by Confronti Editorial Staff
Bosnia has for some years been an important nexus of the Balkan route, 65,000 people having transited through it since 2018. In 2020, 10,000 people were held within the country and at the borders, either as a result of the health crisis caused by Covid-19 or as a result of pushbacks carried by Italy, Slovenia and Croatia on the basis of accords dating back to the Balkan conflict of 1992-1995.
This situation has resulted in around 6,300 people being registered in official camps. These camps do not, however, provide sufficient places for the numbers in need. An estimated 3,000 people are living in abandoned houses, stations and squats in an effort to manage the winter season. For the third year in a row, thousands of migrants, originating largely from Pakistan and Afghanistan but also from Syria and Iraq, are present. They are not only single people but also entire families, often with young children. Current news reports confirm additional significant difficulties connected with the fact that it is winter, with temperatures well below zero, exacerbated by the closure of camps due to a lack of essential services: drinking water, electricity and sewerage. In the case of the Lipa camp, managed until recently by IOM (the International Organisation for Migration), a fire on 23rd December 2020, the cause of which remains unknown, completely destroyed camp structures on the very day when its closure – due to its inadequacy – was announced. Despite the aggravated situation, its residents were not transferred anywhere and those who did try to move on were stopped to prevent anyone approaching the city of Bihać.
Crossing the countries along the Balkan route requires one or more EU member states – specifically, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia and/or Italy – to be entered and exited. These member states, including Italy, are effecting pushbacks to the countries already transited without any formal basis for doing so, maintaining that it is possible for those who entered through these countries (insofar as considered “safe”) to be returned there to seek asylum. This dynamic gives rise to a chain pushback mechanism in which the member states involved shirk their responsibilities with regard to the right to asylum in the European Union. Migrants suffer harassment and other unacceptable practices whilst being pushed back, particularly on the Croatian border: heads marked with aerosols, violence, stripping, use of firearms and guard dogs to deter and attack. In 2020 Croatia pushed back 20,000 to Bosnia and Italy 852 to Slovenia.
The aftermath of the Balkan War still has an influence today on the socio-economic situation in Bosnia. IOM’s World Migration Report 2020 confirms phenomena linked to serious institutional corruption and false democracies, causing many Bosnian citizens to emigrate, so much so that this has led to one of the strongest demographic declines in the last ten years in a Western country. It is an exodus which does, however, guarantee remittances and economic support for a country in which unemployment is at 25.7% and the percentage of people who live below the poverty threshold is 16.9% .
Migrant crisis and Covid-19
In such a complex scenario, the Covid-19 health crisis has certainly aggravated the situation of the most vulnerable, amongst whom thousands of migrants in transit. Emergency measures put into place to tackle Covid-19 have in fact further impeded movement of migrants, forcing them to stay in overcrowded places which cannot provide dignified living conditions. At the same time, people have been segregated within camps and therefore forbidden to enter public spaces. Specifically, at Bihać on 14th March 2020, the authorities officially forbade anyone from exiting the Bira and Miral camps at Velika Kladuša for the period of 14 days foreseen by the quarantine.
Reasons for action in Bosnia
The Balkan routes and the Central Mediterranean Route are known to be the most travelled and most dangerous in the last ten years. As can be seen from the map below (fig.1), 2020 was characterised by a significant rise in crossings compared with 2019: 78% for the Balkan Route and +154% for the Central Mediterranean Route. Conditions for migrants who cross and remain stuck at these borders are extremely degrading as well as constituting systematic violations of human rights and international treaties which European states should support.
The pushbacks affected by Italy to Slovenia, the socio-political context illustrated above and the violence to which people are being subjected has raised the concerns of Italian Protestant churches, which have operated for years already in the most acute spots of the migration crisis. The Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) has, through its Mediterranean Hope programme, already shown itself to be capable of reading and interpreting border hubs as key locations in which to operate, advancing a strong Protestant testimony inextricably linked with incisive humanitarian action and political vision: in Lampedusa with its migration observatory; in Lebanon with its Humanitarian Corridors; in Sicily with widespread reception for the most vulnerable and in Calabria with its seasonal workers subject to labour exploitation and the instability of tent cities. A very important development of this action in Calabria is Ethica: a fair trade initiative aiming to open new and international markets to companies granting a minimum wage to the employees, immigrants or Italians. The exacerbation of the crisis in Bosnia and the real possibility of action in this region is thus located, organically, in MH’s own strategic vision of operating at the borders, providing support and collaborating with initiatives already underway on the ground.
FOR INFORMATION AND CONTACTS:
Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI)
Via Firenze 38 – 00184 Rome (Italy)
tel. +39 06 4825120