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Bosnia and Herzegovina must immediately close the Vučjak camp and take concrete measures to improve the treatment of migrants in the country.

“The living conditions of hundreds of human beings in the improvised Vučjak camp are shameful. That camp should have never been opened in the first place. It is now urgent to relocate these people and provide them with decent accommodations. I was assured by the State Minister of Security that this relocation is imminent,” said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, during a press conference concluding her 4-day visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The living conditions in Vučjak were already terrible before the cold weather and have become even more inhumane now that temperatures have dropped below freezing. Human beings, including several minors, are amassed in the mud on a former landfill next to land-mined areas. They have no running water and sanitary and hygienic conditions are dire. Many people lack adequate clothing and footwear. It is inhumane and unacceptable to keep people in such conditions,” said the Commissioner.

Damir Sagolj Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Commissioner Mijatović is equally concerned about the situation of migrants and asylum seekers sleeping rough or in abandoned buildings in Bihać and elsewhere in the country.

As part of the mission, the Commissioner also visited reception centres in Bihać, Cazin (Una-Sana Canton in the northwest of the country) and in the Sarajevo Canton. She stresses that the overall situation in those reception centres is clearly better than in Vučjak. However, conditions are still substandard in several cases, particularly in Bira where some 1,800 people were staying in a disused refrigerator factory. “The state must ensure that there are adequate reception capacities across the country. In particular, they should provide more humanitarian assistance and access to registration in the Una-Sana Canton, where more migrants and asylum seekers have been arriving.”

Migrants warm themselves by the fire set in one of the tents in
Vucjak camp, 25 November 2019 © COE

While the authorities should take immediate measures to address this acute situation, they should also adopt long-term measures in order to solve the structural shortcomings when it comes to the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.“The current dysfunctional system makes it much harder to identify migrants and their protection needs, ensure access to asylum, protect victims of trafficking and children, in particular unaccompanied minors. There is a need for more expeditious registration of migrants and referral to state agencies, as well as for better coordination among the authorities at state, entity, cantonal and municipal levels.”

The Commissioner stresses that both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska should engage to help improve the situation and share more equally the responsibility for hosting migrants and asylum seekers. She expresses regret that Republika Srpska and several cantons in the Federation have refused so far to take responsibility and calls on them to do their part too.

Lastly, Commissioner Mijatović expresses grave concern about consistent reports of violent push-backs by Croatian law enforcement officials that she received from a variety of interlocutors. “I was particularly alarmed by stories of migrants being beaten and stripped of their belongings, including their shoes, and forced to walk across rough terrain to return back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Vucjac camp, Bosnia and Herzegovina © Indira Kulenovic / IFRC

She stresses that push-backs constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and prevent migrants from benefitting from other legal guarantees firmly established in international law, in particular the right to seek and enjoy asylum, the protection of life, and the prohibition of torture and of collective expulsion. “I raised this concern with the Prime Minister of Croatia already in October 2018. The situation has only worsened since then. The Croatian authorities must put an end to the practice of pushing migrants back and carry out independent and effective investigations into the reports of collective expulsion of migrants and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.” (Source Council of Europe)

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