Urgent Humanitarian Situation: Migrants in BiH – Update Eight: 16th December, 2018

Posted: 16. Decembra 2018. in Intervjui

“Thousands of migrants trapped near the Bosnian border with Croatia are ill-equipped to survive freezing temperatures and some might not make it through winter, the Red Cross said Monday (Dec 10). The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC) warned that more than five thousand migrants trapped in Bosnia and Herzegovina desperately needed help with winter setting in.

“We are concerned that, without concerted action, migrants will suffer a completely preventable humanitarian disaster,” said the IFRC's regional director for Europe, Simon Missiri, in a statement. “The clock is ticking,” he stressed. (IFRC Monday 10 December)


More than 23,000 migrants have entered BiH so far this year, and have used two different routes. There are firstly; through Albania and Montenegro and secondly, through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or Bulgaria, and Serbia. The majority of arriving people then head towards Sarajevo and Una-Sana Canton, as they attempt to enter the European Union through Croatia. Currently it is estimated that there are between 4,500 and 6,000 migrants in the country, with an average daily entry number of between 100 to 150 people. The closest settlements to the border with Croatia are in Una-Sana Canton and the City of Bihać. Correspondingly these are the main destinations within BiH for the majority of migrants.

By the beginning of November, and with the approach of winter, the situation facing migrants and host communities was reaching a crisis point. We decided to take personal action to highlight the unmet needs of literally hundreds of migrants who were living out in the open, with only the most rudimentay shelter and totally unacceptable conditions. Our weekly updates have reported how tensions increased to the point that, at Velika Kladuša, the international border crossing between Croatia and BiH was closed by demonstrating migrants, more than fifty of whom then started a hunger strike. We have reported how it was local business leaders who de-escalated the situation after a meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce, and the provision of a local factory building to provide temporary accommodation. By chance, UNHCR were present at the border when the migrants were transferred to an under-cover site and reported this to have been peaceful and consensual. After a series of negotiations over the following weeks, IOM have secured the rental of premises for the vast majority of migrants to be able to at least shelter in a building for the winter period, even though conditions are very basic in some sites.

Our objective has been to encourage coordination and cooperation between the operational humanitarian agencies on the ground, and between them and the other key stakeholders, including the concerned authorities, local volunteer groups and donors. We have advocated for a greatly increased and resourced humanitarian response, and for an acceptable level of basic accountability to meet unmet needs which seem extraordinary in Europe in 2018. We have been in direct contact with operational agencies, major donors, members of the European Parliament, Members of Parliament in the UK and a number of international agencies. Our weekly updates continue to be shared widely and have encouraged much feedback, concern and interest.

The situation facing migrants and host communities in BiH remains of considerable concern. There still appears to be no central, inter-agency source of information aside from these weekly updates – compiled from afar – and the overall picture remains hard to follow. But it is encouraging that at least the majority of migrants now  from being housed in a building of sorts funded by IOM, it is encouraging that IFRC launched a year-long CHF 3.3 million Emergency Appeal last week to cover a wide range of non-shelter needs, and it is encouraging that the media continue to highlight the plight of this desperate group of people.

We shall continue to advocate for more resources to be provided for this humanitarian response and for recognition that in the longer term, this is not a problem in the gift of BiH to solve on its own – this is a European problem and needs to be treated as such.

Meeting of the European Parliament, Strasbourg, on 13 December 2018

The European Parliament met in Thursday 13 December to discuss the situation of Migrants and host communities in Bosnia. Extracts from the Press Statement include the followed from the opening address by MEP Ivan Jakovčić:

“We must help the migrants in BiH, while simultaneously helping the authorities in BiH prevent the illegal entry of migrants” MEP Ivan Jakovčić (IDS/ALDE) stressed in a speech to the plenary as initiator of the discussion on the migration crisis and the situation on the EU’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“There are two reasons why I proposed a discussion on the situation on the Bosnian border with Croatia, i.e. on the EU border. The first is humanitarian. In the current winter conditions, migrant children are freezing. Another problem is the education of those children. Not to mention the other problems of everyday life faced by the migrants. There are also problems with the local population, as well as violence among the migrants. There is fear among some parts of the Bosnian population, as well as in Croatia”, Jakovčić warned.

“Those problems should be discussed openly,” Jakovčić says, “and not swept under the carpet”.

