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The Lipa migrants: a humanitarian defeat

We are in Bihac, a Bosnian town located in the heart of the Una national park, 16 km from the Croatian border. After the atrocities of the Yugoslav wars, the community has seen a gradual increase in tourism and an economic revival. At the same time, however, the number of migrants in this town has also increased, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for whom the Bosnian-Croatian border is one of the latest gateways to Europe: in 2019 there will be around 29,000 migrants arriving in Bosnia, and 17,000 in 2020. But in the last period the failure to accept them has led to a crisis far worse than in previous years and intensified the hostility of the local population.

In recent years, the Employers' Association of Bosnia has found the migrants' presence to be detrimental to the tourist industry, the inhabitants are increasingly complaining about their presence, and the mayor of Bihac himself, Suhret Fazlic, is refusing to do anything to improve the situation.

After the first Balkan route (Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary) was closed in 2016 with an agreement between Brussels and Ankara, other routes opened up to refugees who came from countries at war or at risk. And so it is that through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, or through Greece, Albania and Montenegro, migrants arrive in Bosnia, where they remain stranded at the border with Croatia. The Croatian police commit unspeakable torture against those who try to cross the border. The Croatian military severely harass these defenceless men, taking away their clothes, shoes, phones and bags filled with the last souvenirs of their home countries.

A large number (about 1500) of these migrants from Bihac were taken to the Lipa camp, which is located on a hill about 20 km from the city and is surrounded by mountains. The camp was built in early 2020 in response to overcrowding in other neighbouring shelters and was intended as a temporary shelter due to Covid-19. However, this camp is completely unable to accommodate people; it lacks electricity, hot water and heating. Many refugees have risked death due to the extremely cold temperatures, which can reach minus 13 degrees. Pictures circulating on social networks show some people trying to cover themselves from the cold as best they can, others with nothing but slippers on their feet, immersed in the snow. Hygienic conditions are also very poor, if not non-existent, as there are no toilets or showers. Some of the migrants have therefore preferred to take refuge in the middle of the woods, where they try to shelter from the cold in ruined houses or buildings, before moving on to the city and attempting the "game" of crossing the border. Others have moved to the former industrial areas, where they have improvised shacks with about five to six people each, which are in a disastrous condition.

Last December, however, the camp was judged unsafe and, above all, not equipped for the winter by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN organisation sent there to intervene. On 23rd December, the camp was abandoned. A few minutes after departure, a fire broke out in the camp, destroying all the accommodation and preventing the migrants from returning.

The main problem, which risks compromising the basic human rights and dignity of the refugees, lies in the disagreements between the local authorities, the IOM and national politicians in Sarajevo. The Bosnians, particularly in this case the inhabitants of Bihac, do not want the migrants to stay in the city: for years now the local authorities of Bihac have been protesting against the government in Sarajevo and pushing for reception centres to be set up in more distant places, such as Lipa.

The IOM, on the other hand, explains that it cannot distribute the migrants arriving in Bosnia among the EU Member States, as this would make Bosnia the main target for all migrants wanting to reach Europe.

The Sarajevo government, pushed by the EU, insisted that after the closure of the Lipa camp, the Bihac city council reopen a former reception centre in the city, known as Bira, which was closed in September 2020. The local population then began demonstrating and picketing outside Bira, to protest against a possible reopening.

The migrants, who until now have lived in inhuman conditions, are now housed in heated military tents set up near the Lipa camp. After the fire, local and international organisations are working to convert the structure into a permanent refugee camp, equipped for the winter and provided with everything necessary to preserve the dignity and rights of the migrants.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Elisa Capitani


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  • L'Autore

    Elisa Capitani

    Studentessa al primo anno di magistrale in Letterature moderne, comparate e postcoloniali a Bologna, Elisa Capitani è da sempre appassionata al mondo della letteratura e della scrittura. Ha un forte interesse anche per le lingue e le culture straniere, ha ottenuto infatti una laurea triennale in Lingue e letterature straniere all’Università degli studi di Milano.

    Accanto a queste passioni, ha svolto un periodo di 4 anni di volontariato come soccorritrice della Croce Rossa, perché ha sempre creduto nell’importanza del volontariato, nel battersi per gli altri. È stato grazie a questa esperienza e ai corsi universitari, che il suo interesse verso i temi dei diritti umani si è sempre di più ampliato. Quando è venuta a conoscenza di questa realtà giovane, dinamica e attiva in campi importanti, quale è Mondo Internazionale, ha subito pensato che fosse l’occasione perfetta per poter coniugare l’importanza che hanno per lei il volontariato e le cause dei diritti umani, insieme alla sua grande passione, la scrittura. Il Team del progetto “Diritti Umani” l’ha accolta calorosamente come suo membro e sente che insieme a loro avrà la possibilità di poter parlare di quei temi che tanto l’appassionano. Condivide infine con Mondo Internazionale la convinzione che tramite le nostre parole si possa fare la differenza non soltanto per noi, ma per tutte quelle persone che non possono scrivere e lottare per loro stesse.

    A first-year student in Modern, Comparative and Postcolonial Literature in Bologna, Elisa Capitani has always been passionate about the world of literature and writing. She also has a strong interest in foreign languages and cultures, in fact she obtained a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and literature at the University of Milan.

    In addition to these passions, she has worked as a volunteer for four years as a Red Cross rescuer, because she has always believed in the importance of volunteering, in fighting for others. It was thanks to this experience and the university courses, that her interest in human rights issues has increasingly expanded. When she became aware of this reality of Mondo Internazionale, which is young, dynamic and active in important fields, she immediately thought it was the perfect opportunity to combine the importance of volunteering and the causes of human rights for her, along with his great passion, writing. The team of the project "Human Rights" welcomed her warmly as its member and feels that together with them she will have the opportunity to talk about those issues that fascinate her so much. Finally, she shares with Mondo Internazionale the conviction that through our words we can make a difference not only for ourselves, but for all those people who cannot write and fight for themselves.

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From the World Europe Sections Human Rights 2030 Agenda Reduce inequalities


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DirittiUmani humanrights migrants MondoInternazionale Bosnia

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