Heatwave adds to the woes of migrants stranded Bosnia

According to Bosnia’s security minister, more than 34,000 migrants from Asia and Africa have illegally entered the country since the beginning of 2018, 11,000 of them this year alone. FIle/AFP)
Updated 07 July 2019

Heatwave adds to the woes of migrants stranded Bosnia

  • The flow of newcomers slowed during winter but has now resumed and “a hundred migrants arrive daily in the canton” of Bihac
  • Recently, hundreds of migrants occupied public spaces in the town of Bihac, which is home to some 65,000 people

BIHAC, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Stranded in Bosnia, thousands of migrants face yet one more hurdle on their journey toward the European Union: the scorching summer heat in the Balkans.
Under a leaden sky, Saleh Alhasan and his friends hurry to reach the shade of the woods after failing yet again to cross the border to Croatia, the last barrier on the long and tortuous road into the European Union.
“I tried more than 15 times... It has been 10 months that I try to pass. And I do not want to give up. I just want to see my son” born in Sweden, says the 33-year old Syrian architect.
“I only saw him in a photo.”
His wife was among hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who took the so-called Balkans route in 2015, before the EU borders closed for them.
On a dusty road, Saleh and his companions pass by red signs hanging on trees, warning that the field is mined: a legacy of the country’s brutal 1992-1995 war.
They stop at a stream to refresh themselves, exhausted after walking in temperatures exceeding 35 Celsius degrees (95 Fahrenheit).
The men no longer know where to rest.
In Bihac and Velika Kladusa near the Croatian border, reception centers with a capacity for 3,500 run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are full.
Saleh and his friends live in unhealthy squats. He wants to return to Sarajevo where, he says, “there are more options” for a fresh attempt to cross the border.
The flow of newcomers slowed during winter but has now resumed and “a hundred migrants arrive daily in the canton” of Bihac, says regional police spokesman Ale Siljdedic.
“But recently far fewer people succeed in crossing the border. Croatia has considerably reinforced its police presence,” he adds.
According to Bosnia’s security minister, more than 34,000 migrants from Asia and Africa have illegally entered the country since the beginning of 2018, 11,000 of them this year alone.
Some 8,000 are currently in Bosnia, according to European Commission estimates.
This has caused tensions both among migrants of different nationalities and with locals, who are also poor. Recently, hundreds of migrants occupied public spaces in the town of Bihac, which is home to some 65,000 people.
With the help of the local Red Cross, the authorities in June set up a camp in Vucjak, an uninhabited zone a dozen kilometers from the border, to accomodate migrants who have not found a place in IOM centers.
But according to the United Nations, the zone around this camp is also “very close” to minefields.

The EU finances the IOM centers, but it has refused to provide funds for the Vucjak camp because “it is not a suitable location and presents a clear danger” for those staying there.
Bihac mayor Suhret Fazlic says the problem is the facility is too close to the border.
Nicolas Bizel, head of operations at the EU delegation in Bosnia told AFP that this was not the main issue.
His concern was that it was too close to unexploded wartime mines and that there was also a risk of a methane explosion because the zone used to be a landfill site.
This camp became know as “The Jungle” by its occupants — like the one that sprang up in the northern French port city of Calais, before being torn down in 2016.
Several hundred young men live there in deplorable sanitary conditions, sleeping in tents without beds, without medical assistance, showers or toilets.
Several barrels equipped with faucets provide minimal hygiene facilities.
“It is too hot. We could not rest in the tents,” said Suleman Ashraf, a 29-year-old Pakistani trying to get to Spain to join his brother.
The food that arrives twice a day is everything we have here. Some water as well and we survive with that.”


India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Updated 18 January 2020

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

  • Ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley
  • The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors

NEW DELHI: India has dispatched dozens of ministers to its portion of the Kashmir region to promote government projects and development following months of unrest in the area.

Last August New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a security crackdown and a communications blackout. It is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy.

Prepaid mobile and Internet services have been restored although most of the valley remains without the Internet. Landline and post-paid mobile services were restored last month. 

The 36 ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley, with media reports saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the delegation “to spread the message of development among the people, not only in the urban areas but also in the villages of the valley.”

He was also reported as asking them to tell people about central government schemes that will have grassroot benefits.

The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors to the region.

Jammu-based ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said the ministerial trip tied in with New Delhi’s development agenda.

“The ministers will interact with local-level representatives and stakeholders, and discuss the plan for the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “Kashmir cannot go back to the old ways. There are no political issues that remain here, all have been sorted out by parliament by abolishing Article 370, division of the state and neutralization of separatist elements.”

But India’s opposition Congress party said the visit was an attempt to “mislead and misguide” the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a third attempt to mislead and misguide the people of the world, Jammu and Kashmir and India. They are coming here for a third time to tell lies,” Congress leader and the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam, Nabi Azad, said.

Dr. Radha Kumar, from the Delhi Policy Group, said that a development agenda would not work without addressing the political issue.

“With all the unilateral decisions to abrogate the special status of the state, arresting all the mainstream leaders and putting the state in a lockdown, how are the government’s actions so far going to establish credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?” Kumar told Arab News. “I think this visit is more for international consumption than anything else.”

Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri intellectual and academic, called the visit a “clear sign” that New Delhi had no idea what to do.

“No matter how many ministers you send to Jammu and Kashmir it’s not going to alter the ground situation, it’s not going to address the issue of alienation,” he told Arab News. “What issues will they talk about with people? The government lost the people’s trust long ago.”

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Jammu-based Zafar Choudhary, a senior journalist and editor of The Dispatch newspaper, said Modi’s government was full of surprises. “There have never been so many surprises in Jammu and Kashmir as have come in the last two years,” he told Arab News. “There is no instance in the past when so many central ministers have visited a state in one go.”

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