The Red Cross in Bosnia and Herzegovina can only provide first-aid | Photo: DW/D. Planert
The Red Cross in Bosnia and Herzegovina can only provide first-aid | Photo: DW/D. Planert

A group of foreign activists was reportedly ordered to leave the Vucjak refugee camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They claim the state has cut migrants' access to healthcare but authorities reject the accusations.

Hundreds of migrants at the Vucjak camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to have access to healthcare, says Selam Midzic, the local Red Cross committee secretary following allegations saying the Bosnian government had cut off access to medical care from migrants there.

"None of the migrants in the Vucjak refugee camp will need to go without medical assistance if they require it," he explained. "Lighter injuries where bandaging is required are treated on site. In more serious cases, we will transport people out and treat them in the nearby clinic or the canton hospital."

"Every person is equally important to us," Midzic further stressed.

Infections are common in Vucjak as the camp occupies the site of a former garbage dump | Photo: DW/D. Planert

These claims, however, directly contradict the information provided by humanitarian activist Dirk Planert. The German national had been coordinating a group of volunteers at Vucjak until local officials banned them from providing medical aid. They were allegedly ordered to leave the country.

"Refugees in the camp now have no medical assistance," Planert told DW, highlighting that many of the camp residents still suffered from wounds they had sustained when Croatian police violently pushed them back across the nearby border. And with the Vucjak camp site being a former landfill, there is a big danger of poisoning and infections.

However, Red Cross representative Midzic insists that Red Cross employees and medical professionals still provide care to camp residents: "We maintain a daily presence at Vucjak and we take care of all cases," he assures reporters.

A quarter-century relationship

German-born Planert is a journalist by trade, and his stay in Vucjak is far from being his first journey to the Balkans. During the 1990s Bosnian war, he organized and delivered humanitarian aid to the nearby city of Bihac. City officials there recently honored him with a plaque — the highest award given out by the Bosnian city.

When migrants from Africa and the Middle East started pouring across the Balkans in hopes of reaching Western Europe, Planert decided he would once again not stand by idly. Soon after the Vucjak camp was established in June this year, he rallied a group of medical volunteers from different countries and traveled to Bosnia to provide medical assistance.

Dirk Planert believes in providing hands-on assistance but says that he has now been banned from Bosnia | Photo: DW/D. Planert

Three months later, however, local authorities decided to institutionalize medical care in the camp, and thus the volunteers were banned from working. Red Cross representative Midzic says that the people in the camp needed "trained medical assistance in optimal conditions" provided by state institutions.

"Everybody needs to respect the law of whichever country they are in," he told DW despite admitting that the volunteers were "doing a good job," and that both the country and the city of Bihac needed "any help they can get."

Stuck on top of a landfill

Local officials set up the Vucjak camp to provide some relief to the nearby Bira accommodation center. With being overcrowded, more and more refugees and migrants started sleeping in city parks and meadows around Bihac, prompting complaints from the residents.

However, moving the refugees to Vucjak triggered even more criticism. The old landfill is located some 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from the city, closer to the Croatian border. It has no solid buildings or infrastructure and turns into a mud hole when there's heavy rain.

The ground continues to emit harmful gases left over from the time when the Vucjak site used to be a landfill. The migrants there have to live in tents. Vucjak currently holds between 800 and 1,000 residents, all of whom are male, including an 11-year-old boy.

Migrants and refugees wait in line to receive supplies from the Red Cross at the Vucjak camp outside Bihac, Bosnia | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/A.Alic

Even city authorities agree that the camp is not suitable for long-term accommodation, especially with winter on the way. Even so, there are issues with building more appropriate accommodation facilities or adapting pre-existing sites.

Various sources say that the EU has provided the needed funds to provide better facilities to the tune of €10 million. However, all of those upgrade projects have stalled due to bureaucratic squabbles and opposition from local municipalities.

No way out of Bosnia

Bosnia and Herzegovina currently host some 7,000 refugees and migrants, most of whom are located in the northwest of the country near the border with the EU member state Croatia. The migrants all wish to reach EU territory and continue further toward more affluent EU countries such as France, Italy, Germany, or Austria. But only few of them ever make it that far; most of the migrants are captured by Croatian police during their attempts to cross the border irregularly, and are sent back to Bosnia —after being beaten, robbed, and abused during violent pushbacks.

Croatian authorities have persistently denied mistreating migrants and refugees along the border. However, in addition to many credible testimonies from migrants themselves, there is evidence of them being injured and wounded as well as credible reports by the international humanitarian groups.

Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic | Photo: EPA/MALTON DIBRA

Even Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic admitted earlier this year that pushbacks involving violence took place:

"I have spoken with the interior minister, the chief of police and officers on the ground, and they assured me they have not been using excessive force," said Grabar-Kitarovic.


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