The mayor of Bosnia’s northwestern town of Bihac, which has turned into a hotspot for migrants who got stuck there on their way to Western Europe, told N1 on Thursday that the state has failed to adequately respond to the situation.
“There are surely more migrants in some towns in Serbia than there are in Bihac. I have not heard about such problems in Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria or anywhere else. Here, problems started on day one,” Suhret Fazlic said.
Thousands have entered Bosnia on their way toward EU countries since the beginning of 2018. The country became a significant transit point after numerous surrounding countries closed their borders.
The next stop after Bosnia is mostly the country’s western neighbour, Croatia. Croatian border police, however, often turn them back.
The northwestern towns of Bihac, Cazin and Velika Kladusa are located in the Una-Sana Canton (USK) near Croatia’s border and are strongly affected by the situation. Residents of the towns have been protesting about the way the government is handling the situation throughout last year.
Fazlic said that those who should be tending to the issue are not doing what needs to be done.
“Those are the state institutions and competent ministries - the Ministry of Security and the Foreign Affairs Service. They tend to it in a weak or inadequate way,” he said.
International organisations are the only ones addressing the issue and controlling it adequately, he said.
“Most of all, those are the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), UNHCR and UNICEF. They cooperate with the town and the cantonal Red Cross,” he explained.
State authorities and the authorities of the Federation (FBiH), the entity within the country where USK is located, did not provide any help, he said, adding that citizens living in the north-western part of Bosnia were “left to themselves.”
He compared the migrant crisis to an environmental disaster, in that “we didn’t expect it, we didn’t know how to deal with it, we don’t have the resources, nor do we have the powers (to do so).”
Fazlic also complained about what his meetings with state-level ministers look like.
“We sit down for a meeting with state ministers and then they complain to each other about how the state is not functional. That is very frustrating,” he said.
“You have 3,000 Pakistanis, Afghanistanis, Syrians, Bangladeshis coming to Bihac, and nobody knows who they are, where they come from and what their history in regard to security is,” he complained. “I have to deal with that as the mayor of Bihac, as well as the citizens. There is the problem of break-ins, takeovers of public spaces, transmittable diseases.”
“I agree that we should help, and we have been helping since day one. But being left to ourselves in this is very difficult for us,” he added.
Fazlic said he expects the state Security Ministry to take over and manage the migrant centres in the area and organise staff and provide a strategy for handling the issue.
“I call upon the members of the Presidency to come to Bihac for a meeting. I call upon the Council of Ministers and the Parliament to see what is happening and how close it is to turn into an incident,” he warned.
When asked what citizens in Bihac think about it, Fazlic said there are differing opinions.
Some are becoming xenophobic, he said, adding that “it is slowly turning into racism.”
“My personal opinion is that those people are in dire need and that they should be helped,” he said, but added that “we can’t allow our way of life to be endangered in all of this.”
He reminded of the fact that the migrants do not want to stay in Bosnia, but want to travel further toward EU countries, adding that the issue is a problem of not only Bihac and Bosnia but one that all of Europe is facing.
“We can’t have Croatian police coming into the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina outside the border crossings and steering them (migrants) toward Bihac,” he said, adding that he informed the Foreign Affairs Ministry of such developments.