Urgent Humanitarian Situation: Migrants in BiH – Update Ten: 30 December 2018

Posted: 30. Decembra 2018. in Intervjui

“As temperatures plummet and winter sets in, temporary shelters — largely staffed by blue-jacketed aid workers and financed by NGOs and local authorities — are struggling to house and care for the migrants, raising concerns about how Bosnia-Herzegovina will cope if migration increases. “Yesterday 200 people showed up — registration took 13 hours,” says Barbara Rozić, who works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at a centre known as Bira, a former refrigerator factory on the outskirts of Bihać that is home to some 1,200 migrants.”

Miral former factory, Velika Kladuša

Background to the Migrants Crisis in BiH

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 had been no central, inter-agency source of information aside from these weekly updates, making the overall picture hard to follow for decision makers. However, the first ACAPS Briefing Note on the Migrant Crisis in BiH was produced on 20 December. 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 30 December 2018

    • IOM is expanding Miral's capacity to house Migrants by building new infrastructure and delivering 40 shipping containers.
    • However, this action to provide improved accommodation appears to have upset the local council. The council has written to the EU complaining that IOM is acting unilaterally, circumventing and ignoring the local authorities. (In June 2018, the council had decided that it did not want a migrant centre in the VK district).
    • The 40 containers will raise the Miral centre's capacity up to 700 people (six persons per container). It appears that the owner of Miral, Boris Horvat, has come to an arrangement with IOM, but IOM has not received or (allegedly applied) for any permission from the local authorities to turn what was a stop-gap measure into a medium-term solution for the whole winter.
    • It appears that the use of shipping containers has become IOM's favoured solution for dealing with the migrant crisis moving forward. While they have their advantages (mobile, economical with space, rapidly deployed for short term response), we have already expressed reservations about concentrating large numbers of mainly young men in restricted spaces, isolated from the outside community.
    • On 29 December, a public meeting was held in Polje (the location of Miral), at the initiative of local residents alarmed at the expansion of Miral. IOM did not have a representative present at the meeting. A petition was presented to the ward authorities, who hosted the meeting, and who will convey it to various higher authorities.
    • Also on 29 December, the Turkish Ambassador visited the canton. He was accompanied by the president of Kizalay, the Turkish Red Crescent. Assistance has already been provided to the Bosnian Red Cross (RCSBiH), and the Ambassador assured his hosts that more support would be forthcoming, both financially and in the form of donated clothes.
  • The site of the informal tented camp at Trnovi/Drmeljevo was flooded over Christmas, and despite reports to the contrary it appears that Migrants who were sheltering there have not returned.

 

(The Trnovi/Drmeljevo informal tented camp on 21 November 2018, where Migrants slept rough prior to trying to cross the nearby border into Croatia)

  • UK Foreign Office funding has been utilised by IOM to install street lighting outside the Bira migrants centre, Bihac. This will help increase security for both Migrants and the local residents: https://twitter.com/PeterAuweraert/status/1077539417982685184
  • On 26 December, an interesting overview of the present situation and lack of longer term solutions for the Migrant situation in BiH was provided by Maxim Edwards for Politico.EU:

https://www.politico.eu/article/bosnias-migrant-route-bottleneck/?utm_source=POLITICO.EU&utm_campaign=d5bcd91d29-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_12_26_05_29&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_10959edeb5-d5bcd91d29-189163453

Latest Figures: Updated Locations and Numbers of Migrants in BiH

We continue to try to provide accurate updated figures for each weekly update, and we are always most grateful to receive further information and clarifications from our colleagues and contributors. Please fine below updated figures as best we understand then to be as of today:

  • According to the cantonal executive, the situation has now stabilised: IOM/UNHCR have confirmed that the available capacity is 3,200 Migrants in five centres, while the provision of food and health care has been taken care of.
  • Although the Borići centre was originally a dormitory it was in very poor condition and not suitable for accommodating people in the harsh winter months. In order to allow it to be improved, the Migrants were moved from there 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 work in the Borići centre is concluded, some of the Migrants may be relocated back there, but we have no further information regarding dates, plans or proposed numbers.
  • We have received information that between 180 and 220 Migrants sleep rough on the streets of Sarajevo, the figure usually being closer to 220 people.
  • We have also been informed that the stated potential capacity of 800 people at Ušivak is too high as the site is already crowded and between 550 and 650 people would be an absolute maximum
  • The expansion at Miral with 40 shipping containers is intended to raise the overall capacity of the site to some 700 people.
  • Therefore, taking into account the large numbers at Bira factory building, our revised figures for the location of Migrants in BiH, as we understand them, suggest a shortfall in under-cover accommodation for some 490 people. The breakdown is as follows:

 

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

(building being renovated)

?

(planning figure unknown)

Bira – Bihać 2,000

(including some in tents outside)

1,200
Miral – Velika Kladuša 300 700
Hotel Sedra – near Bihać 430 430
Informal tented camp at Trnovi/Drmeljevo ?

(site flooded)

0

(tents only)

Sarajevo Canton, Federation of BiH Ušivak 520 650

(maximum estimate)

House for All – Sarajevo 85 85
Immigration Centre – East Sarajevo 115 115
Asylum Centre Delijaš 154 154
Sleeping Rough on streets of Sarajevo 220

(estimate between 180 and 220 people each day, but usually 220)

0

(not under cover)

Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, Federation of BiH Refugee Centre – Salakovac 250 250
Republika Srpska Duje – Doboj East 30 30
Total 4,104 3,614

 

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, and 40 shipping containers are being installed, in the meantime, conditions are still insufficient in some of the buildings provided. 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 – including in Sarajevo itself. 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 and Red Crescent national 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 considerable improvements in access to shelter in buildings since our first update of ten weeks ago, this crisis is far from being over. Conditions remain very basic in some sites, with worrying gaps in a number of humanitarian sectors, including: exposure to violence, access to health care and seemingly ongoing coordination issues between stakeholders. These gaps and key priorities are highlighted in the helpful ACAPS Briefing Note, which provides a strong evidence base for decision makers.

But the welcome improvements in dealing immediate with the immediate crisis do not address the ongoing political challenge of seeking a longer term sustainable solution:

“Even as they focus on accommodating migrants through the winter, ordinary citizens and officials are already thinking ahead — when the season ends and the snow melts, the influx of migrants is likely to increase. ‘If more migrants arrive and fewer make it through to Croatia, accommodating the extra people will be a challenge’, according to Van der Auerwaert. ‘Bosnian state authorities were ill-prepared from the start’, says political scientist Srećko Latal. ‘Everybody knew that another corridor through Bosnia would open up sooner or later, but the state authorities pretty much did nothing’, he says. ‘The burden has fallen to NGOs and to locals, who resent the state’s lack of intervention’.”

The news that Migrants have begun to arrive in the UK after crossing the Channel in unsuitable vessels, is a reminder that this is a European crisis, not a Bosnian one. As aid workers, our focus is on the quality and appropriateness of the aid operation on the ground. But the absence of a wider political solution will only continue to aggravate the situation on the ground. 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. Over the last few days there have been major demonstrations in Republika Srpska and elsewhere, over the arrest in Banja Luka of a father who has been campaigning for justice since his son David disappeared and his body found a few days later in March. This is a reminder that the political situation in the country is very unstable, and there is great potential for the migrant crisis to become an additional source of unrest.

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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