Out of sight: Relocating hundres of people on the move

On the 28th of April, at 8 a.m., we witnessed that the Miral Temporary Reception Centre in Velika Kladuša has been closed by local authorities with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC). According to rumors, the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina has decided to transfer the “People on the Move” (PoM) to the Lipa camp, as its capacity is not fully utilized. Another concern is to reduce the presence of the PoM in the city center in order to avert “danger” to the citizens.

Thus, on the above-mentioned day, the residents of Miral camp were forced to board one of the four buses, while special police officers in black, fenced VW buses evicted several squats (occupied houses) occupied by PoM in the neighborhood. Referring to information from affected PoM, they were abruptly awakened by the officers in the early morning hours and were forced to pack up their belongings within five minutes, not knowing where they would be taken. In addition, the police officers destroyed parts of the squats’ interior furnishings during the eviction.

Camp Miral
Police relocating people from Miral to Lipa

Camp Lipa: Closure and Reopening after the fire

The camp Lipa burned down completely in December 2020 and was finally reopened at the end of last year in a solemn ceremony. Lipa offers “shelter” to over 1,500 people, but in reality, the European Union funds for this place mainly facilitate the isolation of people in a remote area – the camp is about 20 km away from the nearest town, Bihać.  The newly established camp is run by the “Service for Foreigners’ affairs” (SFA), an independent administrative unit within the Ministry of Security in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the advisory assistance of the IOM. It is divided into three protected residential zones (minors, family, single men) and the containers are designed to house up to six PoM. Three selectable meals are provided per day in the camp and people can prepare their own food in an outdoor kitchen. The SFA supposedly doesn’t try to keep people in the camp who are willing to go on “game” (that’s how PoM call their attempt to cross the border to apply for asylum in the EU), so the camp does not consider itself as a detention center.

New solutions to old problems?

However, despite the improvement of the camp structures since the last fire, their mere existence exposes the existing problems in the European asylum policy once again. The camp somewhat mitigates the symptoms of this structural failure, but without addressing the core issues in any way. Moreover, the European Union’s basic approach of setting up camps in non-European countries to keep people away from its own territory is to be strongly condemned. The IOM, as an UN-affiliated organization, is largely funded by the U.S. and EU member states[1]. And so the question arises whether, despite or precisely because of its humanitarian work, the visibility of PoM is shrinking more and more. It has become evident that the living conditions of the PoM are to be upgraded by the state aid projects just slightly enough to reach minimum standards that make it easier for broad sections of the population to turn away from this humanitarian trouble spot.

Destroyed oven in Squat
Oven in a Squat, destroyed by the police

The situation in Lipa

On the ground, this inhumane treatment leads to an extreme strain on both the psychological and time resources of the PoM: As we have seen in the past, many PoM will escape from Lipa at the next possible opportunity in order to regain a certain degree of autonomy and, for example, not to be tied to the exit regulations in the camps. In addition, we were told in conversations with PoM that the mood among the camp residents was extremely unsettled due to the inhumane situation and that they were under constant threat of violent confrontations. Thus, the many who cannot afford the expensive bus tickets for the return trip to the squats in Velika Kladuša or are excluded from the transport due to racist hostility, have to walk dozens of kilometers through the woods of Una Sana to get there.

Blindspots will support PoM as they return to these locations. Due to the closure of Miral camp, the number of people seeking shelter in local squats could increase unpredictably in the coming days and weeks. In order to show solidarity with PoM and support them in their struggle for admission to the EU, we would like to hereby appeal for donations to our project in Bosnia. With the help of your donations we can continue to order and distribute firewood for PoM so that they can cook themselves a warm meal every day, build and install mobile stoves in the emergency shelters and ensure a little more privacy through minor construction work (e.g. doors, windows). Through this we want to enable the PoM to regain some autonomy and independence from state structures.

At the same time, we call on the EU to end the cruel border regime and to create safe crossings into the EU!