Bihac on the border of Europe - Part Three

A delegation from Pordenone, led by social cooperative Noncello, has traveled to Bihac, Bosnia, to monitor the situation of refugees on a route which is not on the media spotlight.

I write the third part of the report while news are published about the tension on the borders between Bosnia and Croatia.

Since our mid-October mission, the situation has evolved rapidly. First with the demonstration of the citizens of Bihac against the Bosnian government guilty of having abandoned them in the organization of the welcoming of thousands of refugees. Then with the spontaneous march of asylum seekers who left the camp of Bihac, from the former hotel "Sedra" where women and children are housed and from the camp of Velika Kladusa, a Bosnian town close to the border with Croatia.

Stopped by a heavily armed police cordon, they were told to go back.

Part I and Part II of this feature can be found here and here.

Last stop: Velika Kladusa

A bare esplanade filled with patches, camping tents, far from the city center and hidden from view.

It is important that someone accompany you, otherwise you will end up turning round in circles in search of the informal camp of Velika Kladusa, a city so close to the border that many migrants prefer it to Bihac.

Suddenly the plot appears at the end of a path in which the movement of young men is incessant. What hits you is the sense of desolation and abandonment.

Unlike Bihac, here the municipality, and the mayor in primis, doesn’t want to know about the refugees flux and the disinterest is obvious.

Fikret Abdic, current mayor of Kladusa has been in prison, accused of being a war criminal. A magnate of Agrokomerc, a small-large agro-food empire that has come to employ 13,000 people, between 1992 and 1995, he founded the Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia, settling with both Croats and Serbs and has been jailed accused of having created concentration camps that also interned the citizens of Bihac.

Once released from prison, in 2012, he won the 2016 administrative elections.

A few kilometers from the city center, last July, tents were set up on the land owned by Agrokomerc: the official camp of Velika Kladusa should have been set up there, but Abdic denied authorization.

The Federal Red Cross provides a daily meal but “they are not coming every day”, say some of the young men I meet.

Officially there is an exponent of the IOM who goes there, but the most active is No Name Kitchen, a Spanish association that operates on site with several volunteers. Doctors Without Borders is also present, but does not have a fixed medical position.

There are about 300 people at the moment, many more are the invisible ones, who live hidden in the surrounding forest in situations even more precarious than those we met. Most are Iranian and Pakistani. There is also a Moroccan who speaks Italian, dressed much better than the others and is difficult to say whether he sleeps in one of the tents or has found accommodation in the city, or, in fact, what he is doing there.

At the end, on the right, close to a low vegetation a couple of chemical toilets. "Don’t go there,” one of the Iranian boys tells me. "They are unusable and all around sewage and smell are unbearable". Indeed, the space in front the two latrines was not occupied by anyone.

Even here, following the normal human mechanisms, the refugees have been divided into groups according to their nationality. The Iranians, many young people between 20 and 30 years and a family with minors, occupy the tents on the right side. They turn on a stove and a couple of them cook eggs on an old pan you would actually need to throw away.

The rubbish is at the limits of the perimeter of the camp, "It's a huge problem", the woman tells me, coming out of the biggest tent. "They rarely come to take it away".

They have not been here for a long time. "Even if the town does not do anything, people are kind. They come to bring clothes, "adds another boy.

"The Croatian police sent me back two days ago to the sound of truncheon”. In addition to the scratching under the cheekbone he shows me the profound bruise on the side. "Here's what they do to you. Take a picture if you want ". But I refuse.

Some people have been traveling for three years, and are in Bosnia for several months. "Yes, I have been in Serbia too. But I want to go to Europe. I'm a political activist”, adds another, brown hair on a thin face.

"They arrested me during a protest demonstration in Tehran. The pasdaran of the Iranian regime are inhuman". Others confirm. "I was beaten in jail. I escaped to save myself, thinking that Europe respected human rights. Instead ... ". He shakes his head.

But the questions they ask me are exemplary. "When will we be able to pass? Why do they beat us like we're criminals? We have no rights, therefore anywhere in the world? ". Their voices overlap, requests already heard in other places, in Greece in 2016 and in Serbia in 2017: Open the Borders. And I wonder what is the feeling that keeps them going forward, despair or hope?

The youngest, perhaps barely 18, stares at me and then asks me seriously, "But what do you think, maybe at Christmas it will be easier to cross the border?".

Bihac needs concrete support

"Globalization has fallen upon us with all its negative weight", says the mayor of Bihac, Suhreta Fazlic, at the meeting at the municipal office on Sunday morning.

"For a year we have been dealing with the migrant emergency without having any kind of concrete support from the central government. As a municipality we have no political power and the only help comes from international organizations".

Even if it maintains a controlled tone, the fatigue of a problem that has more and more difficult to contain is evident.

"We are a small community that still has memories of the hardships suffered during the long siege of the 90s. Therefore the empathy towards these disadvantaged people arrived in our city has been immediately very strong. Now, however, the first manifestations of rejection begin to appear. We need concrete help".

The hill where stands the unfinished youth building had just been reclaimed and renovated as a green spot for citizenship. The fact of being occupied as a shelter by migrants has been lived with shock by the citizens.

"You see, the biggest difference between the situation you live in Italy and the one we live here is based on the fact that yours is a country of arrival while ours is a passing through country. They do not want to stay. Any project investment appears difficult. We are suffering damage to our public assets and that also raises the level of intolerance".

Mayor Fazlic does not hide the concern for what could happen. "We must have support in our dialogue with them. Even if they are Muslims our culture of belonging is different and we are not prepared for this. We want to help them but we need to understand how best to do so keeping in mind the needs of the citizens. The common thought has become that the migrants come here while the money of the European Union enters the government boxes in Sarajevo. Not to mention the small rural communities on the road from here to the border, these too need support in a short time".

The urgency in the words of the mayor who, while describing what his city is facing has never used the term "security", draws the attention of our eyes and our consciences on a reality on the doorstep of Italy that so far has been evolved into an excess of indifference, even by professionals or various NGOs and associations fighting for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers against the sovereign drifts of fortress Europe.

Careful to follow the tragedy in the Mediterranean much more under the spotlight of various levels of discourse, we have left that in the Balkans coercive pockets for human beings were created.

Countries seduced by the money of the European Union - last in terms of time Albania, put up in their territories many camps where they try to retain people wanted to reach Europe.

What will happen? I leave Bihac, