As public attitudes towards migrants and refugees reportedly deteriorate across Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country’s Security Minister suggested on 23 April that non-citizens should be deported from the country. Alleging that they pose too great an economic burden during the pandemic – as well as a security threat – the Minister said that he would submit a proposal to Parliament. “(Migrants) who do not want to show their identity cards will not be allowed any more to use our migrant and refugee camps,” he said. “They will go straight to jail. And we will keep them there for one to five years until we can establish their identity. This is our proposal for a new law.” Although the Minister did not state a date for when his proposal would be ready for debate, the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs has announced that it has already begun preparing a list of persons to be deported.
In addition to its dedicated immigration detention centre in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s reception centres, many of which are severely overcrowded, are operating as temporary detention sites as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to UNHCR, as of 28 April, “BiH authorities reported 36 new irregular arrivals (for the month) of asylum-seekers and migrants to the country, adding to the total for 2020 at 4,459.” This is a modest decrease compared to the same period in 2019 when, when authorities reported 5,288 arrivals. The agency reported that “The number of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants accommodated in reception centers and other formal accommodation currently in the country is 6,266, while some 3,000 persons are estimated outside formal accommodation or on route. For the time being, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified affecting asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants.”
In addition to the asylum reception facilities, the country has worked with the IOM to open what it terms a “temporary reception facility” in the town of Lipa, called “Lipa Camp.” According to BalkanInsight (21 April): “Despite opposition from Bosnian Serbs, migrants and refugees who were living rough are being resettled to a temporary reception centre near the village of Lipa in the country’s north-west. The authorities in the Una-Sana Canton, in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, moved a first group of about 120 migrants and refugees to the new reception centre in Lipa, not far from the town of Bihac, on Tuesday. In total, about 1,000 people who have been living on the streets of Bihac and nearby towns in the recent weeks because there is not enough space at existing reception centres will be relocated to the Lipa camp. In mid-March, the Bosnian authorities imposed restrictions on the movement of migrants and refugees and ordered them into temporary reception centres as a part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
During a webinar organized by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on 23 April, a Senior Regional Protection Officer at UNHCR raised concerns regarding reception sites in Bosnia, more than two-thirds of which are overcrowded. He underscored growing xenophobia in the region, stating that ‘’the number of problems that undocumented migrants and asylum seekers faced historically have increased with the coronavirus crisis.’’ While pointing out the closing of borders and other security-oriented measures, he called for the necessity to keep providing humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and refugees.
UNHCR also reported in its 28 April update that “COVID-19 related restriction of movement for asylum-seekers and migrants in reception centres continued to be in force. Residents are unable to leave the centres unless exceptionally and with a special permit. Overcrowding in the largest reception centres makes isolation measures incl. physical distancing difficult to implement. Limited freedom of movement freedom creates situations of tension among residents incl. increased risk of gender-based violence.”
- OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ‘’Protecting and Promoting the Rights of Undocumented Migrants and Asylum Seekers in Times of Crisis,” Webinar, 23 April 2020, https://www.osce.org/odihr/450250
- D. Kovacevic, “Bosnia Shifts Vulnerable Migrants and Refugees to New Temporary Camp,” Balkan Insight, 21 April 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/21/bosnia-shifts-vulnerable-migrants-and-refugees-to-new-temporary-camp/
- UNHCR, “UNHCR Bosnia and Herzegovina Covid-19 Special Report #2 Preparedness and Response (1-21 April 2020),” 21 April 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/bosnia-and-herzegovina/unhcr-bosnia-and-herzegovina-covid19-special-report-2-preparedness-and
- Bunk Beds in a Large Tent at the Temporary Reception Centre in Lipa, (IOM, “Bosnia Shifts Vulnerable Migrants and Refugees to New Temporary Camp,” D. Kovacevic, Balkan Insight, 21 April 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/21/bosnia-shifts-vulnerable-migrants-and-refugees-to-new-temporary-camp/)
- Al Jazeera, “Bosnian Security Minister Wants Thousands of Migrants Deported,” 23 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/bosnian-security-minister-thousands-migrants-deported-200423204158380.html
- Infomigrants, “Bosnian Minister Proposes Deportation and Incarceration of Migrants,” 24 April 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24333/bosnian-minister-proposes-deportation-and-incarceration-of-migrants