This post is also available in: Bosnian
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s border police say that in the first six months of this year, 172 people were caught making illegal crossings of the country’s border, with more than 90 coming from countries affected by conflict.
Most of the migrants came from Pakistan, 52 of them in total, then 25 from Afghanistan, 12 from Syria, three from Iraq and one from the Palestinian territories.
Statistical data shows that in the corresponding periods in 2015 and 2016, only three and six people respectively from the Middle East and Muslim-majority Asian countries crossed into Bosnia and Herzegovina illegally.
Border police spokesperson Sanela Dujkovic told BIRN that despite this growth, the country is not facing a migrant crisis.
“The situation in Serbia and Macedonia, where you have a large number of migrants ‘stuck’ on the Balkan route, tells us there is a possibility that some might try to find alternative routes towards the EU, which could include travelling across Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Dujkovic explained.
“The cases we have seen this year show us that migrants from countries of high migrant risk have started, in individual cases and in smaller groups, to try and use Bosnia and Herzegovina as a transit area to cross into the EU,” she added.
Jasmin Ahic, a professor specialising in security at the Sarajevo Faculty of Criminology, told BIRN that there is little chance of a large-scale migrant influx.
“The attempts we have seen are clearly individual cases and there is no high risk of Bosnia and Herzegovina facing any threat. There are no realistic indicators of this becoming a large-scale phenomenon. These are desperate attempts by people who have no hope of getting asylum in EU countries,” Ahic explained.
Deportation or asylum
The Bosnian border police have said that in cases where they have found people trying to illegally enter or stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they handed over the individuals to the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs.
The Service for Foreigners’ Affairs then established the identities of the individuals, documented the cases, and usually handed the individuals back to the authorities in Serbia, as most migrants enter Bosnia from there.
The director of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, Slobodan Ujic, told BIRN that foreign citizens can be immediately sent back to the state from which they tried to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina, if the other country accepts that the immigrants come from their territory.
Ujic said that Bosnia and Herzegovina has an agreement on readmission with Serbia, which allows for faster handling of these cases.
In cases where illegal migrants are found not in border areas, they are still brought to the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs.
“After these people are brought in, we try to find out their identities through interviews and find how they crossed into our country and whether their origin was Serbia. We try to find proof that they stayed in a [refugee] camp in Serbia, or that they were given the right to temporarily stay in this country, or if they filed for asylum in Serbia,” he said.
“This is the evidence we try to collect to send them back to the country in which they were before coming into Bosnia and Herzegovina illegally,” he added.
Bosnia and Serbia’s agreement on readmission allows for expedited procedures within 24 hours and a regular procedure which lasts from 15 to 45 days, depending on how long it takes to gather the evidence and if Serbia accepts that the person came from its territory.
Bosnian Security Ministry data indicates that 44 people from the Immigration Centre in Lukavica near Sarajevo have filed asylum requests this year, while half as many did the same during the first half of 2016.
“The asylum seekers come from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon. The process has been discontinued in the case of some of those people, because they have left Bosnia and Herzegovina in the meantime, while the other requests are being processed,” the Security Ministry said.
The asylum procedure takes half a year, it added.
Hiding in trucks
Ujic said that Croatia or Slovenia also return migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina if they have evidence confirming that they entered via Bosnian territory.
He also said the number of migrants at the Immigration Centre in Lukavica has increased by more than 300 per cent in comparison to last year.
“The Immigration Centre previously mostly dealt with citizens of Serbia, Albania and Turkey, while its current inmates include people from the Middle East [and nearby areas], where conflicts are ongoing at present,” Ujic said.
Groups of illegal migrants discovered by border police this year were usually found near the border crossings or in trucks transporting freight.
“Due to the fact that many cases of freight space being used for smuggling immigrants have been registered, the border police have introduced a temporary measure of increased control and mandatory inspection of all freight vehicles entering Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia and Montenegro,” border police said.
The border police also said they often register Turkish citizens attempting to illegally reach Western European countries after having legally entered Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In March this year, the Bosnian prosecution staged a large-scale raid entitled ‘Bosporus’, during which they reported arresting six people for smuggling migrants from Syria and Turkey to EU countries.
Security experts believe however that in general, the potential for large-scale human trafficking of migrants through Bosnia and Herzegovina has decreased.