In the frost chased by dogs, “the game” in Bosnia is the fortified wall of Europe

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Weeks go by and those photos of migrants in slippers in the cold of Bosnia have now taken on a familiar air. We know that at the gates of Europe, about thirty kilometers from the natural paradise of Plitvice Lakes, thousands of refugees are experiencing hell. The world of humanitarian organizations has mobilized to provide assistance to migrants left with nowhere to go after the closure and fire of the refugee camp of Lipa, in northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. But a wall of indifference paralyzes the lives of these people who fled their countries in search of an opportunity. It is here that the Balkan route hits the fortified wall of Europe, until the most daring try “the game”, as the attempt to cross the Croatian border is called in these parts. For those who still have enough strength in their bodies, the batons and beatings of the Croatian police – famous for the effectiveness of their pushbacks – are less fearful of a sentence to oblivion.

Alessandra Coin, head of the Community of Sant’Egidio, she just got back from one mission in Bihac, in the canton Una-Sana. “I left Padua together with a delegation from the community. We felt very questioned by this crisis so close to us also from a geographical point of view. We went to bring solidarity, to tell these people that their cry has arrived, despite the blanket of indifference that is perceived in Europe, and to identify paths for help. We met a lot of people, both inside and outside the fields. Our mission coincided with that of the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe for Migration and Refugees, Drahoslav Stefanek: we have seen and heard the same things ”. Among these is the testimony of a beautiful Iranian woman who spoke perfect English. “He asked Ambassador Stefanek: ‘What are we guilty of? Why are we beaten and humiliated like this? Is it our fault to seek the freedom that our countries do not have? ‘ Well, as a European I felt a sense of shame… Europe, which is the continent of human rights, rejects these people, beats them and drives them away by making them run after them ”.

Community of Sant’Egidio

Delegation of Sant’Egidio on a mission to Bosnia

Yeah, dogs. It is to escape their nose and their tireless rush that now the migrants who try “the game” prefer to do it in groups of 50-60 people. “It is very painful to hear them talk about what is happening to them in Croatia, where violence and torture are practiced for the sole purpose of humiliating them. They are beaten and robbed of what little they have: cell phones and power banks are burned under their eyes, their clothes and sometimes their shoes are removed. They are searched with drones and dogs, which they fear very much because once they are found they will never let go of them. This is why they started doing ‘the game’ in groups of 50 people, so maybe 30 people are blocked, but 20 make it ”.

The ‘game’ repeats itself as long as you have the strength to try. “Some have tried 4-5-10 times… Some have been rejected in Slovenia; who managed to arrive in Trieste after years of waiting, only to be deported the following day. We talked to a guy who tried ‘the game’ 24 times. They are very young boys, between 17 and 21 years old, with a desire to live, to do, which leaves you speechless “.

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They are the migrants that Fortress Europe does not want to hear about. In 2020 – remember International – 16 thousand people passed through Bosnia and Herzegovina: more than ten thousand remained blocked in the country due both to the further closure of the borders due to the health crisis and to the rejections operated by neighboring countries. In Lipa, near the old camp that burned down after closing, the army has set up tents, some heated, some not. In each tent 30-35 migrants live in inhuman conditions: there is no electricity, no running water.

Hundreds, after the closure of Lipa, poured into the nearby forests where they began to build huts of wood and sheet metal or in makeshift homes in the area of ​​the so-called “Factory”. The latter – as a report from de Linkiesta – it is an abandoned and largely unsafe industrial complex where people spend their days without food, drinking water or heating with external temperatures that can reach -15 degrees.

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In the city of Bihac, the Bira camp (a former appliance factory) is closed at the behest of the cantonal authorities, who do not want the refugees to return to the municipality. In Velika Kladuša, a little further north (the favorite crossing point for migrants, who manage to be in Slovenia in a day’s walk), there is the Miral camp. And then there are the fields of Sedra, Borici and the many informal settlements where life is improvised day after day. There are families with children, unaccompanied minors, elderly people in need of medical assistance and treatment.

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“The living conditions are terrible”, continues Alessandra Coin: “kids who drink and wash themselves with river water, get warm by lighting small fires, for food they depend on the solidarity of those few who help them”. Many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and insomnia. Physical ailments include hypothermia, scabies, and skin and chest infections, due to lack of adequate reception and hygiene conditions.

″ It is a question of dignity and human rights. At the moment, dogs and cattle are treated better than these people ”, says Dijana Muzička, humanitarian manager of Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina who works there.

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Johann Sattler, EU ambassador and special representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, defined the migrant emergency in the country as an “artificial humanitarian crisis”, and a recent study of Euronews explains in detail why. The history of the Lipa camp is a surreal political and diplomatic struggle involving many actors, from local authorities to the International Organization for Migration, from Sarajevo’s national politicians to the leaders of the European Union.

What is certain – as Silvia Sinibaldi and Leïla Bodeux of Caritas Europe write on EUobserver – is that “this humanitarian disaster was predictable and completely avoidable”. “The European Commission has provided a significant budget to Bosnia and Herzegovina which includes the management of this humanitarian crisis. A total of 88 million euros have been delivered since 2018 “. The responsibilities of the country for not having created decent reception facilities are undoubted, but equally undoubted is the responsibility of the EU in continuing to close its eyes to everything, so as not to rethink its own fortress.

Given Ruvic / Reuters

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