What role for cities in terms of reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees?
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Bosnia: concerns about the plight of migrants and asylum seekers
With more than 7,300 people currently living in the canton of Una-Sana, in north-western Bosnia and Herzegovina, the authorities are under pressure to find a lasting solution as winter approaches.
Tensions are mounting in this canton, as the number of people hoping to cross the Croatian border into the European Union continues to rise. Following an official visit to the country on 1 October, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, pressed the Bosnian and Croatian governments to act as quickly as possible to improve the living conditions of these people. Referring to the Vučjak camp in particular, close to the border with Croatia, he also stated that “the location […] of the site [is] absolutely inappropriate and inadequate for accommodating human beings”. Noting the lack of drinking water, electricity and medical assistance, he then called on the Bosnian government to offer alternative accommodation and to put an end to forced transfers to the camp.
Despite these warnings, on 15 October the local authorities announced that anyone living in informal housing, squats or public spaces in the canton of Una-Sana would now be transferred to the Vučjak camp. Officially, the purpose of this transfer was to provide them with adequate shelter as the winter approached, while at the same time allowing “a return to normality” for the disgruntled inhabitants of Bihac, situated close to the camp. The mayor, Suhret Fazlic, then spoke out against this transfer decision, and announced that the local authority would stop providing assistance to the camp as of 12 October in order to “force the government authorities to finally do their job”. On 15 November, the local authorities threatened to impose a policy of “total containment” in the Bira and Miral accommodation centres, which are also situated close to the border with Croatia, in order to force the Bosnian government to relocate their 2,300 residents and to ensure that lease agreements would not be renewed.
Peter Van Der Auweraert, representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina of the International Organization for Migration, which has been responsible for managing the two centres since the end of 2018, has strongly criticised this blockade, which could have serious humanitarian consequences in the region. People who can no longer be accommodated there will now seek refuge in the surrounding woodland, which is already home to 1,500 people living in makeshift shelters or in the Vučjak camp. During their respective visits on 14 November and 6 December, the European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, called for the camp to be closed, an appeal to which the Bosnian authorities finally agreed. The evacuation of the camp lasted two days and took place on 10 and 11 December. Residents were transferred close to the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, either to the Ušivak camp (370 people) or to the Blazuj barracks (330 people), which is still under construction but where all migrants should eventually be housed. In a second step, the more than 4,000 people that Médecins sans Frontières estimates to be living in the surrounding woods or in squats, will be offered relocation to reception centres elsewhere in the country.
This text compiles various articles originally published in French in “Veilles Europe” by France Terre d’Asile in recent months: see the editions of 1–15 October, 16–31 October, 16–30 November and 1–15 December.