Bosnians protest in Bihac as migration strain grows

Croatian police say rock fall killed two migrants found dead in forest

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has refused to accept migrants in his region and called their arrival part of a conspiracy to boost the country’s Muslim population. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has refused to accept migrants in his region and called their arrival part of a conspiracy to boost the country’s Muslim population. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

 

Residents of the town of Bihac in northwest Bosnia have protested against the country’s handling of growing numbers of refugees and migrants, thousands of whom are now living in grim conditions as they try to cross into European Union member Croatia.

About 4,000 people from the Middle East and Central Asia are now sleeping rough or staying in makeshift hostels close to Bosnia’s border with Croatia, most of them in Bihac and the frontier town of Velika Kladusa.

Several dozen people rallied in Bihac on Monday to demand that Bosnia’s central government in Sarajevo do more to register and provide for the migrants and restrict the flow of new arrivals to the Una Sana canton.

Several people have been injured in the region and at least one killed in recent fights between migrants, and at the weekend Croatian police found two dead migrants in a forest about 85km from Velika Kladusa. Officials said on Monday that the pair were killed by falling rocks during a landslide.

Aid groups say the summer heat, squalid conditions and deepening desperation of migrants in Bosnia are exacerbating the threat to their health, as they take greater risks to enter Croatia. The migrants are also making more frequent reports of alleged beatings by Croatian border guards, which the authorities deny.

Tourist trade

In Bihac, residents and officials largely blame the national government rather than the migrants for the situation in the town, but complain that the health and security situation is increasingly alarming and the tourist trade has suffered.

The town’s mayor Suhret Fazlic, who supported Monday’s protest, said last week that it felt like Bihac was “sitting on a powder keg”.

“I think that the problems remain while the migrants keep coming. The state institutions have been demonstrating inefficiency since the beginning,” he told Bosnia’s N1 news service.

“Nobody knows how many of them are in Bihac . . . nobody knows who those people are,” he added.

The EU last week pledged €6 million to help Bosnia tackle migration-related problems, two months after giving it €1.5 million to help it cope with the issue.

Bosnia’s response to the growing crisis could also be hampered by the approach of national elections in October, as parties try to make political capital out of the issue by blaming rivals and shunning co-operation; nationalist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, for example, has refused to accept migrants in his region and called their arrival part of a conspiracy to boost the country’s Muslim population.

Bosnian has registered the arrival of more than 9,000 migrants so far this year, well over 10 times the number counted during the whole of 2017; several thousand are believed to have reached Croatia, many with the help of people smugglers.

Most of the migrants arrive in Bosnia after crossing overland from Turkey to Greece and travelling through Albania and Montenegro.

This route emerged following moves by several Balkan states to close their frontiers to migrants in March 2016, after more than a million people from the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa crossed the region the previous year.