There are many things you don’t expect in the wooded hills that separate Bosnia and Herzegovina from Croatia. Firearms, for example. Last week there was a gun pointed at a Nigerian woman by her passeur, locked up in a house and raped. She managed to escape by jumping out of a window and is now housed in a safe house. A few days ago, a lawyer also informed us of an organ trafficking along the border and we know of gangs that, as in the best medieval traditions, rob migrants who try to cross the border. Not to mention drones, microphones in the woods, cameras, migrants branded with paint on their heads or sticks of the Croatian police. In order not to miss anything we can also mention mines and bears in the forests. After the first weeks of staying along the Bosnian-Croatian border, working actively and complicit with the migrants who daily try to cross it, we begin to get an idea of the atrocity of the EU reception mechanisms.
The black hole of Europe
The Bosnian is a young migration, which has begun three years ago, in 2018. Since then Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bih) has become the new crossroads for migrants fleeing countries at war or where political instability is strong in the Asian continent, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. The two most significant meeting centers are Bihać and Velika Kladuša, two small towns of the Una-Sana Canton in the north-western part of the country due to their proximity to the border with Croatia and to the fact that the other regions that compose the Bosnian federation openly claim that they do not want migrants and therefore do not authorize the presence of camps which, therefore, are concentrated in the Una-sana canton. And around Sarajevo.
From Bihać and Velika Kladuša there are about 240 kilometers that separate migrants from the Italian and Austrian border, kilometers that they grind on foot in about ten days with a backpack full of bread, the fear of being identified by the Croatian police and hunger and thirst of the last days, when what they had brought with them is finished and to push them forward are only hope and despair kneaded together. Often the lucky few who arrive in Trieste arrive in difficult, sometimes critical conditions.
According to a report of the IOM (the International Organization for Migration) of May 2021, there are 3,220 migrants who, at the end of April 2021, are living in informal camps outside the ‘reception’ centers. Given the immobility and ungovernability of the Bosnian state, at first it was the IOM that took care of the creation and management of the authorized camps. However, the Report denounces the progressive decrease in available places, reaching 3,242 in 2021, located in a few isolated structures, with insufficient standards (absence of electricity, hot water or essential services). This despite the fact that the European Union funds arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the management of migratory flows amounted to more than 88 million euros from 2018 to 2021.
Despite what has been written so far, the recent policy of the Bosnian government is of a progressive closure of pre-existing camps on private property, also due to the high costs paid to players who are not always transparent and the exclusion of international NGOs from the management of reception facilities. And the passage under the jurisdiction of the Ministry for Security. Probably, this will lead to the abandonment of international standards in the organization of camps that will end up being under the direct control of a country currently unable, by will and ability, to manage a migratory phenomenon, even of modest importance[[To deepen how this crisis is created ad hoc rather than justified by the numbers, see the precious dossier Bosnia and Herzegovina, the lack of reception. From the artificial emergency to the confinement camps financed by the European Union , RiVolti ai Balcani, July 2021 – https://altreconomia.it/prodotto/bosnia-ed-erzegovina-la-mancata-accoglienza/]]].
Other relevant consequences will be the progressive increase of the security logic within the camps, a paradigm shift in the purpose of these structures, increasingly similar to places of detention, and a different policy towards informal organizations and unregistered NGOs. So far, these groups have generally been tolerated by local and non-local authorities, given the impossibility for them to deal, for the moment, with the management of migrants in Bosnian territory. However, when the Lipa camp will be ready, a worsening of the repression against these organizations is foreseeable.
Lipa: a past of tents, a future of containers
The Lipa camp falls within the dynamics just described: the new settlement should be inaugurated on 6 September. “New” because on 23 December 2020 it burned down, leaving hundreds in flip flops in the snow. The new camp will consist of containers and should accommodate 1,500 people (1,000 single men, 300 family members and 200 unaccompanied minors). The strategy is to close the camps near the border areas and relegate people to this huge structure, located on an isolated plateau. Currently, the Lipa camp consists of 30 tents with a capacity of 30 people each. For the moment, 600-700 people are ‘hosted’ and they can come and go as they please; in the past, however, it has come to contain up to 1,500. Even if everything goes according to the government’s plans, it will not be possible to cover the number of migrants present in Bosnia and Herzegovina (between 7,000 and 9,000) who would need hospitalization, at least in the winter period. However, the forecast is already that of a future expansion. The goal, which is hardly hidden, is the slowdown in the flow of migrants to the European Union. The policy behind this camp hast probably started already changing the migration routes twards different areas, closer to Serbia.
Once upon a time there was Yugoslavia
If we wanted to make a comparison between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, we could say that the former has a longer tradition of managing migration flows: it started as a route in 2016, now there are 18 transit centers and asylum seekers. The number of People On the Move – PMS present on their respective national territories is similar (8,000-10,000 in Serbia, 7,000-9,000 in Bosnia). The camps with fewer services and less organized are those for single men and close to the border (for the large number of people who try the game and the management problems related to it). It happens that in winter the PMS return to Serbia given the conditions of unlivability outside the camps and for the best quality of hospitality.
