New Year, New Country – IOM Steps Up Assistance to Newly Arrived Irregular Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Posted: 
01/05/18

Sarajevo IOM, the United Nations Migration Agency, is responding to increased numbers of migrants crossing into Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The latest arrivals originate mostly from North Africa, through Greece, Albania, and neighboring Montenegro.

The numbers are small in global terms, but nationally significant. Border police detained 735 irregular migrants in 2017, compared with fewer than 100 in all of 2016.

“This has put the capacity of the relevant authorities and national aid agencies such as the Red Cross under strain,” said Peter Van der Auweraert, IOM’s sub-coordinator for the Western Balkans. “In line with our mandate as the UN Migration Agency, we’ve been helping the Red Cross in Trebinje to provide on-arrival support to migrants through the purchase of food, hygienic products and clothing.”

To cope with additional arrivals, IOM has also increased the staffing of its migrant protection teams in East Sarajevo and Mostar. They are IOM’s first line responders and, when needed, provide transport and medical and psychosocial assistance, especially to vulnerable migrants.

IOM has recruited a translator for Arabic language to assist authorities to communicate with the new arrivals and an on-call doctor in Trebinje to ensure that those in need have access to medical support.

“It is crucial to treat each migrant with dignity and respect for their basic human rights, including their right to claim asylum in BiH,” added Van der Auweraert. “This is why we are reinforcing our migrant protection teams, as they play a critical role in supporting authorities with assessing needs and ensuring access to the appropriate assistance.” 

Migrants arrive cold, hungry and completely disoriented. Most are single men, but some, like Rawad (name changed to protect his identity) come with their entire family. “We sold everything we had for 5,000 euros and moved on towards Europe through Greece, Albania, reaching Bosnia on 28 December. During the trip the person who smuggled us across the border with Montenegro to Bosnia suddenly asked for additional 2,000 euros on top of the 5,000 we already paid, which we didn’t have. The smuggler destroyed our passports and dropped us out in the open somewhere in the mountains of Eastern Bosnia.”

“The smuggler destroyed our passports and dropped us in the mountains”
By Ismar Milak

While the world’s attention is drawn to the plight of migrants and refugees in Asia and Africa, a small but significant number of irregular migrants continue to arrive in central European countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, placing huge strains on local authorities.

Rawad (name changed to protect his identity) is one of 735 irregular migrants who crossed into Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017. He arrived just a few days ago, with his wife, one adult son and four young sons and daughters.

“We are from Syria, from a small town we had to flee about five years ago,” he begins.

“My family found refuge in Aleppo and stayed there until one month ago, when we decided to leave, being in fear for the lives of our children. On top of everything, one of my sons is asthmatic, while my daughter is sick too.”

“We sold everything we had for 5,000 euros and moved on towards Europe through Greece, Albania and Macedonia, reaching Bosnia on 28 December. During the trip,” he continues after taking a short gasp, “the person who smuggled us across the border with Montenegro to Bosnia suddenly asked for an additional 2,000 euros to the 5,000 we already paid, which we didn’t have. The smuggler destroyed our passports and dropped us out in the open somewhere in the mountains of Eastern Bosnia.

“It was hard before too, but this is where true ordeal started; we spent four nights in the mountains, exposed to extreme cold with nothing to support us. We were later told that the mountains and places which we passed through were likely to be covered in landmines and that we were very lucky for making it here. Our youngest daughter is traumatized. I truly don’t know how we survived this.”

The family was eventually found by local police in Pale, a small town not far from the capital Sarajevo, exhausted, terrified and hungry. One of the possessions found on them was a plastic bag with their chopped and torn passports. Since the state migrant facilities are full due to the increased influx, the IOM migrant protection team was asked to assist.

They provided the family with emergency psychological checkups and accommodation in one of Sarajevo’s hotels, where they are still located and recovering.

Recognizing the close escape Rawad’s family had in the mine-pocked mountains, IOM and the Red Cross are preparing information materials and maps identifying the areas in BiH that remain covered with minefields, following the war in the 1990s. “Migrants are not aware of this danger,” says Peter Van der Auweraert, IOM’s representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “While there have been no incidents so far, it is important to ensure that it remains this way, as some of the areas through which migrants are traveling are highly dangerous.”

IOM’s response was provided through the Direct Assistance activity of the project Enhancing Capacities and Mechanisms to Identify and Protect Vulnerable Migrants, funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

Ismar Milak is the Special Assistant to the Western Balkans sub-Regional Co-ordinator.

IOM is also increasing its capacity to offer migrants who want to return home Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) through its migrant protection teams who can help in obtaining of the necessary travel and identity documents, a return flight ticket and financial assistance at the beginning and the end of the return process.

Van der Auweraert does not believe that the country is on the cusp of a large influx of migrants and refugees, but states: “Together with UNHCR and its other UN partners, IOM will continue to work with the asylum and migration authorities to ensure that they can manage the continued arrival of small groups of migrants and refugees, also through the readmission as it is currently in place with Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia.”

For more information, please contact Peter Van Der Auweraert at IOM Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tel: 387 33 293 400, Email: pvanderauweraert@iom.int

  • IOM Bosnia and Herzegovina teams work with a newly arrived family. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM)