of the country’s 3.5 million inhabitants.

Similar to the media, public opinion about migrants has ranged from extremely positive, through to street protest against migrants, even blocking migrant children from going to school. In the beginning, people all across the country were unified in gathering aid and providing places to live. As time goes by and the number of migrants has been increasing continuously, and the enthusiasm had faded.

“I’m Muslim and they’re Muslims too. Firstly we all had a strong feeling of compassion since Muslims in Bosnia’s war were the most numerous victims, and most of these people are also victims in their country. Now, a year later, I must say that feeling is not the same because the situation is not the same. Simply, there are too many of them here in a small town of Bihać and in the same time (our capital) Sarajevo is far away and therefore not faced with the problem as we are”, Kemal (45) from Bihać told FairPlanet.

He said, unlike a year ago, he can’t imagine having a cup of coffee in cafes in the centre of Bihać with his family anymore. “Especially if you have a daughter”, Kemal added. He also said he knows fellow citizens who benefit from migrants in many different ways. They rent them their places charging 7 euros per night per person. They accommodate much more people than the place should do and people sleep everywhere, not only in beds, and those who sleep in beds do not get to do so alone.

“It is a misperception that migrants are poor people. They couldn’t travel without the money, considering a chain of smugglers they need to pay. Every now and then some of them ask for money from their countries of origin and since they usually don’t have ID’s they pay local people 10% per transaction to use their ID’s”, he said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is considered to have one of the world’s most complicated systems of governing. To simplify, it consists of weak state-level governance, two entities, one district, and ten cantons, besides a municipality level. In such a heavy structure the process of making decisions is slow and with a lot of obstacles. It affects the citizens the most, and then the migrants as well as international organisations, which have both capacities and goodwill to help the country's migration management.

“It opens the space for smugglers, both internationals and locals. There are human traffickers who offer Bosnia’s route to migrants in Greece, Bulgaria, even in the countries of origin, and there are ones who drive them from Bosnia to Croatia, there is another that drives them to Slovenia”, said Peter Van der Auweraert, IOM Coordinator for the Western Balkans.

Recently, the EU has allocated more than 7.2 million Euros and the UK Government more than half a million Pounds to support hosting migrants and refugees. This helped to calm down the crisis which escalated in late autumn since many of migrants were still placed in improvised tent shelters, while Croatian police, according to the Human Rights Watch, were abusing, beating and extorting money from migrants and not allowing them to seek asylum. At the same time, local people in Bihać had staged the protest demanding the state-level officials find a proper solution to the rise in the number of migrants arriving in the area.

Several temporary migrant centres were open in Una Sana Canton, providing better conditions for people during the winter.

“These will not only provide the migrants transiting through Bosnia and Herzegovina with more adequate temporary shelter and assistance but also contribute to reducing the pressure on the local population especially in Bihać and improving the security situation in affected communities”, says Peter Van der Auweraert.

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Bosnia and Herzegovina
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