Thousands of refugees stranded in Bosnia and Herzegovina are living in dire conditions under rain and snow, in light of the lack of humanitarian aid and the dangers facing them when crossing the border into Croatia.
In a report published by the French site, Mediapart, writers Jean-Arnaud Dairense and Simon Rico say that the European Union, which has expressed its concern over these shocking images, is actually responsible for turning Bosnia and Herzegovina into a refugee “trap”.
Hundreds of immigrants, most of them from Afghanistan and Pakistan, are in the center of Lipa near the city of Bihac (northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina), a few kilometers from the Croatian border, and most of them hardly find shelter in the freezing temperatures.
On 23 December last year, a number of tents in the center were consumed by fire, and reports confirmed that the refugees set fire to protest against their harsh living conditions.
The suffering begins when refugees arrive in Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia or Montenegro, where they go to Bihac, near Croatia, Slovenia and Italy; But they face many complications to get out of the country.
After many months of confrontations between the police and refugees, specifically in September 2020, the authorities of the Yona-Sana canton, which includes the city of Bihac, closed the Beira camp, which is run by the International Organization for Migration. Since then, the authorities have not responded to any local or international human rights calls to reopen it.
With the closure of the Serbian-Hungarian border, then the Serbian-Croatian border, the number of refugees stranded in Bosnia and Herzegovina increased. Data from the European Union’s European Union’s Border and Coast Guard Agency in November 2020 confirms that the migration route through the Balkans witnessed a momentum not seen since 2016. It is reported that about 8,000 refugees are currently stuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about half of whom live in tents. Small makeshift spaces are spreading in abundance on the outskirts of the cities of Bihac and Velika Kladusa.
Violence by the Croatian Police
The authors add that crossing the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina into Croatia is risky. Because of the systematic violence practiced by the Croatian police against refugees, which was documented by human rights reports.
At the end of last October, the Danish Refugee Council published a new report on the violence committed by the Croatian police during the evictions.
“The testimonies collected, within about a week, were shocking. More than 75 people told us that they were subjected to inhuman treatment, harassment and sexual assaults,” Charlotte Celenti, general secretary of the Danish Refugee Council, told The Guardian.
Two months later, the German website Der Spiegel revealed new details of these violations based on a number of documents by human rights activists, and a video clip filmed by Pakistani refugees at the end of March 2020; But these documented testimonies did not produce any serious response from the European Commission to stop the violations, according to the authors.
The Commissioner for European Internal Affairs, Elva Johansson, described the violations at the Croatian-Bosnian border as “grave” and promised to discuss the matter with the authorities in Zagreb.
In the authors’ opinion, Croatia has become the guardian of the European Union’s borders in the face of refugees. And between 2015 and 2019, Zagreb obtained more than 130 million euros from the union, and it invested mainly in the purchase of security equipment, such as thermal cameras and drones to monitor the entry of migrants into its territory.
To tighten its grip on the border, Croatia has created a secret unit that is directly under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior, far from any kind of parliamentary oversight.
After media reports of the Croatian public revealed this secret unit, based on a number of testimonies, an investigation was opened into the matter. Reports confirm that a number of police officers belonging to this unit are accused of committing violations and ill-treatment against refugees on Croatian territory.