Report from the Bosnian-Croatian Border

We ask all the responsible institutions to take necessary measures and to open the border with Croatia. In this way, we demand that basic rights — right to freedom of movement of people and good, as well as to work — are fulfilled.

With this message, people from Velika Kladusa want to reach the local government, the authorities in Croatia, and also organisations like IOM and UNHCR, six days after the border crossing in Maljevac, between Bosnia and Croatia, was closed due to protests.

Photo by AYS volunteer

The protests started a day after a rumor spread about the opening of the border to the EU. Several hundred people were on the move that day, but those who arrived to the border crossing were stopped by the police from both sides.

After about 24 hours, and minor clashes with the police, people were moved and formed a small makeshift camp several hundred meters from the border area. The camp is guarded by the Bosnian police. However, Croatia do not intend to allow the border to reopen as long as the camp is there.

For six days, hardly any international organisation responsible for the well-being of refugees and migrants visited the camp. No IOM or UNHCR are visible at the site, even though the head of the IOM claims, as reported by local media, that they are providing first basic help, including medical aid, food and water.

While local doctors, supported by MSF, are providing medical help, people in the camp have to provide food for themselves, with the only help arriving from the local community.

Photo by AYS volunteer

The local population in Velika Kladusa, a small town of about 25,000 people, is providing food, shelter, and most of the help to all those who have arrived to the city since February this year. Kladusa is one of the cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina that was heavily affected by the war in the Nineties. Big industry in the city is destroyed, and most people work for small scale businesses, and often with import-export of goods.

At the same time, since the prices in Bosnia are much lower than in the neighbouring Croatia, many people come to Kladusa to buy basics. Over the last six days, due to the closure of the border, all this has been interrupted or diverted to other border crossings that are much further away.

Additionally, many people from Kladusa left the city due to the lack of jobs, and they live in Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Italy, coming home for the weekends. This is now impossible as well.

The day before the protests, representatives from the city went to negotiate with protesters promising that they will continue supporting them, but in order to do that they need to continue working. However, they refused which provoked a wave of dissatisfaction.

“We are not against the people,” many people in Kladusa keep saying, explaining that they understand the difficult situation, but they are afraid that if the blockade continues, they will not be able to support themselves.

Additionally, negligence by the responsible authorities and big INGOs in Bosnia, left thousands of people on the move — like it is the case in Kladusa — on their own, and only supported by locals. In Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, Velika Kladusa, Bihac and all other cities where there are refugees, the burden is on citizens.

Bosnia is very poor country and after 10 months, the situation is becoming really more difficult, especially with another winter on its way.

Nevertheless, many people in Kladusa are willing to continue offering help, as long as they can and with their own means, aware that this is not the solution.

The support coming from the big INGOs is risible, and their role in the crisis in Bosnia is generally very murky. Most of the time, as in Greece, they are playing the blame game with the government.

Photo by Chiara Lauvergnac

Meanwhile in Sarajevo

In the last weeks several camps have hastily been opened in the areas of Bihac and Sarajevo. The recently opened Usivak camp near Sarajevo is already full, not to say overcrowded. There are already tents put up in the warehouse, which was intended to be a free shop and a place for activities in cooperation with volunteers.

On Saturday, an estimated 420 meals were served according to official numbers. It is hard to tell exactly how many people live in the camp and no one was prepared to receive this many people so quickly. People are more or less just passing in and out, especially given the unclear circumstances with registration. Funding for 400 meals is secured by the local NGO Pomozi.ba, but over that number IOM will have to provide extra funds. The food is cooked by volunteers. The lack of health screening remains an issue.

Among the organisations working in the camp are UNHCR, IOM, UNICEF, SFA (Service for Foreign Affairs), and the volunteer groups AidBrigade and Collective Aid. Non-Food-Items distributions will hopefully start this week.

People keep arriving in Sarajevo from both Serbia, Montenegro and from the border with Croatia. The Bosnian police is stopping refugees from entering the Una-Sana Canton. They control cars and buses on the road to the Bihać and Velika Kladuša. Refugees are forced to leave the buses and are later sent back to Sarajevo even though there are not enough facilities to accommodate them. Refugees are refusing to leave the border, well aware that being there is their only option.

Moreover, it currently seems that SFA will not register people at their office in Sarajevo any more, but only in the camp. This means that people arriving in Sarajevo will have to go to the camp, about 45 minutes outside of the city in the town of Hadizici, in order to obtain their mandatory white cards.

Featured photo: No One is Illegal, protests at Bosnian-Croatian border by Chiara Lauvergnac