Tags / Balkan route
Bihać, Bosnia Herzegovina, January 2021.
Migrants. Almost half of the 140.000 migrants currently in the Balkans are single men on the road for several years, sometimes “just” two, sometimes even more than 5. They left Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and middle east areas due to religious persecutions, political intolerance, poverty, conflicts, and they slowly moved towards Europe by any means of legal or illegal transport. They are mostly between 15 and 30 years old and they have spent part of their youth illegally crossing borders, illegally because their passport worth nothing around the world. Now, due to the current European political situation and the Covid-19 pandemic, these thousands of people are stuck in Bosnia Herzegovina waiting for the right conditions to crack “the game”. GAME, migrants expression for their chance to enter the European Union by land and seek asylum. They walk through the woods in the middle of the winter season for two weeks, they sleep under the sky, afraid of wild animals and worried about local authorities. Each of them has tried the game at least twice. Therefore, they have walked for days and days in the middle of a snowstorm, socked with wet clothes, colder and colder, with little food and no shelter. If their portrait is among those, it means they have been caught by Croatian, or Slovenian, or even Italian police, and with any respect of human rights, been beaten and deported back to Bosnia Herzegovina. Once back, some of them find shelter in the Temporary Reception Centres of the Una-Sana Canton, the area closest to the Croatian border, others live around the city in broken buildings, waiting for the best moment to try again. After the recent closure of the TRC of Lipa due to a fire that occurred on December 23rd 2020, part of the over 1500 migrants resident there, decided to move from the ruin of the tends to the neighbouring city of Bihać, 30km away from the TRC. Dom Penzjonera, the former pension for retirement, located close to the Una river in the center of the city, now welcomes about 115 migrants. It has never been finished and it doesn’t provide water, electricity and any kind of heating. They are all single men between 15 and 30 years old, all of them determined to crack the game, all of them stuck in the Balkans area but determined to enter in the European Union, to thrive education, job, dignity and a better life, all of them determined to fight for their rights.
View of the city of Bihac from inside the Dom Penzjonera building.
Ataullah Afgan, 25 years old from Afghanistan. 6 times to the game.
View of the former pension for retirement Dom Penzjonera.
Irfan Kamal Tahir, 17 years old from Pakistan. 7 times to the game.
Sadiq Khan, 17 years old from Pakistan. 2 times to the game.
Migrant inside the Dom Penzjonera building looking at the city of Bihac.
Milad Banisad, 28 years old from Iran. 3 times to the game.
Sharif Khan, 22 years old from Pakistan. 8 times to the game.
Anoosh Mostafaei, 23 years old from Iran. 3 times to the game.
Wali Hassan, 24 years old from Pakistan. 3 times to the game.
Ali Akhtar Muhammad, 17 years old from Afghanistan. 4 times to the game.
Jahan Zib, 26 years old from Afghanistan. 8 times to the game.
Jan Sharif, 15 years old from Afghanistan. 4 times to the game.
Asifullah Kohistani, 20 years old from Afghanistan. 8 times to the game.
Ijaz Shinwati, 16 years old from Pakistan. 3 times to the game.
Mohammad Osman, 26 years old from Pakistan. 9 times to the game.
Imad Ahmad, 27 years old from Pakistan. 5 times to the game.
Abidullah Noori, 16 years old from Afghanistan. 6 times to the game.
Fida Muhammad Nazir, 24 years old from Pakistan. 13 times to the game.
Zakir Khan, 27 years old from Pakistan. 2 times to the game.
Nisar Ali, 30 years old from Pakistan. 4 times to the game.
Mosa Safe, 25 years old from Afghanistan. 10 times to the game.
Adnan Shami, 20 years old from Pakistan. 10 times to the game.
The population of Bogovadja has different opinions on the presence of the migrants. Some of them accuse the migrants of small robberies, others see them as an economic source. In the winter of 2014 the citizens, also supported by extreme right wing groups, made a demonstration in Bogovadja to ask for control and safety against the migrants. After some months the citizens have got used to their presence.
