Saturday

8th May 2021

Opinion

Migrants in Bosnia: a disaster foretold on EU doorstep

  • Hundreds of migrants continue to survive in snowy mountain areas, queuing in sandals in freezing conditions for a bit of food, sleeping rough in the woods or in abandoned buildings (Photo: Hannu-Pekka Laiho / International Red Cross)

The images of the dismantling and burning down of the Lipa camp in North-West Bosnia and Herzegovina have been all over the media in the last few weeks.

Hundreds of migrants continue to survive in snowy mountain areas, queuing in sandals in freezing conditions for a bit of food, sleeping rough in the woods or in abandoned buildings.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

This humanitarian disaster is happening just a few kilometres away from the Croatian border, once more on the doorstep of the European Union.

Many of these people are fleeing from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq, and have already experienced violence and pushbacks by border guards and vigilante groups in several countries while trying to reach the EU in search of protection and more dignified lives.

As a result, many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and insomnia.

Physical ailments include hypothermia, scabies, and skin and chest infections, due to the lack of decent reception conditions and sanitation.

"It's a matter of dignity and human rights. Dogs and cattle are being treated better than these migrants at the moment", said Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina's humanitarian officer working on site, Dijana Muzička.

As one MEP rightly questioned during a debate in the European Parliament on the humanitarian situation of migrants at the EU's borders: Is this how the EU is promoting the European way of life?

This humanitarian disgrace was predictable and entirely avoidable. Since 2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has dealt with thousands of migrants transiting through its territory.

Around 10,000 migrants are currently in the country, including more than 5,000 people sleeping rough in the north-west, according to Caritas. Things deteriorated at the end of 2020 with increased tensions between migrants and parts of the local population, who are also living under difficult conditions, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In October, the local government decided to close the Bira camp and transferred migrants to the improvised and inadequate Lipa camp, less than 30km away in the mountains.

Caritas and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

Two days before Christmas, the IOM was forced to close the Lipa camp, which was burned down one week later.

Heated tents have now been installed on that same site, while waiting for a new, more adequate camp to be constructed and equipped, possibly in a few months; but conditions remain very precarious.

Humanitarian NGOs like Caritas provide support, but long-term solutions are needed and it is key to reflect on the underlying reasons and policies that have triggered the situation.

The European Commission has provided a significant budget to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which includes for the management of this humanitarian crisis.

A total of €88m has been delivered since 2018.

With this support, it is true that better conditions, both for decent reception facilities and for setting up an appropriate asylum system could be expected.

However, as NGOs have argued, responsibilities are multi-layered but the EU and its member states should not shy away from looking at their own failings.

Money alone is not a silver bullet solution: how do EU migration policies in the unfolding of this humanitarian crisis at its door?

Balkan route and EU-Turkey deal

Since 2015, the increasing securitisation of the EU's borders, accompanied by the 'externalisation' of asylum and migration management to neighbouring countries in effort to decrease migrant arrivals has led to widespread and well-documented violence and suffering.

Could it be posited that what is happening along the "Balkan route" is partially a consequence of the EU-Turkey deal and the lack of safe and legal pathways to access the EU? Sadly, the EU and its member states have turned a blind eye on human rights' infringements and human suffering for too long.

The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a European matter. The EU and its member states must use all the political leverage and financial tools at hand to ensure neighbouring countries receive the appropriate support to provide immediate and decent reception conditions, and put an end to the pushbacks and violence.

'Fortress Europe'?

More sustainably, and to avoid the repetition of similar humanitarian disasters in the future, it is high time that the EU moved away from the assumption that a Fortress Europe can rid migrants of their aspirations and protection needs, and that neighbouring countries can "manage" migration on their behalf with sticks and carrots.

Instead, EU asylum and migration policies must be quickly improved and strengthened, and safe and legal access to Europe should be expanded.

Ultimately, the European Pact on Migration and Asylum unveiled in September, which risks reinforcing bottlenecks and misery at the borders, should be thoroughly amended before final agreement.

This will be necessary to avoid more humanitarian catastrophes at the EU's borders.

Author bio

Silvia Sinibaldi is international cooperation and humanitarian director and Leïla Bodeux is migration policy and advocacy officer at Caritas Europa - a Catholic network of 49 member organisations in 46 countries working to promote the dignity of people in marginalised and vulnerable situations.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU: Bosnia 'sacrificing' homeless migrants

The European Commission is providing an additional €3.5m of humanitarian aid to help migrants made homeless in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to political infighting.

EU demands answers on Croat border attacks against migrants

EU commissioner Ylva Johansson wants to send her officials to Croatia sometime this month to make sure authorities there are complying with fundamental rights following numerous allegations of violence against migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross into the country.

Turkey snubs Greece on migrant returnees

The Greek government last week requested that the European Commission and EU border agency Frontex help return 1,450 failed asylum seekers to Turkey. Turkey has refused, citing the pandemic.

Why is Germany rushing a new Bosnia high representative?

The Office of the High Representative, tasked with coordinating international actors and ensuring implementation of the non-military components of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, has languished for a decade and a half.

The EU's perverse agenda in Bosnia

In its quest for a quick deliverable in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Union is trying to broker a deal that risks entrenching the power of Croat nationalists who are resisting moves to make the country more functional.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Czech minister plotted to bury evidence on Russian attack
  2. Putin promotes Russia's 'Kalashnikov-like' vaccine
  3. Coronavirus: Indian variant clusters found across England
  4. UN report encourages EU methane cuts
  5. EU court upholds ban on bee-harming pesticides
  6. Israeli tourists welcomed back by EU
  7. EU duped into funding terrorist group, Israel says
  8. Brussels prepares portfolio of potential Covid-19 treatments

Column

'Sofagate' was more about power than sexism

Sexism may have played a role, but the deeper meaning of Ursula von der Leyen's humiliation in the palace of Turkish president Erdoğan is political and geopolitical.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin's parade
  2. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  3. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  4. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit
  5. EU preparing to send soldiers to Mozambique
  6. EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn
  7. EU mulls using new 'peace' fund to help Libyan coast guard
  8. Poland 'breaks EU law' over judges, EU court opinion says

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us