His second reason for initiating the discussion “is the schizophrenic position in which Croatia finds itself. On the one hand, Croatia is accused of not treating illegal immigrants properly. On the other hand, it has an obligation to guard the EU border”. The whole situation also constitutes a major challenge for the Commission, according to the IDS MEP. (an unofficial translation of the press statement is attached)

The situation facing Migrants in Bosnia on Sunday 16 December 2018

  • Although the Borići centre was originally a dormitory it is in very poor condition and not suitable for the harsh winter months ahead. Therefore, migrants from Borići have been transferred to the Bira factory building, which is now accommodating some 2,000 people. We understand that some of this is still tented accommodation because of the very high numbers.
  • When the Borići centre has been better prepared for the winter conditions, some of the migrants may be relocated back there.
  • The worst conditions which these updates have reported on, were at an informal or spontaneous camp at Drmeljevo/Trnova in Velika Kladuša. These migrants have now almost all been relocated to nearby Miral in Velika Kladuša
  • On Monday 10 December. the IFRC described the urgency of the situation facing migrants in BiH in the following media article:  https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/some-migrants-trapped-in-bosnia-may-not-survive-winter–red-cross-11018286
  • The updated figures for the location of Migrants in BiH, as we understand them, are as follows:


Location Name of Centre Current Occupancy Potential Capacity
Una-Sana Canton, Federation of BiH Borići (Dormitory) – Bihać ?

(building being repaired)

Bira – Bihać 2,000

(including some in tents outside)

Miral – Velika Kladuša 300 500
Hotel Sedra – near Bihać 430 430
Sarajevo Canton, Federation of BiH Ušivak 520 800
House for All – Sarajevo 100 100
Immigration Centre – East Sarajevo 115 115
Asylum Centre Delijaš 154 154
Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, Federation of BiH Refugee Centre – Salakovac 250 250
Republika Srpska Duje – Doboj East 30 30
Total 3,339 4,109


  • Since the beginning of December, the teacher training college in Bihać has been providing Bosnian and English language classes for the migrant children housed in Hotel Sedra. This project is supported by the Open Society Fund.

Specific Issues and Areas of Need

  • There was heavy snow throughout most of BiH on Thursday night, and more on Saturday. Winter has definitely arrived. A group of migrants including some women were caught without shelter in Ključ, prevented by the police from entering the US canton: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009318317491&sk=photos&collection_token=100009318317491%3A2305272732%3A69&set=a.2236989643288291&type=3
  • Winter conditions have emphasised the (entirely predictable) urgent need for appropriate accommodation for migrants. The average temperatures in BiH are extremely low, dropping to minus 15 degrees at night. Although IOM has made enormous efforts in adapting several centres in Una-Sana Canton, conditions are still insufficient in some of the buildings provided, and the Borići (Dormitory) in Bihać is currently under repair for the winter months.
  • Food provision, is vitally important as conditions are so poor, and this is the main area of our intervention by the RCSBiH. Some 3,000 people receive 3 meals a day, hot meals and lunch packages, throughout the country, but mostly in Una Sana Canton. This food provision is funded by IOM until 31 Match 2019 and then will be taken up by the IFRC Appeal funding
  • Non Food Items (NFIs) including winter clothes, sleeping bags and other items are also very important as the winter cold bites, and numerous agencies, including Red Cross societies have been making great efforts in this area.
  • First Aid and access to wider health care services appears to remain a major gap even with the support of UN, Red Cross and NGO agencies, as there is no provision for migrants from the Government Health Service.
  • Migrants are frequently subject to beatings and other violent acts when attempting to cross international borders. Border Violence Monitoring is a project documenting illegal push-backs and police violence inflicted by EU member state authorities, mainly on the borders of Serbia/Croatia, Serbia/Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia. The following link provides much detail, including reports and video footage of these violations: https://www.borderviolence.eu/proof-of-push-backs/?fbclid=IwAR1bzr37iDFbnnyyBqs8C1DBNvN7r0IHTKnMa6sB7bH_yLw7UeQ1r7cD6CE

Humanitarian Response by Organisation:

The central Government of BiH is in the lead with the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees and Ministry of Security allocated roles in coordinating and managing reception centres. However, the humanitarian response relies mostly on the humanitarian community, where UN agencies are the biggest stakeholders.

  • IOM is the main humanitarian actor, providing shelter for migrants by renting Hotel Sedra, Bira and Miral factories in the US canton, as well as supporting food provision implemented by the RCSBiH. Water and sanitation facilities are also provided by IOM in areas where no established infrastructure is available.


