When we think of Europe’s refugee crisis, it’s easy to conjure up images of camps in Greece or Northern France. But Bosnia and Herzegovina is grappling with its own migrant crisis that very few people are talking about.
With other countries imposing stricter border controls, Bosnia is now one of the last hopes for refugees and migrants wanting to enter the EU. As a result, more than 23,000 people are thought to have arrived here since the beginning of the year.
Having just spent two weeks in Bosnia’s Una-Sana Canton region, I have seen first-hand the conditions that refugees and migrants living here are facing. Each day I witnessed something more shocking than the last.
Camp stretched to breaking point
The unofficial Vučjak migrant camp, which lies on Bosnia’s north-west border with Croatia, is currently bearing the brunt of the country’s migrant crisis. And it is being stretched to breaking point.
As well as being surrounded by minefields from the Yugoslav wars, the camp has no toilets, no running water, no electricity, and is eight kilometres from the nearest town.
The migrants living here call it a jungle and it is. Even bears and wolves are starting to make their way into the camp as the surrounding mountains get colder.
Walking through the camp I hear the same sentence repeatedly, “this is no place for humans”.
No one wants to live here, but official UN camps in the area are full.
Even over the past few days, the camp has grown from accommodating about 600 people to over 1,000 people. The men living here are now having to halve their meals and share their blankets.
People are suffering and desperate
But there are many more people sleeping in abandoned buildings and fields close to UN run camps in the hope that they won’t ever have to enter Vučjak. They have all heard the horror stories.
One young man from Pakistan takes me to a tiny abandoned garage close to Bira – one of the largest migrant centres in the country. He tells me he’s living here with about 100 others. Within seconds of arriving I’m surrounded by people begging for help. Some people are too sick to get up, so they simply cry out for help from the floor.
These people’s suffering is largely invisible and their sense of desperation is overwhelming.
Not only does a safe alternative need to be found for everyone living at Vučjak, but also for the hundreds of others sleeping outside of official accommodation. This is the only way to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe over winter.
While we don’t know what the future holds for migrants in Bosnia, what we do know is that they will not survive there much longer. Winter is coming and temperatures are dropping below freezing most nights.
The Red Cross is doing what it can to get blankets, food and warm clothes to anyone who needs them, but our supplies are running out and we need more support.
To support the British Red Cross to help more refugees and migrants across Bosnia and Herzegovina, donate to our Global Refugee Fund.
- Help us help refugees stuck in Bosnia – donate to the Global Refugee Fund today
- Are you a refugee? We can help
- Why a lack of support is putting the most vulnerable at risk of trafficking
Freya Carr is senior media officer at the British Red Cross.