The route through Bosnia and Herzegovina holds many dangers — from thousands of active minefields and brutal police violence, to wild animals and freezing winter temperatures.
Many refugees and migrants crossing the border from Serbia and Montenegro are unaware of these dangers and the conditions in Bosnia in general. They often arrive to find the country’s state accommodation facilities overwhelmed, and makeshift camps in squalid conditions.
According to Bosnia’s Ministry of Security, the country has registered more than 12,000 arrivals this year, which is over 13 times the number counted in 2017. Most of Bosnia’s refugees and migrants, currently estimated at around 4,500, are concentrated in the northern areas near the country’s border with Croatia.
Refugee.Info recently went to Bosnia to understand the conditions there, and answer some questions for readers who are thinking of taking this route. Here is the information we found out to help you make more informed and safe decisions.
What is the situation on the Bosnian-Croatian border?
Croatia has recently strengthened its borders with a surveillance plane and Bosnia is also planning to deploy its army at the border.
You can read more about this here. Most of the people who have tried to cross the Bosnian-Croatian border without permission from authorities, including women and children, received serious injuries. Croatian police are systematically beating people’s feet, seizing money and possessions, and destroying phones.
We do not encourage illegal border crossing, but if you experienced border violence you can always find volunteers to speak to in the area. Medical teams, such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Bihac and Velika Kladusa, can also help to treat and record your injuries.
What are other dangers to look out for in Bosnia?
The Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center estimates that there could be as many as 80,000 active minefields that still remain in Bosnia from the war in the 1990s. This is only the estimation for the ones they know about, as there are minefields that have not been discovered and marked yet.
They are mainly located in northern Bosnia, in the areas around Bihac and Velika Kladusa, and along the Sava River. Croatia’s highest risk areas for landmines are on its borders with Serbia and 40 square kilometers of area along the Bosnian border, according to the Croatian Mine Action Center. The center set up red warning signs with skulls every 50-100 meters around the dangerous areas, but some of these signs have been destroyed over time. You will often see them fixed to a tree or in the soil.
You can see the map of suspicious areas on the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center’s website. All the red spots on the map are potentially dangerous areas. The Red Cross is re-marking the minefields and posting maps in areas where refugees and migrants are congregating.
In Bosnia’s forests, you can encounter:
Here is a guide on how to behave in areas where there are bears, available in English.
Weather conditions in the mountains
Bosnia is very mountainous, and that means there can be harsh weather conditions, including heavy rains. As early as September, the temperature can drop below 0 degrees Celcius and the first snow can arrive in the mountains.
Where can we stay in Bosnia?
The vast majority of refugees and migrants in Bosnia are dispersed throughout the country and sleep in makeshift shelters. These are usually tents or abandoned buildings in poor conditions. They usually do not provide proper access to food, electricity, water, toilets, and WiFi.
Bosnia hosts only two official, government-run centers. You can find them, along with other shelters, in the below locations. All the facilities have their own house rules and violation of these rules may result in residents getting expelled or not being allowed to return.
Note that several of these shelters require you to register with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs. Even if you visit a shelter that doesn't require you to register, you still need to register to get the legal right to stay in Bosnia for 14 days. Read more about how to register [here].
Delijas and Salakovac
These two government-run centers provide 3 meals per day, regular access to electricity, water, toilets and showers, but they have limited or no WiFi. Delijas is in the mountains in Trnovo municipality, 40 kilometers away from Sarajevo, and it takes about 2 hours to walk from the center to the nearest bus stop. To access these centers, you will first need to register with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs and visit UNHCR’s Info Center in Sarajevo. Subject to availability and the approval process, single males are referred to Delijas while single females and families are referred to either Delijas or Salakovac.
Doboj Istok and Hotel Sedra in Cazin
The shelter in Doboj Istok is run by an NGO called MFS-Emmaus and is fully equipped. They host vulnerable asylum-seekers including people with mental disabilities and unaccompanied minors, but only by special referral. It is a semi-closed center, meaning people who stay there are not allowed to leave, and it is located far from where many refugees and migrants are staying. If you leave without official approval, the center will keep your documents and hand them to the police.
