Harsh weather leave thousands of migrants stuck in Bosnia

Thousands of migrants on route to the European Union are stuck in Bosnia because of the cold winter and tight border control in Croatia.

More than 3,000 migrants, including those from Afghanistan, are living in three improvised camps in the border towns of Bihac and Velka Kladusa, where aid workers are providing them with food and shelter. In one makeshift camp which is being set in an abandoned factory, 2,000 migrants live in tents and containers.

Bosnia has become one of the most popular transit countries for irregular migrants since the closure of the former Balkan route through Hungary and Slovenia. Thousands of hopeful migrants and asylum seekers hope to cross into Croatia and make their way to wealthier EU member states. Since January 2018, over 23,000 asylum seekers and migrants mainly from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran have made their way into Bosnia.

“Here is a big problem with winter, when it is finished, I am going to try again,” said Hamza, a migrant from Pakistan, on Reuters.

To stem the flow of migrants, the Croatian government and the EU border guard Frontex, have stepped up border surveillance of 1000 kilometres of land border. Migrants told Reuters about abuse by Croatian police, an allegation the country denies.

The EU has allocated some 9.2 million euros in 2018 to help Bosnia cope with migrant influx. But the growing numbers in Bosnia has prompted the Bihac mayor Suhret Fazlic to say they must be stopped. “The newcomers, the new migrants coming to Bihac, have to be stopped. And the surplus of migrants who are already in Bihac, they have to be removed somewhere, because Bihac is a small community with just some 50,000 inhabitants. If you have 5,000 migrants around here that means 10 percent of the local population – and that is the problem,” he said on an interview with Euronews in November 2018.

He added: “European countries such as Croatia, Italy, Austria, Germany (…) should receive these people. They all want to go to Germany, Austria, Italy, Croatia, France… They do not want to stay in Bosnia, that is the problem.”

TMP – 20/01/2019

Refugee and migrant camp in Bosnia near Croatian border. Ajdin Kember/Shutterstock