The New Balkan Route

Written by the participants of the TIPSY field study trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina

The new Balkan route: A humanitarian crossroad

The main station in Sarajevo is quite a sad and dismal place. Barely ten trains run there a day and
the building that is vastly oversized for this number gives you the feeling that someone once had
bigger dreams which never came true. Exactly this also seems to be the unfortunate fate of several
dozen people, mostly men, who are camping on the otherwise rather empty station square: refugees
from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and many other countries who left their homes out of fear and hoped for a
better life in rich European countries such as France or Germany, the Netherlands or any of the
Nordic states. The reality is different. The reality is Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Since the beginning of 2018, the intensified and more rigorous border controls between Serbia and
Croatia, the former gate to the glorified land, forced the masses to re-evaluate the tragically famous
old Balkan route and search for new ways. New meant Bosnia and Herzegovina. New meant hoping
for a country which struggles with its own problems and which does not have the financial
resources to facilitate and help all the arriving refugees. A variety of local NGOs as well as
museums, such as the National History Museum, try to raise attention with projects and special
exhibitions, but the situation is far too complex for the local communities. It is clear that
international help is needed.

Serving thousands of meals a day – The Red Cross Refugee Camp in Bihac © Sohrab Taheri (Bavarian Red Cross)

“Our country was not in any way prepared for such a high number of people”, says Amina Kurtagić
from the Red Cross of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently they prepare three
meals a day for over 5.800 refugees in the three camps in Bihać, Velika Kladuša and Mostar; a
fourth one in Sarajevo should follow soon to offer proper shelter for the campers in front of the
main station, especially as winter is coming. Further, medical and psychological services are
offered 24/7 and there are attempts to reunify families.

However, the work is hard, physically as well as emotionally, and the local Red Cross is facing its
limits. Also, the facilities itself are very makeshift: the Velika Kladuša camp is a gathering of tents
and barracks, and the Bihać one is a complex without windows. “There is help from other
international Red Cross units in form of absolutely essential goods, such as hygienic products, tents,
sleeping bags and field kitchens, but in general there is no leeway for big investments”, explains Kurtagić, “as financial support from international organizations is often granted for just a few
months. Right now, we can plan until end of November. Let’s see what happens then.”

Dormitories – The Red Cross Refugee Camp in Bihac © Sohrab Taheri (Bavarian Red Cross)

With the Croatian-Bosnian border also being difficult to cross for any of the refugees, there is a
possibility that the present situation will turn out to be a long-term one and so everybody, the
European Union, the country itself, as well as the local authorities have to work together to find a
way to deal with the rising number of refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The local population
seems to stand at a crossroad: On the one hand, they themselves often feel forgotten by the national
government and the international community, and now financial support and attention are given to
the arriving refugees, which is creating envy and fury. On the other hand, no one knows better what
it means to be a refugee fearing for its life and just hoping for shelter and a better future than the
people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

Contact Red Cross of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Amina Kurtagic – amina.kurtagic@ckfbih.ba

Impressions of the Red Cross camp in Bihac – Pictures by Sohrab Taheri-Sohi, Bavarian Red Cross,
October 2018
https://brk.pixxio.media/workspace/pixxio/index.html?gsm=93fb5581acdbe4152276ab0165f20007
&gs=zPS41MnEszKyb7By5&gl=de

Reading advices:
“Problems mount for for migrants on new Balkan route into EU” (Irish Times – 05.08.2018)
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/problems-mount-for-migrants-on-new-balkan-
route-into-eu-1.3587213

“Refugees on new Balkan route stuck in limbo” (dw.com – 03.07.2018)
https://www.dw.com/en/refugees-on-new-balkan-route-stuck-in-limbo/a-44509373

“Bosnian police block migrants from reaching EU member Croatia“ (Al Jazeera – 18.06.2018)
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2018/06/bosnian-police-block-migrants-reaching-eu-
member-croatia-180618144823635.html

TIPSY goes Bosnia October 14 – 21, 2018

In October 2018, nine students of TIPSY – Tampere International Global Society Students travelled to Sarajevo for a week-long excursion. The trip was organised with the intent to provide students the opportunity to experience and learn about the post-war reconstruction and democratization efforts of the Western Balkans. We met with local as well as international institutions responsible for the development in the region and visited places of uttermost importance such as Mostar and Srebrenica. The complex and frustrating situation in the country gave us a lot of food for thought and reflection. For the following week, we will publish short reports written by the participants. The students will present a few of the impressions and thoughts that developed during and after the trip. This will include reflections on visits to some local as well as international organisations and historically highly important places or thoughts on other aspects of present-day Bosnia.