The Hotel Sedra in Cazin is managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in cooperation with the Ministry of Security, and hosts families. People staying there get meals, water, hygienic products and other items. To access these centers, you will first need to register with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs and get a referral from them.
The dormitory in Bihac is informally run by the Red Cross and IOM in cooperation with the government, and is in very bad condition. It is an unfinished, 4-story building that is falling apart with no windows, doors or running water. There are a few light bulbs per floor, few mobile toilets and showers, and no WiFi. People here get meals, hygienic products and some other items. Most people staying at the dormitory are single men, and the Red Cross has identified scabies and hepatitis among those sleeping there. You will need to register at the entrance. We were unable to confirm at the time of writing whether you also need to register with the Service for Foreigners' Affairs, but you can check with the Red Cross or IOM at the info desk at the entrance.
Tents in an open-air field run by MFS-Emmaus have no proper access to electricity (except for a few generators) and water, few mobile toilets and showers, and no WiFi. People here get meals, hygienic products and some other items from volunteers and organizations such as MFS-Emmaus and IOM. Occasional downpours have caused flooding in the camp, and there have been reports of scabies.
One well-equipped shelter run by a local foundation and volunteers hosts vulnerable families, but has limited capacity. People staying here get meals, access to WiFi, hygienic products and other items. To stay here, you need a referral from volunteers in Sarajevo.
Note that the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs also has a closed immigration center in Sarajevo for people whose asylum procedure is over, and who are caught attempting to illegally cross the border. This center is currently overcrowded.
What services and support are available?
The Bosnian government hasn’t proactively responded to the needs of refugees and migrants. They have yet to provide services, coordinate resources or open more centers to accommodate the increasing number of refugees and migrants. Currently, Bosnian citizens and volunteers are filling the gaps.
Most of the organizations providing services to refugees and migrants in Bosnia began their activities at the end of 2017 or beginning of 2018. These organizations are having difficulty organizing a coordinated response to cover refugees and migrants’ needs.
As these organizations currently don’t have enough capacity to support everyone, they are focusing on the most vulnerable refugees and migrants. However, there are organizations present in various locations providing one of these services: legal aid, psychosocial support, medical assistance, women’s and children’s services, and information services. For more information, you can go to UNHCR’s Info Center in Sarajevo.
Depending on where you are, you can also ask for information from organizations like IOM, Red Cross and MFS-Emmaus, or the volunteers who distribute food and other items.
Where can I get food and other items?
If you are staying in Delijas, Salakovac, Doboj Istok, Hotel Sedra in Cazin, the dormitory in Bihac or Trnovi Field in Velika Kladusa, you will likely get your meals and some other necessary items there.
If you are in Sarajevo, there is food distribution every day at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the train station parking lot. The volunteers sometimes distribute blankets, sleeping bags, clothes, and other items depending on how many donations they get.
If you are in Velika Kladusa and in need of clothes, shoes, sleeping bags or some other items, you can reach out to the volunteers of the SOS Team Velika Kladusa, who are named Pixi and Petra. They are usually making the rounds in town and sometimes in the field in Trnovi. No Name Kitchen also provides showers and a laundry service.
Where can I get medical assistance?
MSF has a mobile medical unit that operates part-time in Velika Kladusa, in the field in Trnovi, and part-time in Bihac. They can provide you with immediate assistance. MSF also cooperates with the local health centers and can refer you to one if you have more serious issues.
If you are in the shelters in Delijas, Salakovac, Doboj Istok, the dormitory in Bihac, or in Hotel Sedra in Cazin, the camp management team will help you get medical support.
In Sarajevo, volunteers provide basic medical assistance during food distribution.
Stay updated with the situation in Bosnia
The situation on the ground in Bosnia is constantly changing, but we will do our best to provide you with the most up-to-date information.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, you can message us on Facebook.
Photo credits (in order): Adi Kebo/Zurnal.info, Adi Kebo/Zurnal.info, people.uwec.edu, Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre, Samir Yordamoviç/Anadolu Agency, Samir Yordamoviç/Anadolu Agency, Samir Yordamoviç/Anadolu Agency, Dado Ruvic/Reuters