In the few past months, Bosnia, a stop on the new Balkan route, has seen the inflow of hundreds of refugees, which has raised concerns in this poor country as the spring approaches.
Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic told AFP: “We have no capacity to accept thousands of refugees... although they do not want to stay in Bosnia.”
Stephane Moissaing, head of the medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) in the Balkans dismissed concerns of a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, however, he said the Bosnian authorities should handle the situation in a human way, so it does not become a real humanitarian crisis.
Until recently, those people coming from the Middle East, Asia and Africa avoided Bosnia and its mountains, but have taken the Balkan route despite the closure of the European Union in 2016.
And, instead they opted for a route through Serbia before dodging the Croatian and Hungarian authorities in order to make the union.
In the last months, an alternative migrants’ itinerary from Greece through Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia has emerged. The route, according to a western diplomatic source, matches the one taken by arms and drugs traffickers, indicating that human smuggling networks have been established.
According to AFP, one migrant Ahmed W., 19, who left the northeastern Syrian town of Hassake a month ago with a group of people including children from his family, stopped in Sarajevo, and they are currently living in a building provided by volunteers. The news agency reported that the migrant paid for smugglers to get him to Bosnia. Ahmed said that he paid thousand dollars to go from Turkey to Greece, a thousand euros to go from Greece to Albania.
According to Bosnian authorities, since the beginning of the year 700 migrants have entered the country illegally and almost 800 were intercepted at the border. Most of them are Syrians, Pakistanis, Libyans or Afghans.
The authorities fear that the end of the cold weather could spell a big hike in numbers. The country has only one available center near Sarajevo to host refugees, and it can house only 154 people.
Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic admitted recently that the situation “gets complicated,” noting that there were currently between 45,000 and 50,000 migrants between Greece and Bosnia, many of whom might try their luck through Bosnia.
The border with Croatia, an EU member state, is 1,000 kilometers long and Sarajevo has only 2,000 border police officers. According to Nidzara Ahmetasevic, a volunteer working with migrants in Sarajevo, the number of migrants in the country “is at least double” what authorities reveal. “We are in contact with more than 300 people. We have found a solution for some 50 in terms of accommodation, but we could fill two more houses of that size,” she said.
Initially intended to be a hostel in a Sarajevo suburb, the large building where Ahmed and his relatives have been staying has individual rooms equipped with toilets. Samira Samadi, 35, who left the central Iranian town of Ispahan in early 2017 along with her husband, takes advantage of a Medicine without Borders doctor’s visit to check if her pregnancy is proceeding well.
“I want to go to Germany but because of my wife’s pregnancy we can’t continue. We will probably wait here for the birth of our child.” the husband said. The couple have already tried to illegally enter Croatia but the snow and forests put them off.
Ahmed, however, will depart in a “week, maybe 10 days”. “I do not know how to cross the border but we will try and retry. We have already crossed many times,” he said.