Vulnerable Populations: Migrant Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

To continue this week’s theme of groups most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis, we have a special report about the issues migrants are facing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The following post was written by Kathryn Metz.

In light of COVID-19, the situation for migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been a restriction of their already limited freedom of movement. In March, the government of the Federation of BiH declared a state of disaster in the country and the state is using their expanded emergency powers to enforce transferring all migrants to transit centers where they are prohibited from leaving.

On April 17, the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued an order that restricts the movement of migrants and mandates that all must be housed in temporary reception centers. Migrants found outside of the centers are being collected and transported to the camps in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As such, the police are enforcing forced removals from all accommodations outside of the official transit centers. Prior to the outbreak of the epidemic, migrants found accommodation in privately run apartments and hotels, as well as abandoned buildings. Security guards at the reception centers prohibit anyone from leaving the camps and venturing into neighboring villages and cities. A riot erupted on April 12 at the Blažuj reception center outside of Sarajevo which hosts over 2,000 migrants. Hundreds were involved in the fighting, leaving 20 people hospitalized.

An activist from No Name Kitchen, which has been active along the Balkan route since 2016, reported that while in theory the BiH government is limiting movement, there are still people living outside official reception centers and attempting to cross the border into Croatia and transit towards Northern Europe.

Reception centers in Bosnia have been overcrowded for months and forcing more people into the centers further limits the resources available to people inside them. A new temporary reception center called Lipa has been established 25 kilometers from the border city of Bihać in Una Sana Kanton (USK). The authorities in USK are using the outbreak of COVID-19 as a justification for transferring thousands of migrants to this newly established tent settlement, where migrants and activists fear there will not be adequate access to clean water, heat and electricity.

Velika Kladuša is another border city in USK that has hosted thousands of migrants since 2018, in an effort of local solidarity, the bakery is donating bread and burek to No Name Kitchen and activists then distribute food to migrants living outside of temporary reception centers.

<<Tune in for the next installment of Notes from the Field on June 8th when our participants will be discussing the possible consequences of this virus.

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