EU congratulates Bosnia on better migration management

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) – The European Union hailed as a sign of progress the opening on Friday of a new migrant center in Bosnia, which had been criticized for the plight of migrants stranded in the dysfunctional Balkan country during their long journey to richer destinations.

The newly organized Lipa camp in the northwestern Krajina region can accommodate, screen and register up to 1,500 people and includes safe areas for unaccompanied minors and vulnerable people.

It was erected in a remote rural area where local authorities forcibly relocated hundreds of people last fall from overcrowded EU-funded and UN-run facilities in surrounding city centers due to the growing hostility from the local population.

“Exactly eleven months ago we were here, (in) the same place but under completely different circumstances, in the midst of a humanitarian crisis,” Johann Sattler, EU representative in Bosnia, said at the meeting. opening ceremony Friday. “Today we are here in this new multi-purpose reception center.

He said the Bosnian-run camp, funded with € 1.7 million from the EU, signified the “opening of a new chapter” in migration management in impoverished Bosnia – which borders Croatia , a member of the EU, where most migrants seek to continue their journey to the bloc of 27 rich countries.

The decision of the Bosnian authorities last year to leave some 1,400 people at the site of the new camp in the cold, without facilities, heat or food, angered Brussels, which threatened to withdraw its financial support to the Bosnian structures of migration management.

Under strong international outcry, Bosnian authorities scrambled to overcome local resistance before agreeing months ago to build the new facility. At the same time, the slowdown in irregular migration flows in the Balkans due to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped ease the pressure in Krajina.

Some 3,000 migrants and refugees are currently stranded in Bosnia, up from more than 10,000 at the start of last year.

The country – still deeply marked by a brutal inter-ethnic war in the 1990s – has become the last possible, albeit illegal, point of departure of migrants for the prosperous heart of the EU after a series of border closures in the Balkans in 2016.

Since then, more than 84,000 migrants have entered the country of 3.5 million people, mainly on its eastern border with Serbia, after trekking through Greece, North Macedonia and Montenegro. Less than 3% have applied for asylum in Bosnia.

At first, the Bosnian authorities were happy to signal the new arrivals to Croatia. But after Croatian authorities sealed the border and reportedly resorted to violent pushbacks of migrants, the Krajina was overwhelmed by thousands of people forced to sleep outside in forests, streets and abandoned buildings.

As hostility towards migrants grew, local authorities in Krajina began to close temporary reception centers established and operated in the region by the United Nations migration agency, IOM. At the same time, national authorities have used local resistance as an excuse to refuse to take responsibility for hosting migrants.

“We managed to turn some sort of tragedy from last year into an opportunity because we (now) have a state-of-the-art camp (…) meeting all humanitarian and human standards and run by the state “Laura said. Lungarotti, IOM Head of Mission in Bosnia.

Bosnia has made “great strides forward to improve migration management,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told an international conference on migration in Sarajevo on Thursday.

“I encourage (Bosnia) to build on this achievement to work on sustainable migration management at all levels of government, across the country,” she added.

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