Migrants of all ages are stuck in Bosnia hoping to reach the European Union
Migrants of all ages are stuck in Bosnia hoping to reach the European Union

Bosnia may be on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, with growing numbers of migrants stranded in the Balkan nation. The impoverished country has seen a sharp rise in the number of arrivals hoping to cross over into the European Union via neighboring Croatia.

According to Bosnia's Minister for Security, Dragan Mektic, 5,100 illegal migrants have been registered there in 2018 so far. With the summer months typically attracting more refugees, that number could more than double by the end of the year. Mektic added that an additional 3,300 people have been "turned back" at Bosnia's border with Serbia and Montenegro.

However, Peter Van Der Auweraert, head of the Bosnian mission of the UN's International Organization for Migrations (IOM), said that around 2,500 migrants were currently in Bosnia, which meant that many had managed to cross over into the EU.

Minister Dragan Mektic worries that his country won't be able to cope with the migrant influx

But with next to no cash, decrepit infrastructure still left over from the Balkan War, as well as fragile public institutions that are divided along ethnic lines, Bosnia is in no position to cope with any significant influx of refugees.

Mektic said that this is why he has had to ask the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) for €1 million to handle the crisis.

Aid workers overwhelmed

Aid workers, meanwhile, say they are reaching breaking point. Red Cross official, Selam Midzic, who sees around a hundred migrants arriving in Bosnia every day on buses from Sarajevo, says that the situation is "exhausting."

"We will do our best, but we have our limits," he told the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency. "The state simply cannot wait any longer to get involved."

One aid worker, who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity, said that the funds from the CEB could come too late to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Bosnia - one of Europe's poorest countries.

Towns bordering Croatia, an EU member state, are feeling especially overwhelmed

Reception centers bear dangers, too

Meanwhile there have been some promising attempts at better addressing the refugee situation. For instance, a reception center for migrants has been set up near Mostar in the south of the country. Two more such reception centers are reportedly being planned, one near Sarajevo and the other between Bihac and Velika Kladusa near the Croatian border.

But Security Minister Mektic believes that establishing such reception centers could backfire and is concerned that smuggling networks will quickly spring up near them.

"Once these centers have been set up, they are surrounded by criminal groups after only two days," he told AFP, adding that the smugglers demanded €1,000 for every person they tried to drive into Croatia.

Dangers on the land route to Europe

The border between Bosnia and Croatia remains a difficult frontier for many refugees and migrants embarking on perilous journeys in a bid to reach the EU. With many of them facing problems with their attempts to reach Croatia, more and more migrants have become stranded in the border area.

For the past month, around 100 volunteers have been taking care of migrants in the northwestern town of Bihac, distributing food in the dilapidated university campus where many of them have been staying – without reportedly receiving any government assistance in their endeavors. Two weeks ago, the number of meals the volunteers prepared was 200. That number has since grown to 550.

Still, many keep trying their luck. Hamid, a 27-year-old Pakistani national, said he had tried three times to reach the EU, but had failed so far. He accused the Croatian police across the border of using violence to keep migrants out - an allegation that has frequently been made by others, including NGOs.

"They take our money, our telephones, or wreck them by submerging them in water," he said.

Migrant camps have sprung up across the country, even in the heart of the capital, Sarajevo

Another Pakistani, 26-year old Nawab, said he had been on the road for two years now in the hope of getting into Europe. "I will try to cross the border tonight. I will first go to Italy, once I'm there I will go to my uncle who is in Spain, in Barcelona," he told AFP

But with rivers and mountainous terrain, the border between Bosnia and Croatia can bear many dangers for the likes of Nawab and Hamid. Ihsan Udin, a 21-year-old Afghan migrant, drowned in the Korana, the river than runs between Bosnia and Croatia, in mid-May.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 80 migrants have died on the "Balkan route" that runs between Turkey and Slovenia, according to Doctors without Borders (MSF).


 

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