Since the beginning of 2018, close to 70,000 refugees and migrants arrived to Bosnia and Herzegovina via the Western Balkans migration route. Restrictive COVID-19 measures slowed down the movement along the route. According to the UN, around 8,000 refugees and migrants are currently present in the country. A humanitarian crisis has become a reality with nearly 2,000 persons sleeping outside in freezing temperatures. The European Union is providing emergency assistance and urges the authorities to act to save lives, identify suitable accommodation facilities and respect fundamental rights.
The capacity of the existing temporary reception centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina is overstretched. Many migrants, including unaccompanied children and families, are forced to sleep in abandoned buildings or makeshift tents, without access to safe and dignified shelter, food, water, sanitation, electricity and heating. The worrisome sanitary conditions increase the exposure to various diseases and the spread of coronavirus.
The further restriction of movement of refugees and migrants imposed by the local authorities and the recent closure of 2 main temporary reception centres of Bira and Lipa have exacerbated the humanitarian situation. Nearly 2,000 refugees and migrants are currently sleeping outside in freezing temperatures. The EU is urging the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to find appropriate accommodation. The EU also sent technical experts to assess the humanitarian needs on the ground. Although there has been certain progress, sustainable and appropriate shelter needs to be constructed.
Access to healthcare for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants – including COVID-19 testing and treatment – remains a critical priority. The coronavirus outbreak worsens the already difficult humanitarian situation and may have dramatic consequences. Poor living conditions, permanent state of insecurity and violence are putting a heavy strain on the mental health of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
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 refugees and migrants.
Since early 2018, the EU has provided €89 million directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina and through implementing partners. This funding helps address the immediate and mid-term needs of the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. It is also meant to help the country strengthen its migration management capacities. This support includes €13.8 million in humanitarian aid to provide emergency assistance, implemented by international humanitarian organisations. This emergency response addresses the needs of refugees and migrants with a focus on the Una-Sana Canton, Tuzla and Sarajevo area.
Given the increased humanitarian needs, emergency humanitarian assistance remains of essence. EU humanitarian aid is focused on covering the most urgent needs, such as primary and secondary health care services, limiting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health and psychological support. It also provides protection assistance, such as identification and referrals, support to unaccompanied minors and life-saving assistance to those staying outside including warm clothing, sleeping bags and food.
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.