Urgent Humanitarian Situation: Migrants in BiH – Update Nine: 23 December 2018

Posted: 23. Decembra 2018. in Intervjui

“At 6am, before the break of dawn, in what once used to be a pizzeria, a group of war veterans begin their working day providing warm meals for refugees stranded in their hometown. In this small town at the border of Bosnia and Croatia, where human rights violations persist, and dignity is withheld from hundreds of people searching for a better life, locals are at the forefront of humanitarian initiatives. Earning themselves infinitely more respect among refugees than any of the international organisations working in the locality.”

In memory of Lord Ashdown

We were saddened to learn that Paddy Ashdown passed away yesterday. He was the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina between 2002 and 2006, and is remembered by ordinary people in the country as one of the few senior international officials who actually achieved something useful during his term of office. And after he moved on, he continued to advocate for a sovereign BiH, free from the pernicious influence of its two larger neighbours.

On 6 May 1995, Croatian president Tuđman drew Lord Ashdown a map on a napkin of how Bosnia could be divided between Croatia and Serbia. This napkin was later presented as evidence to the Hague war crimes tribunal.

One of the few acts of the international community since the end of the war that we have heard Bosnians comment on approvingly, was Lord Ashdown’s initiative to change the number plate system. Previously, the town of residence of car owners was advertised loudly and clearly by the first two letters of the number plate, which during the war (and for a good ten years afterwards) was equivalent to writing “shoot me” on the vehicle whenever someone ventured into territory controlled by another party. Now this blatant ethnic/religious label has been removed.

At the Srebrenica 20th anniversary memorial service in London in 2015 Lord Ashdown lamented that “the international community has let Bosnia down”. Alas, when has it done anything else?

This year he was scathing of the current Croatian president’s “advocacy” on behalf of Bosnian Catholics; and of a proposal to swap territory in southern Serbia for northern Kosovo, which would only encourage the secession of Republika Srpska from BiH.

When John contacted Lord Ashdown after his visit to VK in September, he immediately expressed his support, and used his influence to advocate for the plight of migrants in the Balkans at the highest level.

Počivaj u miru – Rest in peace.

Background to the Migrants Crisis in BiH

Last Tuesday was International Migrants’ Day. A timely reminder of the 258 million “migrants” in the world today, of whom 28 million are children and young people: https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/plove-morem-idu-kroz-planine-u-potrazi-za-boljim-zivotom-258-miliona-migranata-sirom-svijeta/181218011?fbclid=IwAR3E7Xs7B573-MselwAVAVWV7xij5nWnrzpxo3shkKVFI6c3_smHKI5jWsA The UN agency responsible for migration, IOM, aspires to “seamless migration” for all who choose to relocate.

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 rudimentary shelter and totally unacceptable conditions. 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.

The situation facing migrants and host communities in BiH remains of considerable concern. There has been no central, inter-agency source of information aside from these weekly updates – compiled from afar – and the overall picture remains hard to follow. But last week, on Thursday 20 December we were delighted to receive the first ACAPS Briefing Note on the Migrant Crisis in BiH. This comprehensive document provides the latest facts and figures, maps and locations of vulnerable groups and an analysis of priority areas of humanitarian need and constraints. We greatly welcome this expert support of ACAPS in providing impartial and well researched information for multiple stakeholders to use as a basis for decision making. https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20181220_acaps_start_bosnia-herzegovina_increase_in_migrant_arrivals_0.pdf

The situation facing Migrants in Bosnia on Sunday 23 December 2018

  • A migrant in the Bira camp in Bihać died on 13 December, apparently from an overdose. The cause of the death has not been officially confirmed, but news of the death has just come to light; the cantonal task force was not informed.
  • A local nurse was recently asked by a foreign aid worker, presumably from the Danish Refugee Council, subcontracted by UNHCR to ensure the provision of health care for migrants, whether they had the facilities to carry out amputations in the event of frostbite.
  • A few days ago the Bihać Mountain Rescue Service saved a group of migrants from “certain death” from exposure, and they expect to have a busy winter as migrants continue to try to cross the border: https://www.oslobodjenje.ba/vijesti/bih/izbjeglice-ne-prezaju-ni-od-krajiske-zime-koliko-ih-stigne-zivih-a-koliko-ih-nestane-u-putu-419040


  • “The Locals of Velika Kladuša put International Agencies to Shame”: This article published last week provides a touching account of how Mr Asim Latić Latan, a local restaurant owner in Velika Kladuša, has turned over his premises to provide free food for any needy migrant. In the restaurant all meals are served warm, on fine china plates and with metal cutlery, salt, pepper, water and napkins on the tables. Latan serves his new patrons the same way he would serve any patron that comes in, only they are allowed to eat for free. The restaurant provides a welcoming, dignified and respectful environment – where everyone is addressed as “Kolega” – which translates as “Colleague” or “Friend”.    

https://medium.com/are-you-syrious/ays-special-locals-of-velika-kladuša-put-international-organisations-to-shame-5d4ba6b8eb2b?fbclid=IwAR1Xj3lvLPigF_vGigWbQ8ncBL5g7s-AIUGHvuZ9qDjkB8HXBjtxIU7nqb8

  • On Tuesday the Croatian NGO Centre for Peace Studies submitted a complaint against the police officers filmed returning migrants to Bosnia, as reported last week: https://www.cms.hr/ . They also called upon the Croatian interior minister and the police commissioner to resign.
  • Although the Borići centre was originally a dormitory it is in very poor condition and not suitable for accommodating people in the harsh winter months ahead. Therefore, migrants from Borići have been transferred to the Bira factory building, which we understand is now accommodating some 2,000 people. 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.
  • Therefore, taking into account the large numbers at Bira factory building, 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)

530
Bira – Bihać 2,000

(including some in tents outside)

1,200
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

 

Specific Issues and Areas of Need

  • Appropriate shelter and accommodation: Winter conditions will continue to highlight the importance of appropriate accommodation for migrants. The average winter 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 Security: Correspondingly, the provision of adequate food 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
  • First Aid and access to 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, and access to health care is reported to also be very limited for many vulnerable people in the resident population too. There seems to a significant problem of coordination and referral pathways between healthcare actors, resulting in persistent unmet needs identified amongst both registered and non-registered migrants as well within the most vulnerable of the resident population.
  • Exposure to Violence: 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
  • 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.

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.
  • Latan’s restaurant in Velika Kladuša provides two hot meals per day, free of charge for any migrant. This service is now financed by Lemon Foundation, a small NGO from the Netherlands and is supported locally by volunteers from SOS Team Kladuša.

 

Comment:

Despite recent improvements in access to shelter in buildings for the winter months, this crisis is far from being over. Conditions remain very basic in many sites, with worrying gaps in a number of areas, including; exposure to violence, access to health care and seemingly ongoing coordination issues between stakeholders. These gaps and key priorities have been highlighted and examined by last week’s very helpful ACAPS Briefing Note, which provides a strong evidence base for decision makers. The recent CHF 3.3 million IFRC Emergency Appeal has demonstrated that 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, and a full recording of the debate is available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?intervention=1544688943340 . 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.

The wider Migrant Crisis across the Region

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 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.

Email: PVANDERAUWERAERT@iom.int

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

ACAPS Geneva: Daniel Chaplin, Information Analyst.

Mobile: +44 (0)7908 499519 Skype: danrchaplin  Email : drc@acaps.org

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