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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Population Movement Emergency Appeal n° MDRBA011, Operations Update n° 4

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Summary of the appeal

The Emergency Appeal for Population Movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was initially published on 8 December 2018, focusing on providing assistance to migrants accommodated in Temporary Reception Centres (TRC) and migrants on the move, as well as to the host communities in BiH. The Emergency Appeal was revised in December 2019 to reflect the needs of an increasing number of people to be assisted, an increased budget, and an adjustment of the planned activities taking into consideration worsening conditions on the ground and the winter period ahead for an extended period of 12 months. Through the revision, the IFRC aims to support the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina (RCSBiH) to assist a total of 35,000 people on move in the ongoing migration crisis and 1,500 households from among local vulnerable population affected by the crisis. The targeted number of beneficiaries has been increased based on the number of people reached during the first 12 months through Mobile Teams (MTs) outreach activities, considering also increased number of arrivals (both registered and unregistered) in the country during 2019.

This Operations Update no. 4 is to report the progress in the implementation of activities and changing needs on the ground, covering the period from 1 October 2019 to 31 January 2020.

This document provides an up-to-date description of the migration situation in BiH, an overview of the RCSBiH and other actors on the ground as well as on the current response to migrants’ needs. It also gives details on the progress of activities in the following areas of focus and strategies of implementation: Shelter (Non-Food Items - NFIs); Livelihoods and Basic Needs; Health; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); Protection, Gender and Inclusion (PGI); Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) as well as Building the Capacities of the National Society.


Description of the situation

Countries throughout the Balkans experienced a significant influx of migrants in 2015 and 2017. BiH, however, not being situated on the main migratory route, was only marginally affected at that time. Since the beginning of 2018, the country has seen a significant increase in the numbers of arrivals, with migrants arriving via two different routes: one through Albania and Montenegro; and the other through the Republic of North Macedonia or Bulgaria, and Serbia. Entry points to BiH were in the areas of Trebinje, Foča and Višegrad in the Republika Srpska (RS) and Goražde in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). The majority of people arriving were heading through Tuzla and Sarajevo to Una-Sana Canton (USC) and seeking to enter the European Union (EU) through Croatia.

Since 1 January until 31 December 2019, 29,196 registered migrants entered BiH (according to the UNHCR data).
As experience from the third quarter of 2019 shows, migrants - including families - started leaving the TRCs more frequently with the purpose of trying to enter the European Union through Croatia. However, during the winter season it has been noticed that less number of migrants were leaving TRCs, and in some cases it was noticed that a “two way” migration flow took place, i.e. there was also a flow from BiH towards Serbia, where more accommodation facilities exist, given the harsh winter conditions in the Balkans.

A total of 16,662 migrants were registered in five centres across the country from December 2019 to the end of January 2020, with the majority in four centers in USC (Source IOM). The main declared countries of origin of the countries accommodated in the TRCs are Morocco (27%), Iraq (15%), Afghanistan (11%), Egypt (11%), and Pakistan (10%).

Overall, since 2018, most refugees and migrants arrived to BiH from Pakistan (33%), Afghanistan (13%); Syria,
Iran and Iraq (9%). In total, 4,860 migrants and refugees are accommodated in all centres in BiH and 538 of them are unaccompanied. Due to the nature of the migration flow in BiH and the lack of registration of many who enter the country, it is not possible to give any precise gender and age breakdown of all migrants and refugees.

In addition to registered arrivals, a significant number of unregistered arrivals have been observed within the same period, many seeking shelter in private accommodation or hazardous abandoned buildings or simply out in the open. Challenges continue in relation to access to asylum applications. After entering to BiH, migrants have the right to register their intention to seek asylum - doing so allows them to stay legally in the country for 14 days before they either formally apply for asylum or leave the country. The requirement of registering a temporary address in BiH is a key obstacle to this. UNHCR continued raising awareness of this issue at the relevant authorities, while also suggesting that either TRCs are placed under the Ministry of Security’s (MoS) Service for Foreigners’ Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFA) - which would remove the need for the asylum seekers to register their address - or that the 10 BAM administrative fee associated with the registration of an address is waived. There have been nine applications for asylum registered in 2020.

In October 2019, with growing number of arrivals to Bihać and USC, authorities started police actions collecting migrants squatting across town of Bihać, staying outside of migrant centres and taking them to Vučjak location that resulted in serious concerns for their wellbeing, considering the already appalling conditions in the camp.
An average of 1,000 people were staying daily at Vučjak Camp with no functioning toilets, no running water, no electricity, no access to health, insufficient food supplies and dire shelter conditions (unheated, leaking, damaged tents). Health conditions were alarming – many have untreated injuries and scabies was widespread. The Red Cross Branch in Bihac was the only organization providing some lifesaving, basic services in Vučjak based on the request from the local authorities and in relation to the auxiliary role to the public authorities in the humanitarian field. The political sensitivity of the situation manifested in higher tensions in Bihać and Velika Kladuša in USC, which are the two most affected locations. The still high number of arrivals was causing serious concerns for the security in the area, as well as serious health concerns with a high number of migrants infected by scabies and moving freely outside As a consequence, the City of Bihać and the Government of USC decided to take urgent action. The Red Cross and other stakeholders had been advocating for an alternative location to Vučjak since 2019. The EU decided not to provide any support to Vučjak through its UN implementing agencies during the entire time of its existence from June-December 2019.

In October 2019 the USC Government announced the possible closure of IOM-managed TRCs in USC (Bira and Miral), which was raising serious concerns for 2,100 people that were staying in those two TRCs, as no alternative accommodation was available to relocate people from Bira and Miral. On 30 October, the nationallevel Minister of Security requested the IOM to extend the lease agreement for the privately owned Bira and Miral TRCs until end of March 2020. However, no further statement was given neither on the closure and relocation of those centres nor the extension of the lease contracts yet. (Source of information: The Minister of Interior, Una-Sana Canton, October 2019). During the reporting period, according to the information provided by IOM, the USC authorities were still requesting to close the temporary reception centres Bira and Miral.

On 21-22 November 2019, a high-level IFRC delegation, headed by the IFRC Vice-President for Europe, Acting Deputy Director of the IFRC Regional Office for Europe, and the Head of ROE DCPRR visited Vučjak camp.
Also, meetings with the RCSBiH leadership and management, Prime Minister of Una-Sana Canton as well as with the ICRC Head of Delegation in BiH followed. High level meetings with the BiH Presidency member, the EU Ambassador to BiH, Head of the IOM Mission in BiH and Head of Office of the WHO in BiH were also organized during the visit.

On 3 December, migrants in Vučjak started a hunger strike refusing food, water, firewood or any other assistance and demanding for border with the EU to open. Due to these strikes and as a result of significant coverage of international and national media and strong advocacy for closure from many high-level visitors to Vučjak (including the visit of the IFRC Vice President from 21-22 November and the visit of the European Councils' High Representative for Human Rights in early December), an agreement was reached between the Ministry of Security and IOM for an immediate relocation of people from Vučjak. As a result, on 10 December 2019 Vučjak Camp was closed. Most of the people from Vučjak were moved by buses to Sarajevo, 750 migrants were relocated to TRC Ušivak on temporary basis and 350 to TRC Blažuj (former military barracks in Sarajevo Canton proposed by the Ministry of Security).

In response to increasing tensions created by the steady increase in the arrival of migrants, and despite the visit by the EU Parliamentarians at the end of January 2020, the authorities of USC are still demanding the closure of Bira and Miral TRCs to deal with the evolving migrant crisis. No alternatives have been offered thus far.