The challenge of integrating beneficiaries of international protection in the European Union
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Balkan route: new measures to prevent the arrival of asylum seekers
In recent months, the Serbian, Bosnian, Hungarian and Italian governments have introduced several controversial measures to limit illegal arrivals along the Balkan route, through which increasing numbers of people are trying to reach Western Europe.
While Bosnia was not on the actual “Balkan route” between 2015 and 2016, in recent years it has become one of the main transit points for migrants seeking to reach Europe. This can be explained by the particularly repressive migration policies of other countries in the region, notably Hungary and Serbia. Last June, Hungary had considerably restricted access to the asylum procedure on its territory, forcing asylum seekers to register, with some exceptions, with a Hungarian embassy abroad. Serbia, for its part, started construction in August 2020 on a barrier at the border with Northern Macedonia to “prevent any illegal entry”. However, the number of people transiting through the Balkan countries to reach the European Union is currently much lower than in 2015, when more than 880,000 exiles used this southern European route.
The Bosnian government, which believes that migration pressure has increased in the country, has tightened border controls:
8,463 people have been turned back since the beginning of the year. The increase in arrivals exasperates part of the population, particularly in Una-Sana, a border area with Croatia. A ban on entry and movement for all migrants, who are said to number 3,000, was decreed there on 19 August, officially to counter the spread of COVID-19. To ensure compliance with this ban, deemed “disproportionate and discriminatory” by Amnesty International, patrols are carried out by the police as well as by informal militias, and roadblocks have been set up on the roads leading to the canton.
While waiting to continue their journey to Croatia and then Italy, migrants in Bosnia are therefore forced to live outside or in government-built camps, which are regularly criticised for being outdated. Recently, the decision of the local authorities of Una-Sana to transfer the 350 inhabitants of the Bira camp to the Lipa camp, composed of tents and therefore poorly adapted to winter, was described as “useless and inhuman” by the International Organisation for Migration. Multiple human rights violations have also been reported at the Bosnian-Croatian border by the Danish Refugee Council, which reported the “shocking” practices of Croatian police officers, accused of beating and even sexually abusing several migrants.
Between 1 December and the end of June 2020, 9,300 people reached Italy through the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, which borders Slovenia, an increase of 60% compared to the same period in 2019. As a result, Italy and Slovenia have also tightened controls at their borders, increasing the number of people being turned away at the same time. According to the Italian interior minister, 962 people were “readmitted” to Slovenia in 2020, compared with 250 in the same period in 2019.