Regarding the relationship between Croatia and Bosnia, the latter does not formally accuse Croatia of readmissions [[It would be interesting to make an analysis of the language used, in a substantially Orwellian logic. By “readmissions” we mean the informal (and illegal) expulsions carried out by the police of the country of entry who, in a generally violent way, return migrants to the previous country of transit without giving them the opportunity to apply for international protection. Famous is the case of the sentence of the ordinary court of Rome which condemned the Ministry of the Interior accusing it, with these practices, of simultaneously violating Italian law, the Constitution, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and even the bilateral agreement itself. Italy-Slovenia.]], as for the illegal pushbacks made within the national territory. The decisive question is therefore not the systematic and illegal violence of a police that kidnaps phones, sticks and takes off the shoes of migrants even in the middle of winter to throw them back in the middle of nowhere, but the violation of national sovereignty. Unfortunately, there are very few PMS who decide to denounce the violent pushbacks they have suffered: many do not see it as useful or are afraid that this could slow down or prevent the recognition of their refugee status. Often, much more prosaically, they have no intention of sitting still for a year to wait for the bureaucratic times of the practice or they prefer to forget without being forced to relive the trauma. Sometimes it happens that the migrants themselves justify what they have suffered “They beat me, but I am an irregular migrant ”. Regardless of the reasons, the Croatian state continues to claim that there is no evidence of violent push-backs and that the marks of the beatings, the wounds, the traumas are self-inflicted by the migrants themselves or caused by conflicts between them [[There are sporadic cases of Croatian policemen who, between 2019 and 2020, anonymously reported the criminal actions they witnessed to their union. When these complaints are dealt with and do not end with an inability to proceed, they end up hitting individual policemen presented to public opinion as “bad apples” of a healthy system that protects migrants according to international law and respecting their rights humans.]] .
“Big problem migrants”
For the time being, organized and racist citizen groups are not yet worrying. They exist and one of the most significant is led by Sej Ramić, an art professor whose slogan is “ stop the invasion of migrants ” and whose propaganda is characterized by xenophobic and racist contents. Despite having a certain following on social networks and among the people, when he ran for elections in the city of Bihac in 2020 he did not receive many votes due to the strong link of the voters with the three ethno-nationalist parties.
Where politics is lacking, it must be done
There are no collective or self-organized struggles by the PMS, this for various reasons: physical fatigue, the misery of travel and the lack of political or community leaders. There is a more than understandable selfishness that arises from the desire to survive despite everything and everyone and, in the border areas, disperses months or years of relationships built during the journey. The few battles made take place in a personal capacity.
The Bosnian government seems intent to promoting the construction of a few large camps far from the border areas, in order to reduce the number of migrants attempting to enter Croatia. This is to best play the role that the European Union has decided to attribute to this land, that is, that of a buffer state capable of reducing inputs in exchange for millions of euros of public money. All seasoned with significant levels of inefficiency, corruption and legislative and bureaucratic confusion.
The NGOs present in the area carry out difficult and precious work, mitigating what could otherwise be a silent and silenced slaughter. But they are not however able to avoid transforming a migratory phenomenon that has clear political causes and responsibilities into endless streams of single-dose despair, deaths and all individual wounds. However, the need to be officially recognized by the Bosnian government involves choices which, while tactically useful in order to alleviate suffering of migrants, may strategically involve a defence of the present state of affairs, rather than its reversal. In addition, there is a risk these organizations should consider in the design of their businesses: jungle outside the city and, consequently, the removal of migrants from urban centers and from the sight of honest citizens.
Therefore we believe it is necessary and urgent, on the part of organizations, collectives and individuals who feel solidarity with migrants and enemies of the borders, to fill that political space that the various actors of this show cannot or do not want to act. Hiding behind the fiction that we are only tourists on vacation and not political collectives, we believe it is not useful to put the question on a level that can no longer be postponed. We choose to come along the routes to denounce the deadly policies of exclusion of the poor by the EU. This is certainly an initial and incomplete reflection of ours, given that we would like it to be enriched by a multiplicity of contributions from those who work in the field and those who instead spend on other areas.
We think that in the long run not publicly recognizing the political content of our work can be counterproductive: we are not tourists who give away shorts, also because all the pants in the world would not be enough to put even a patch on what is happening here, every day.
One element of the discussion, often proposed by those who work in the field, is that bringing about some form of conflict can put businesses or even people on the move at risk. We must obviously take this into account, as it is a complex and articulated reality. However, raising the level of conflict now should be seen as opening up spaces for usability in the future, when security policies are efficient and well-established.
The demonstrations in Trieste first and Maljevac were a small but important step in this direction. We understood that it is possible to bring pressing requests even where up to that moment it seemed impossible. All this is also connected with the struggles against complaints that have arrived and that will await us in the short future. The denounced activists and activists cannot remain alone in the judicial process, we must counter this attack on solidarity by creating a common front. And we will continue to stay where we shouldn’t be.
To contact the Collettivo Rotte Balcaniche Alto Vicentino: FB page
– Dossier Bosnia and Herzegovina, the lack of reception From the artificial emergency to the confinement camps financed by the European Union, RiVolti ai Balcani, July 2021
– European Council Press release 18 March 2016, EU-Turkey statement, 18 March 2016
– IOM calls for an end to push-backs and violence against migrants along the EU’s external borders
– IOM: Temporary Reception Center Profiles
– Save the Children, “Journey (through) to Europe”, report 20 June 2021
– Is the victory of the Taliban inevitable? – The Post
– “Readmissions of migrants in Slovenia are illegal”, the Court of Rome condemns the Interior Ministry by Giuseppe Smorto, Fabio Tonacci