Bosnia and Herzegovina: where the healthcare emergency is used as an excuse for policies of exclusion, detention and rejection

On April 16th, the Council of Ministers [state government] in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), issued a decision according to which it is completely forbid any movement of migrants and refugees in the country. Previously, the Ministry of Security, a state body in-charged for foreigners and asylum seekers, issued an order according to which all the temporary accommodation centres run by the state or the IOM, have to remain close and going out or in for all the people, but employees, is forbidden.

Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Stazione di Tuzla, Lesvos calling)
Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Stazione di Tuzla, Lesvos calling)

To introduce these measures the authorities used pandemic of Covid-19 saying that restriction freedom of movement for migrants and refugees, will prevent potential spreading of the virus. The truth is that for some time, the governments at different levels (BiH has 3 levels of government) were looking for a ways to limit movement of refugees and migrants, and in some parts – like Bihać area – they even done it.

These measures introduced now, but also before, are against the existing laws in BiH, as well as against the Constitution, but also they violate the international humanitarian law. Nevertheless, they were introduced with no complaints coming from the international organisations present in BiH and responsible for well being of refugees and migrants, in the first place the IOM and UN agencies, as well as DRC and some others, who are receiving money from the EU for their work with people on the move.

Even more, due to very complicated state structure, and the fact that the rule of law is weak, and corruption over present in the country, back in 2018, when the number of people coming to BiH, on their way to western Europe started increasing, the EU decided that their only partners are international organisations. With this decision, and donation that so far exceeds 30 mil euros, the EU made the IOM as the organisation responsible for managing migrations in BiH.

However, when it comes to violations of human rights, these organisations, as well as the Office of the EU Special Representative in BiH, remains silent.

Silence was their response even when a new head of the Ministry of Security Fahruding Radoncic, back in March, declared war not only on the covid virus but also on migrants and refugees.

In one of his appearances, Radončić said how migrants are “the greatest hotspot of the coronavirus in BiH,” ordering the quarantining of the centers and with it a complete prevention of movement for migrants and refugees, threatening that, if people violate these measures, “the police has to physically force them to be there and prohibit their movement.”

Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Febbraio 2020, Lesvos calling)
Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Febbraio 2020, Lesvos calling)

The Coalition Against Hate Speech and Hate Crimes in BiH has explicitly condemned the introduction of such measures, referring to the existing Law Against Discrimination. However, their warning has hardly attracted any attention, not even from the media.

So far, not a single person among the refugees and migrants in BiH has been confirmed to be infected.

These orders left at lest 6000 people locked inside the existing 8 centres, 2 run by the government, and the others by the IOM, turning them into a real detention centres. The centres are overcrowded, and people who are living inside complain about the increase of violence from the security staff (private agencies employed by the IOM), but also the police which is preventing them from every attempt to leave the centar.

At the same time, as they report to volunteers, they have not enough food, access to water and sanitation remains scarce (as before), as well as health care or psychological support. To respect measures that could protect them from any virus is hardly possible.

The most difficult situation is in Sarajevo, Bihać and Velika Kladuša where most of the people are concentrated. In Sarajevo there are 3 camps (asylum center Delijaš, and Ušivak and Blažuj IOM run centers), in Bihać 3 (Bira, Borići and Sedra, run by the IOM), and in Kladuša one (Miral, also IOM).

Additionally, in Sarajevo unaccounted number of people are living in a private accommodation, as guests with local people, or renting rooms or apartment, some are in hostels, while large number are outside, in old abandoned buildings. The same is in Tuzla, Mostar but also many other cities.

Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Febbraio 2020, Lesvos calling)
Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Febbraio 2020, Lesvos calling)

In Bihac, the government (agains the law) prevents people from renting places for refugees and migrants, and at least 1000 individuals are forced to live outside in most precarious conditions.

Nevertheless, even those living in apartments and hostels, or those forced to stay outside, most often cannot afford food and they relay on the network of the local volunteers who at the moment depend on the help and solidarity of the groups in the EU or richer countries, who are able to send the money so that they can provide basic for the people. Additionally, many people in BiH still are helping on their own and in different ways.

Very difficult situation is in the area that are closest to the border with Croatia where push-backs are happening often. Near Velika Kladusa, in one old factory, between 150 and 200 people are living in a most precarious situation one can imagine. Among them, there are many minors, too, and they are exposed also to the violence but also to people who are using them in different ways, including sexual abuse. Nevertheless, international organisations present in the field are refusing to help them saying, according to volunteers in the field and people who are living in this place, that they are responsible only for the people inside the IOM run centers.

People who are in Bihac soon will be relocated to new camp 22 km away from the city. The camp will be run, again, by the IOM and DRC, and is built with the donations from the EU, by large. The camp is isolated, in area where no people are living, there are no shops, or infrastructure, no water or sanitation. It was promised that all this should be ready before the people start moving in, but it is not certain that it will happen like this.

Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Febbraio 2020, Lesvos calling)
Photo credit: Martina Perrone (Febbraio 2020, Lesvos calling)

Many people who are outside in Bihac are eager to go to the camps being aware that they will not be able to survive for a very long under these circumstances, relying on volunteers and other people who are helping them.

According to some estimates, at least 10,000 people are at the moment stack in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and with everything that is going on due to pandemic, their future is uncertain. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the poorest countries in Europe, it is dysfunctional state, where human rights of the local population are strangled for years, as well as in the rest of the Balkans.

A group of activist from the region, supported by many individuals and groups from across Europe, under the name Transbalkan Solidarity, recently initiated campaign asking for the same treatment for all the people no matter of their status and papers they have. In their open letter titled “No one is safe until everybody is protected”, they state how “the State of Emergency now in force in many countries of the region is a basis for the continuation and reinforcement of social inequalities and unfortunately is already serving as a rationale for the further stigmatisation and repression of the most unprotected among us. But this exceptional situation must not become an excuse for continued politics of exclusion, restriction and expulsion, suffering and distress.”

So far, the support this call got comes mostly from the people, but officials and decision makers are not responding, as well as they are staying silent about the violations of human rights of people on the move at the EU borders for years now.

#Lesvoscalling

Una campagna solidale per la libertà di movimento
Dopo il viaggio conoscitivo a ottobre 2019 a Lesvos e sulla Balkan route, per documentare e raccontare la drammatica situazione sull'isola hotspot greca e conoscere attivisti/e e volontari/e che si adoperano a sostegno delle persone migranti, è iniziata una campagna solidale lungo la rotta balcanica e le "isole confino" del mar Egeo.
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