Since the Balkan Route has become one of the different ways for the migrants to try to enter into the European continent, the countries of the Balkan area and the EU itself had to face several hard situations.
After the establishment of the wire mesh on the border between Serbia and Hungary in 2018, the passage that crosses Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia is increasingly used by the migrants, although this route was considered de-facto closed after the agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Turkey, which came into forces in 20171. With this agreement, the EU would send back to Turkey “all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey to the Greek islands and whose applications for asylum have been declared inadmissible should be returned to Turkey.2”.
Along the route there have been set up refugee camps where the migrants are often forced to stop during their long trip to reach Europe. One of the most important problems in these camps is the respect of the human rights; in most of them the conditions are inadequate and there are also episodes of violence.
In April 2019, the Greek police near the northern city of Thessaloniki used tear gas to prevent refugees from making their way to the border with North Macedonia. The migrants gathered in the field outside the Diavata camp, near the border with North Macedonia after hearing they heard rumors on social media about the opening of the frontier3.
Humanitarian organizations and the European Union have criticized Greece for the bad conditions of the camps in the country: there are characterized by limited services, overcrowding, a low number of doctors and cultural mediators, limited access to the public transports, and have seen cases of sexual harassment and violence4.
The main problems are at the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia where many episodes of violence and thefts have been reported. In September 2019, several push-backs made by the Croatian police were listed by the migrants and NGOs, such as Amnesty International and No Name Kitchen. People who want to enter Croatia, the closest EU Member State to Bosnia and Herzegovina, live mainly in the two largest Bosnian camps located near the cities of Bihac e Velika Kladusa. Both camps can’t offer migrants adequate living conditions: they lack hot water, hygiene services, health care, food and psychological support and the camps themselves are in bad conditions: the structures are old and in the process of deterioration.
The NGO No Name Kitchen, in its report on the Western Balkan Route, reported that the Croatian police regularly stole money, ID cards, bags, and power-banks to the migrants; the officers destroyed their phones and used physical violence on them. Women reported also sexually harassment by the police and that “incidents happened in front of the eyes of their children and husbands who could do nothing due to the lack of power they have against the police forces”5.
At first, the government of the Republic of Croatia did not admit the violent push-backs made by the Croatian police on the border with Bosnia; Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović and the Minister of Interior Davor Božinović said that the Croatian police was not involved in this violence. But in a second time, she admitted the involvement of the Croatian police in the violent push-backs at the border.
According to the 2018 UNCHR report on the Balkan route, from January to August 2018, “at least 26 people are known to have died in 22 separate incidents while traveling irregularly through the Balkans. Of these, 12 have drowned with most incidents taking place at the Croatia-Slovenia border”6.
The EU is trying to help the countries involved in order to solve the situation. One of the most important goals is the revision of the Dublin Treaty, to make it easier for migrants to seek asylum in a European country and to have their application examined quickly.
The European Union also helps the countries by allocating funds for humanitarian aids: since 2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina received €3.8 million to provide emergency assistance. This emergency response addresses the needs of refugees and migrants living in the refugee camps in the country, in particular in the Una-Sana Canton region.
The mid-term assistance currently covers the provision of food, shelter, water and sanitation, warm clothing, education and strengthening the country’s migration management capacities and it targets the most vulnerable individuals, unaccompanied minors, families with children, pregnant women7; but Bosnia and Herzegovina needs more help by the EU institution in order to become a country capable of providing real help and support to migrants.
The EU also sustains Croatia: the Balkan republic receives €100 million for the modernization of borders in view of Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area of free movement. This fund is also used by Zagreb to pay police salaries, therefore the violence practiced by policemen against the migrants is a worse problem given that the European Union sustains the respect of the human rights and this violence is in contrast with its values.
The European Union must take an important position and impose on its Member States and the States with which it has important neighborly relations, policies aimed at respecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers who cross the Balkans every day.
1EU – Republic of Turkey Agreement, Eur-Lex, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=LEGISSUM:4309179&from=IT
2EU – Turkey Statement & Action Plan, EU Parliament, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-towards-a-new-policy-on-migration/file-eu-turkey-statement-action-plan
3Greek police clash with migrants near North Macedonia border, Deutsche Welle, 06.04.2019 https://www.dw.com/en/greek-police-clash-with-migrants-near-north-macedonia-border/a-48240710
4Greek Council for Refugees, Condition in Reception Facilities, https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/greece/reception-conditions/housing/conditions-reception-facilities
5No Name Kitchen, Finished: Border Violence on the Balkan Route, pag. 11 http://www.nonamekitchen.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Finished-Border-Violence-on-the-Balkan-Route.pdf
6UNCHR, DESPERATE JOURNEYS Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe and at Europe’s borders JANUARY – AUGUST 2018, September 2018, pag 25 https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/65373#_ga=2.208810642.1213708470.1536311185-1864144361.1536311185
7European Commission, European Civil Procetion and Humanitarian Aid Operations, last update: 21.06.2019 https://ec.europa.eu/echo/where/europe/bosnia-and-herzegovina_en