Within eyeshot of the Bosnian-Croatian border, thousands of refugees are camping in squalor on a former garbage site. Their supplies are scarce. Photographer Dirk Planert was among them.
It's estimated that 8,000 refugees live in Bihac. The camps are overcrowded and every day there is talk of burglaries. There was a stabbing in front of the kindergarten. Next to Camp Bira, there were about 500 people not registered with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In mid-June police picked them up and drove them to a site called Vucjak.
800 people on the garbage
Within a few days, police continued to bring more refugees to Vucjak — a site that was the city's garbage dump for decades. It was covered with soil and then flattened. Local residents say it is omitting methane gas. Apart from the putrid stench, there are only three tents and some drinking water tanks. No toilets, no showers, no electricity, no paramedics.
Red Cross hopes for relief workers
Local Red Cross workers from Bihac say that neither the government in Sarajevo nor the IOM are giving them any funds to look after the refugees or buy medical supplies. The IOM staff stopped by briefly but did nothing. They then made a plea to the people of Bihac to donate food.
Eating in filth
Those at the camp receive paltry soup and bread twice a day from the Red Cross. There is no electricity, no toilets, no showers, and no way to wash clothing. Almost everyone has skin rashes, open or purulent wounds, and their legs and feet are bloodied. There are no doctors. Red Cross medics say they have inadequate supplies to provide relief.
Abdul Rahim Bilal screamed in pain as he was unloaded from a police van. Shortly afterward he became unresponsive and lay in the dirt with his hands on his appendix. The bus drove off. After desperate calls for help, another policeman called an ambulance which took half an hour to arrive. According to the hospital, he was released three days later.
Stories of war
Most in the camp are young men from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. Some also from India, Egypt, and Gaza. The refugees in Vucjak have been making their way to Europe for at least 10 weeks, some even up to three years. They speak of the war in Syria, terrorist attacks and police violence in Pakistan and air raids in Gaza.
No strength left
Jouma Al Hamid was in an Assad prison in Syria. He comes from the Idlib area. He's been on the road for three years and spent one year in Camp Moria on Lesbos. "I can't take it anymore," says the 26-year-old. "I just want to live in a house, that's all. I'm frightened, by the police, by criminal gang lords here." People smugglers charge €3,000 ($3,400) but he does not have it.
Hassan Ali was forcibly removed from Camp Bira to Vucjak by police despite being registered as a migrant at IOM and having a place in the camp. They gave him no explanation: "The police arrested me in town. When I showed my IOM card and said I was in Bira, they said if I say that again they will beat me. Then they brought me here. I don't know why."
Being a child at the garbage dump
The youngest refugee at former-garbage dump campsite is 12 years old. He actually should be at Camp Bira, or in one of the hotels where women and children are accommodated but the police picked him up and brought him to Vucjak. His only possessions are the clothes he is wearing.
This is not a camp
They are crying out to be heard. That is why I brought the paper and a marker. A woman from a French human rights organization helped them to write a sign so that so that it was legible. A desperate attempt to get help.
The EU knows everything
The EU can't deny that they know what the situation is like here. Two EUFOR soldiers were in Vucjak and witnessed everything. They will have reported to their headquarters. This situation is strongly reminiscent of the war in Bosnia. Bihac was a "UN protection zone" but only on paper. UN observers were here and they didn't do anything. Just like EUFOR.
Author: Dirk Planert
First published: July 1, 2019
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