EU Human Rights Commissioner: Bosnia to urgently improve migrant camps

NEWS 11.12.2020 20:16
Source: ANADOLIJA/Mustafa Ozturk

In a letter addressed to Bosnian prime minister Zoran Tegeltija and Security Minister Selmo Cikotic, EU Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic urged Bosnian authorities Friday to address the persistent shortcomings in their handling of migrants and asylum seekers.

The Commissioner expresses her concern that one year after the closure of the Vucjak camp in December 2019, which followed her visit to Bosnia, another humanitarian crisis is unfolding in north-western Una-Sana. There have been many reports by international organisations and NGOs working in the field about seriously substandard living conditions in the Lipa emergency tent camp, including a lack of electricity and running water and overcrowding, following the transfer there of migrants from the Bira temporary reception centre and its subsequent closure, she wrote.

The closure of the Bira centre and the Una-Sana authorities’ ban on new admissions to the Miral temporary reception centre have also had serious humanitarian consequences for hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers, including families with children, who have been left without accommodation, food and medical care. The restriction on migrants’ movement imposed by the cantonal authorities have further exacerbated the difficult situation of the most vulnerable groups, especially unaccompanied migrant children, pregnant women and elderly persons, she added.

The Commissioner stresses that entities Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, and Brcko District along with the cantons should share the responsibility for hosting migrants and asylum seekers more evenly. Migrants and asylum seekers are currently only accommodated in reception facilities in some parts of the Federation, and she said that this needs to change. Her understanding is that funding is available to create new reception facilities.

Amid reports of local vigilante groups attacking migrants and destroying their personal property in various parts of the country, the Commissioner called on politicians to counter vigilantism and refrain from stigmatising speech and generalisations about refugees and migrants. She expressed her concern about reports of attacks and threats targeting human rights defenders who help migrants, including a smear campaign and death threats, and urges the authorities to carry out prompt, independent and impartial investigations into these attacks and to bring those responsible to justice.

The Commissioner also stressed the need to address the problems which hinder access to the asylum procedure and to speed up asylum decisions.

She recommended that urgent measures be taken to uphold the human rights of hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children, including the 480 accommodated in reception centres, and to ensure that they can be assigned a legal guardian.

Lastly, she requested information from the authorities about their plan to address the lack of access to mainstream education for migrant children, which is not provided uniformly for all throughout the country.