The number of refugee and migrant arrivals to Bosnia and Herzegovina has significantly increased during 2019, going now beyond 59,000 in total since the beginning of 2018.
Prior to the pandemic, many were trying to enter the EU through Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, around 9,000 people are stranded in the country. Due to coronavirus restrictive measures, however, movement on the Western Balkans route has almost stopped.
The EU is concerned about the difficult humanitarian situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continues advocating towards the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to identify more suitable accommodation facilities and to respect refugees’ and migrants’ fundamental rights.
The increase in arrivals of refugees and migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina in mid-2018 required international assistance to address the emerging humanitarian situation and provide basic assistance such as emergency shelter, water and sanitation, food, blankets, health and protection assistance.
In the recent months, arrivals have continued to rise, while authorities have been further restricting the movement of refugees and migrants. The existing EU-funded temporary reception centres are overstretched, with some people still sleeping outside. Furthermore, the increased number of unaccompanied and separated children, exposed to significant protection risks, is of particular concern. In addition to the regular assistance given to those accommodated at reception facilities, reaching out to refugees and migrants outside of the centres and providing them with basic support is very important. In the long-term, suitable accommodation facilities are needed.
The coronavirus outbreak is likely to worsen the already difficult humanitarian situation and can have dramatic consequences both inside the overcrowded reception facilities and outside, as migrants and refugees do not have adequate access to water and sanitation. This puts them in a particularly vulnerable situation and they should be granted access to health support.
Since the beginning of the influx of refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU has been working closely with UN agencies, other humanitarian organisations and the Bosnian authorities to meet the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable refugees and migrants.
The EU has allocated €10.3 million in humanitarian aid since 2018 to provide emergency assistance, implemented by international humanitarian organisations. This emergency response addresses the needs of refugees and migrants all over the country with a focus on the Una-Sana Canton, Tuzla and Sarajevo area. Short-term assistance is complemented by a mid-term response amounting to over €30 million. The EU and its partners have made possible the creation of more than 6,000 places in seven temporary accommodation facilities.
The EU’s mid-term assistance currently covers the provision of food, shelter, water and sanitation, clothing, education and strengthening the country’s migration management capacities. Humanitarian support continues to provide comprehensive health assistance and protection services as well as basic assistance, such as the distribution of sleeping bags, warm clothes and food, and referrals to other services. EU-supported projects target the most vulnerable individuals, while specific assistance is provided to unaccompanied minors, such as protective accommodation, legal guardianship, and psychosocial support.
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, humanitarian actors on the ground are taking preventive measures to protect beneficiaries and staff, through, for instance, enhanced hygiene and disinfection, information campaigns, the creation of isolation spaces, and the carrying out of medical screenings. Furthermore, the newly opened temporary emergency facility near Bihac, with a maximum capacity of 1,500 beds, will help provide essential hygiene and health services. It will also reduce the risks that migrants and refugees, who had been previously sleeping in abandoned buildings in the Una-Sana Canton, are exposed to. Due to the complex situation on the ground and challenges faced by the humanitarian partners, the quality of the facilities and the assistance have enhanced over time. On several occasions, the European Union has emphasized the importance of respecting international standards, protection, and effective coordination.
The EU regularly consults the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina on its medium and long-term strategy to address the needs of refugees and migrants.