news 07 Mar 17

Bosnia Says Migrant Wave Would Strain Capacities

A possible upsurge in the number of refugees and migrants crossing Bosnia and Herzegovina to the West would pose a severe strain on the country's weak resources, experts say.

Igor Spaic
 Refugees crossing the Serbian border with Croatia last summe. BIRN/ Filip Avramovic.

After warnings that the country may have to brace itself to receive a wave of refugees and migrants, Bosnia is preparing locations for the possible settlement of about 5,000 refugees if the Balkan "refugee route" reactivates in future.

Bosnia's security ministry last year developed a stratergy to prepare for such a scenario, predicting two major entry points for refugees from Serbia – one around the southern town of Trebinje and a northern route around Bijeljina, the Vice Dean of Academic Affairs at the Sarajevo Faculty of Criminalistics, Criminology and Securtiy Studies, Jasmin Ahmic, told BIRN on Monday.

Bosnia currently has some 1,500 places in asylum centers, and the stratergy includes establishing additional accomodation in those two areas, according to Ahmic.

But the strategy has its limits, due to the country's low capacities for handling humanitarian crises.

"If it's only for transit, Bosnia can positively handle the situation. But if they [refugees and migrants] stay for longer periods, this would certainly cause a problem," Ahmic said.

Ahmic said an influx of more than 5,000 people would be difficult to deal with, especially for government agencies like the border police and the Service for Foreigners' Affairs.

One major problem would transporting the refugees and migrants into more populated areas, due to the country's bad infrastructure.

Refugees and migrants mostly avoided Bosnia and Herzegovina on their way towards EU countries at the peak of the refugee crisis, preferring a direct route from Turkey to the West through Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary.

But last year, the states along this route virtually closed the route, after Hungary put up a fence along the border with Serbia.

According to the latest border police data, the number of refugees and economic migrants entering Bosnia and Herzegovina, while still relatively small, has increased.  

A total of 218 people were reported as illegally crossing the Bosnian border in 2016, compared to 179 the year before.

This is still a tiny figure compared to the hundreds of thousands who crossed Serbia and Croatia in only months at the height of the crisis.

But Slobodan Ujic, head of Bosnia's Service for Foreigners' Affairs, said the country may be in for a larger wave of refugees and migrants soon.

Ujic told the media that thousands of migrants stranded in Serbia since Hungary closed its border may start considering Bosnia and Herzegovina as an alternative transit route.

Ahmic said Bosnia could not bear the cost of handling large numbers of migrants for more than a few days.

"Every migrant or refugee costs the country that accepts them at least 15 euros a day. This includes medical help, hygiene, accomodation ... If we multiply this by some 5,000, we can see the massive financial impact this would have after some five to seven days, which the country could not bare," Ahmic said.

"The situation could be similar to when the Greece-Macedonia border was closed, and more than 20,000 people were left in Macedonia," Ahmic added.

Numbers of migrants trying to reach Western Europe fell sharply after the EU last year reached a controversial deal with Turkey.

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