The contacts with the taxi drivers who bring the migrants to the Hungarian borders take place at the cafes, one of which is at the begging of the wood and the other at the end of the wood, along the road which passes through the whole country. To reach the Hungarian borders the taxi drivers ask the migrants to pay from 50 to 300 Euros. Many drivers work for the immigration racket, others prefer to work alone with their customers.
During the Ramadan groups of migrants meet in the wood in the evening to share the Iftar, the only allowed meal during the Ramadan. Each migrant shares with the others what he can afford. After the Iftar those who stay at the reception camps go back to the center, the others seek shelter in the wood.
In the evening the migrants who do not stay in the reception camp go back to the wood in Bogovadja. S., a man from Sudan, was sent away from Macedonia, where he lived with his fiancÃ©e, due to legal problems and he is now trying to reach Europe to have a new life and start the legal steps to meet his son.
Afghanistan and Syrian migrants wait for the taxi to go to collect the money from a bank which is at few kilometers from Bogovadja. The day after they will leave for the Hungarian borders with the help of a taxi driver for 50 Euros per person.
The migrants on the Balkan route use the reception camps to rest before continuing their journeys. After signing some documents at the police office they can get a permission lasting for three days; after the three days they can either leave Serbia or ask for political asylum. Some centers offer legal support to start the requests.
Minors and families are admitted in the camp of Bogovadja. If the weather is bad some migrants, who are not accepted in the camp, are allowed to sleep under the portico to protect from the rain.
M., 20 years old, is North African but he declared to the authorities to be Syrian to be accepted by the reception camp and seek shelter in Europe as a refugee of the Syrian civil war.
An Iraqi refugee has been given hospitality by the center of Banja Koviljaca. After staying in the center for some years he applied for the political asylum in Serbia and got it. Anyway, he can neither expatriate nor ask to join his family in Serbia. He is stuck in this bureaucratic limbo and, in the meantime, he helps as cultural mediator the people working in the center.
S., 22 years old, has reached Serbia from Niger after three months and he is now waiting for some friends and relatives to get some money to continue his journey. Many migrants, especially if they are political refugees, fear to be recognized by the police and by the secret services of their origin countries and consequently fear possible retaliations on their families.
In the center of Banja Koviljaca, as in many others reception centers, the migrants can use the internet access and thus maintain the contacts with their friends and their families.
At Banja Koviljaca, at the border between Bosnia, Herzegovina and Serbia, the migrants are received in a center which was opened in 1991 to offer help during the Yugoslavian wars. In 2006 this center was renewed with the help of the UNHCR and of the INTERSOS and can now receive about 85 people.
The camp of Bogovadja accepts minors and families. The migrants who are not accepted by the center report that although there are available rooms the operators refuse to accept them even only to take a shower. The center director says that some rooms are kept free to eventually receive minors or families. The migrants also report that there were some cases of extortion and of request of sexual favors by the operators in exchange for hospitality in the center.
âThe first time the immigrants arrived in the village we were surprised and worried. I had never seen such black men in all my lifeâ. The inhabitants of the Serbian countries, where the migrants seek shelter, are surprised to see them. At first suspicious and worried, then they realize that the migrants can be an economic resource for their activities. In Belgrade, not far from Obrenovac, where there is one of the biggest reception camps, the atmosphere is tense also due to the presence of extreme right wing and xenophobic groups which act inside the football supporters teams of the capital.
âEach day thirty or forty people ask for hospitalityâ reports the person in charge of the reception center âHotel Obrenovacâ, near the village of Obrenovac at thirty minutes from Belgrado. Here the center director is the only one who can decide the assignment of the hotel rooms to the migrants who have the papers for the asylum request. At the Hoyel Obrenovac the migrants have three meals per day and as it is an open center they can go out and stay in the village. It is reported of occasional conflicts between the migrants and the inhabitants of Obrenovac. The Hotel Obrenovac was damaged only during the flood in May 2014.
In the reception camp of Senica a woman has just arrived from the hospital after giving birth to a baby. The Syrian couple left the previous month from Aleppo, Syria, to go to Germany; the Syrian family can choose to stop in Serbia and start to apply for the political asylum or continue its journey to Europe.