Migrants at the tent camp in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina | Photo: EPA/FEHI
Migrants at the tent camp in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina | Photo: EPA/FEHI

Refugees and migrants attempting to make it to the European Union via Bosnia have been stuck in a bottleneck. The country's economy is weak, unemployment high, and the government is struggling to address the alleged pushbacks by Croatian police. Amidst simmering tensions, authorities ordered the establishment of a new refugee center in Vucjak.

A landfill in the Bosnian town of Vucjak is the new home for hundreds of refugees and migrants. The new camp is just eight kilometers from the border with EU-member state Croatia, and it is surrounded by landmines that have been in the ground for more than two decades.

Until the camp opened last week, hundreds of migrants were sleeping rough in Bihac and other border towns in the northwestern region of Krajina, the Associated Press reports. Bosnian authorities relocated around 1,000 people to Vucjak where they are provided with tents and Red Cross meals.

The United Nations (UN) condemned the Vucjak camp as unsuitable for human life, saying that the risk of explosions due to landmines and underground gas formed by decomposing garbage at the landfill. The UN demanded Bosnian officials return refugees to Bihac.

Losing hope

Many refugees and migrants in the country look to leave Bosnia and enter Croatia and the European Union. But the poor conditions in the camps and reports of Croatian border patrol beating and robbing refugees before pushing them back into Bosnia keeps some from attempting the journey.

"We all want to pass to the dream, (to) united Europe. For freedom and good life," camp resident Ramadan from Egypt told the Associated Press. "But I do not think (it will happen)."

Croatia denies reports that its police force is brutal to migrants at the border. The mayor of Bohac, Suhret Fazlic, rejects the denial.

"Croatia treated us unfairly from day one...they've been pushing migrants back to Bihac, including from deep within (Croatian) territory," Fazlic told AP. "Armed Croatian police are entering deep into (Bosnian) territory to deliver those suffering, hungry, thirsty, exhausted and sick people...and we've been taking care of them for over a year."

Entering an undesired state

While some Bosnians wish they could help refugees, their country is overburdened with the large numbers of people currently stuck in the country. 

The Bosnian war, which lasted for three years in the 1990s, forced 2.2 million people to flee their homes and around 100,000 Bosnians remain internally displaced. 

The economy never recovered, unemployment stays high, and ethnic tensions continue to plague the country. The unstable present and future have forced some Bosnians to leave their country. About 30,000 Bosnians have left so far in 2019 to work abroad, AP reports.

Bihac residents, who remember the tough times of the 1990s, initially welcomed refugees. But as more came and their abilities to take care of them fell, their patience fell as well.

"The international community and our own authorities imposed a burden on us that we cannot carry," Bihac resident Sulejman Midzic told AP. "Now they are accusing us of being inhumane, but how can we be humane when we have nothing to give?"


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