  • UNHCR is in charge of health care as well as supporting vulnerable groups by providing protection and accommodation in hostels and private accommodation. UNHCR also provided RCSBiH with significant resources and materials for distribution, including two field warehouses, six housing units, 7,000 blankets, 500 sleeping bags, 700 mats, 6,100 clothing items and 400 bags.


  • The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement: In a very welcome announcement, on Saturday 8 December the IFRC launched an Emergency Appeal “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Population Movement”, requesting CHF 3.3 million over one year. http://adore.ifrc.org/Download.aspx?FileId=220998 . The focus is on shelter (Non-Food Items – NFIs), livelihoods and basic needs, health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), Protection, Gender and Inclusion (PGI), and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).


  • The operations of the RCSBiH are supported by the IFRC and the ICRC, and by specific Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies, including those of the UAE, Switzerland, Germany Italy, Turkey and Croatia. These combined efforts have provided significant support including the provision of tents, sleeping bags, NFIs, winter clothing and mobile kitchens.


  • Pomozi.ba, a local volunteer group, organized food distributions for migrants sleeping rough in Sarajevo and are also in charge of food provision in the Ušivak centre near the city.


  • Danish Refugee Council and MSF are providing health care to migrants in the US canton. MSF also provided a container used by RC first aid teams in Borići.


  • MFS Emmaus provided food in Velika Kladuša until September 2018 and hosted a small number of vulnerable people in Duje, near Doboj. They have offered accommodation for 2,000 people in Duje, but this is off the migration route and people are not willing to stay there.


  • Latan, the local restaurant owner providing hot meals free of charge for migrants in VK, is now being supported by a Dutch NGO, Lemon Foundation.


Donor Support:

European Union:

  • Following the recent announcement of the allocation of a further €500,000 from the European Commission to continue assisting the most vulnerable refugees and migrants in BiH, on Thursday 13 December the European Parliament debated the “situation of migrants at the EU border in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (details above and attached). To date, IOM and UNHCR have received EUR 7.6 million from the EU.


  • The Slovak Ambassador to BiH visited Bihać two weeks ago and made a donation worth nearly KM 90,000 to the RCSBiH in the US canton and in Višegrad on the border with Serbia.



While the majority of migrants in the canton are seemingly now under cover for the winter, the crisis is not over. Conditions remain very basic in many sites, with worrying gaps in access to health care, and as the CHF 3.3 million IFRC Emergency Appeal has demonstrated, a considerable sum of money is needed to just maintain the stability of the humanitarian situation over the winter months ahead.

The constructive debate in the European Parliament on Thursday 13 December was most welcome. The debate reinforced the reality that the migrants are not livestock to be put into winter quarters, but they are people with human rights, including the right to benefit from a sustainable solution. Just waiting for the migrant flows to all start again in the spring, with even greater numbers, cannot be an option and humanitarian actors alone do not hold the answer to what is a European problem, not just a Bosnian one.

It will be important for stakeholders to note, that while this update concerns BiH specifically, the situation there is part of a wider crisis which remains unresolved. Indicative numbers in neighbouring Balkan countries are as follow:

Croatia: Hosts some 845 migrants currently staying in two centres.

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Hosts some 2,500 migrants registered in centres and an estimated 13,000 irregular migrants.

Serbia: Hosts some 4,000 registered migrants in centres (of whom some 1,000 are children) and an estimated 500 migrants are located in unofficial sites.

Montenegro: Hosts some 3,500 migrants in a series of centres.

Hungary: Hosts some 180 asylum seekers in two transit zones.

The funding environment is very challenging in almost all of these contexts and increased and sustained humanitarian funding will be required to avert similar conditions to those seen in BiH – until such time as a longer-term solution is agreed at political levels.



Key stakeholders and Contacts:  

IOM BiH: Peter Van der Auweraert.


UNHCR Sarajevo:

Stephanie Woldenberg. Email:  wolden@unhcr.org

IFRC Regional Office Budapest: Henriett Koos, Disaster and Crisis Response Snr. Officer

Tel : +36 1 888 4518    Mob. +36 70 430 6516   Email henriett.koos@ifrc.org

European Commission:

Press contacts:

British Embassy Sarajevo: Laurie Hunter. Laurie.Hunter@fco.gov.uk

DFID Migration Team, London:  Joe Kuper. Email j-kuper@dfid.gov.uk

British Red Cross, London: Ben Webster, Head of Emergencies.

Tel: +44 (0) 207 877 7615 Mobile: +44 (0) 7872 063 288  Email: BWebster@redcross.org.uk


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