Mixed-Migration Context in BiH Since mid-2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remains one of the most travelled mixed migration routes in Western Balkans, with over 65,000 arrivals registered by BiH authorities since January 2018.
Since the beginning of 2020, some 12,000 asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants (hereafter “people of concern”) have been newly registered by the authorities in BiH, mainly arriving to BiH from Serbia and Montenegro. The trend of new arrivals was however significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures of restricted movement across the region from mid-March 2020.
By mid-September 2020, it was estimated that some 30% of the total population of people of concern in the country was staying outside of the reception centers. The reception facilities run by relevant local authorities and IOM accommodate slightly more than 6000 persons, while humanitarian organizations on the ground mapped some 3,500 persons staying outside of reception centers, predominantly in Una-Sana Canton (USC), Sarajevo Canton (SC) and Tuzla Canton (TC)1 .
Even though BiH authorities remain committed to strengthening border controls and management, with the aim of preventing irregular entries, new arrivals to the country are continuously being recorded. Meanwhile, the stay of people of concern in the country has been largely dependent on cooperation with international and local partners (UN Country Team, International and Local NGOs, as well as Red Cross Societies), thanks to the support of EU and other bilateral donors. As of the end of September 2020, nine formal reception facilities are operational in the country, including two government run centers (Asylum Center Delijas in Sarajevo Canton, run by the Ministry of Security/Sector for Asylum and Refugee Reception Center Salakovac in Herzegovina Neretva Canton, run by the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees), six Temporary Reception Centers (TRCs), four of which in Una Sana Canton (TRCs Sedra, Borici, Bira and Miral) and two in Sarajevo Canton (TRCs Usivak and Blazuj), and the Emergency Tented Center (ETC) Lipa, established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Una-Sana Canton. TRCs and ETC Lipa are managed by IOM with the support and coordination role of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs (an administrative branch of the Ministry of Security of BiH). The total capacity of the TRCs and ETC Lipa is estimated at 7,410 accommodation places, however as of the end of September the capacities were not in full use, due to restrictions on reception and registration in TRC Bira and Miral imposed by the Una Sana Canton authorities. TRC Bira, as one of the largest centers in the country, able to provide winterized accommodation for a minimum of 1,500 persons (including for UASCs, families and single adult men), remains at one third of its capacity, while other reception centers are at times overcrowded (especially TRCs Usivak and Blazuj and ETC Lipa).
The humanitarian context in the country in 2020 is shaped by several key factors, including 1) a general lack of sufficient reception capacity across the country, 2) the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures, 3) restrictive policies across the country, with a particular impact in USC, reflected in restrictions of movement, coercive transfers of persons outside of the canton and various access issues and limitations imposed on humanitarian actors. The announced closures of TRCs Bira and Miral, combined with uncertainty around the timely winterization of and potentially ceased funding for ETC Lipa, are expected to further destabilize the humanitarian situation in the course of the winter months (October 2020 – March 2021).
By the end of September, humanitarian organizations on the ground observed up to 3,500 persons staying outside of the reception centers, the majority of which in Una Sana Canton (estimated at slightly over 3,000 persons, i.e. 85% of the total estimated population staying outside formal reception facilities), Tuzla Canton (up to 200 persons) and Sarajevo Canton (up to 200 persons). In 2020, rising numbers of people in need has been observed in Zenica (Zenica-Doboj Canton), Herzegovina-Neretva Canton and Canton 10. Assistance in these areas has been fully dependent on the humanitarian actors on the ground.
DRC Outreach Response in the Country
With the aim of monitoring, assessing and responding to the needs of people of concern staying outside of reception facilities, humanitarian partners formed Outreach Working Groups (on the national level and three on regional levels), to be able to coordinate approaches, assistance and advocacy. The National Outreach Working Group is led by UNHCR, with a co-lead role of DRC.
Besides providing mainstreamed Protection and Health Response for people of concern accommodated in formal reception centers, since the beginning of 2019 DRC has been one of the main actors ensuring protection and humanitarian assistance for people of concern stranded across the country, thanks to support and funding provided by DG ECHO and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
DRC’s outreach response, coordinated on the interagency level, is based on direct service delivery, but also valuable formal and informal partnerships with Red Cross Societies (DRC’s implementing partner in the outreach response), as well as international/local NGOs and volunteer networks providing indispensable assistance on the ground.
Since 2019, DRC has been focusing on the following components of outreach response:
Protection by Presence and Protection Monitoring (particularly at the Disembarkation Points3 ), including mapping of locations where persons of concern stay in sub-standard living conditions without regular access to basic assistance;
Pushbacks incident reporting (across the country, but a with main focus on Una Sana Canton, i.e. the north-west border with Croatia);
Distribution of Emergency Food and Non-Food Supplies (focused on people sleeping rough and persons experiencing pushbacks);
Provision of First Aid and PSS First Aid (in partnership with Red Cross and directly by DRC Medical Staff at assigned locations).