Refugees in the Balkans

When we talk about the European Refugee Crisis everyone’s thoughts turn almost solely to Greece and Italy. Greece and Italy are overrun with refugees trying to reach safety because of their geographical location. Asylum seekers crossing from Turkey first reach Greece, and those coming from North Africa first reach Italy. Subsequently, the situation in Greece and Italy often makes the headlines with aid organisation directing their resources to help the thousands residing in the camps near the borders. However, other lesser known regions have also recently found themselves with an influx of refugees and not enough resources to cope. Thus, in this post we will focus on the plight of those who find themselves stranded in the Balkans. With the help of Collective Aid NGO who work tirelessly in the region to provide aid to those trying to pass through, we will unveil the reality of the situation in the Balkans.

neil-iris-1317910-unsplash bosnia.jpg

History of the Balkans

The Balkan states most commonly refer to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. In 2015 when we saw a huge surge in refugees trying to reach Europe, ‘the Balkan route’ became a popular path which asylum seekers used to gain entry into Western Europe where they then planned to settle and claim asylum. The route traditionally went through Macedonia or Bulgaria in order to reach Hungary and Serbia where asylum seekers could then cross into Western Europe. However, the closure of Hungary’s borders that it shares with Croatia and Serbia in 2016 forced the route to change. Macedonia and Slovenia quickly followed suit in a bid to shut down the Balkan route. Despite push backs from the borders, including the use of police brutality, and the EU-Turkey agreement which paid Turkey €6 billion to stop refugees crossing into Europe, asylum seekers are intent on escaping and reaching a better life. Thus, the Balkan route has evolved and now crosses through Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia, all of which were previously unfavourable for their mountainous and tricky terrain. With few routes left, refugees now seek out smugglers and other illicit methods to cross these borders which in turn increases the danger that these already vulnerable individuals are in.

“With the Balkan route closed, hundreds of thousands of refugees trapped in Greece now have no choice but to find more dangerous routes north. ….European policies, instead of resolving the migrant crisis, are making the situation worse. Refugees have to embark on more dangerous and clandestine journeys.” – Liberties

border control

The present day situation

As the legal routes into Western Europe have been depleted, refugees are increasingly piling up in Northern Bosnia which represents the final port of call before they can attempt to cross into Croatia. Coincidentally, Croatian border controls have also been ramped up since the alteration of ‘the Balkan route’ which has in turn sparked reports of beatings, abuse, and muggings where some officials are concerned. 

Bosnia faces serious security crises peaking in late May (2018) after almost 5,000 illegal entries registered since the beginning of the year and 4,215 apply requests.” – Balkan Insight

Most arriving in Bosnia want to cross into Croatia where they can then access Western Europe like previously planned, they do not want to stay in the Balkans where there are little facilities or opportunities for them. Unfortunately, most find themselves with no choice. As we enter the depth of winter, thousands are stranded in make shift shelters, abandoned buildings, and refugee camps as temperatures drop below freezing. There are at least six state sanctioned shelters run in Bosnia, these are Bira, Borici, Sedra, Ušivak, Salakovac and Delijaš. The camps do their best and their work is important, but many staying in these will still find themselves without water or electricity. In 2018 at least 21,000 people arrived in Bosnia with the aim of crossing the border meaning the foot flow has tripled from the previous year. The state sanctioned camps cannot keep up with this and consequently many find themselves out of state care and sleeping rough or squatting. As the situation escalates and there are fears of a humanitarian crisis mounting, more awareness needs to be afforded to refugees in the Balkans.

“Without legal channels to Europe, they are left stranded in the middle of the Mediterranean or in ruined buildings in northern Bosnia.” – Jacobin

refugee photo

Collective Aid NGO

There are a number of non-governmental organisations who are working exceptionally hard to fill in the gaps where the government is failing in Bosnia. Collective Aid NGO (formerly known as BelgrAid) is one such fantastic organisation whom I have discovered doing great work in the region since 2017.

Collective Aid currently have 30 volunteers helping to bring a sense of normal livelihood to those who pass through their care in Bosnia. Having several years of experience working in Serbia where their Azadi Community Centre still stands, in 2018 they also moved into Bosnia, Sarajevo, to help provide relief for the growing number of migrants mounting in the country. They provide 1800 meals everyday to those in and out of camps and they work alongside BASIS, another aid group, to provide products to allow individuals to maintain a level of health and cleanliness. Furthermore, in Bosnia, and in Belgrade, they run workshops which help to build a sense of community and provide individuals with an opportunity to partake in stimulating discussions which can be exceptionally important for maintaining mental well being. These are all integral things needed to survive and with the ‘new Balkan route’ set to become more popular, it is more essential than ever to raise awareness of the situation in Bosnia and provide support to organisations such as Collective Aid who rely solely on volunteers and donations.

As Collective Aid have recognised themselves, the situation with European refugees is unpredictable. This means they have to be flexible, but also means that they need to be ready. To do this they (and every other NGO in the region) need public support, and for this to happen there needs to be public awareness and understanding of the situation.

To find out more about Collective Aid NGO and how you can help, visit them at https://www.collectiveaidngo.org  

There are more stranded individuals and families in the Balkans right now than ever before. Whilst we wait for governments to work out the politics of the border situations, we can work with NGOs in the area to relieve the plight of those in the midst of it.

You can also check out our new line of T-shirts Tees for Gee’s where a portion of each sale is donated to Refugee Support Europe who are working to provide the basics and a sense of dignity to Refugees in and out of Europe. You can visit us at http://www.teesforgees.teemill.com, or you can click here to take you to the section of our website and find out more. 

 

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