Family members of Bosnian women and children kept in the Syrian camps Al Hol and Roj organised a peaceful protest in front of the Parliament building in downtown Sarajevo on Thursday, demanding that authorities tell them when their loved ones will be returned to Bosnia.
Representatives of the families of the women and children discussed the issue with Security Minister Selmo Cikotic.
“The Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in accordance with its competencies, is doing everything possible to ensure all necessary conditions for the return and acceptance of Bosnian citizens, especially the women and children, as soon as possible,” a statement by the Ministry said.
According to operational data, there are about 100 more women and children being kept in the two camps, the statement said.
“Despite the readiness and commitment of Bosnia’s Ministry of Security to continue the return process that began in December last year, the return of these persons has been prolonged due to the COVID 19 pandemic until conditions for it are more favourable,” it said.
Miniter Cikotic pointed out that his ministry is cooperating closely with partner governments and international organisations on the issue.
The statement reminded that the ministry completed the process of returning the first group of Bosnian citizens, including six women and 12 children, from Syrian camps in December 2019. Among them were seven men who were handed over to the judicial authorities as it was determined that they participated in conflicts on foreign battlefields.
Alema Dolamic was one of the first to speak to the media about the problem. Her sister has been kept in camp Roj since 2017.
She said that authorities have been silent on the matter and that this is why representatives of the families decided to protest.
“As a rule, everyone should return, and anyone who should face criminal proceedings should then do so," she said.
Dolamic emphasized that the conditions in those camps are terrible - people are staying in tents on the ground and lack some of the basic necessities for life while children have no access to education or healthcare for years.
She also said that a woman from Zenica passed away in one of the camps a few months ago and left behind her six-year-old son.
"Until two months ago, I talked to my sister every day, and then they started transferring them from the 'Al Hol' camp to 'Roj', which is more strict, and they tightened their measures so I didn't talk to her for two months,” Dolamic explained.
“She wrote to me that she could not get ahold of a phone and that they take people to jail if they find them with a cell phone. One of our Bosnian women is in jail over a cell phone and my sister now takes care of her children. We were able to send them help from time to time, now we can’t do that,” Dolamic said.
She explained that her sister fled former ISIS-controlled territory in 2017 and was taken to a Kurdish camp. She said at the time that she was ready to return to Bosnia and face any potential charges.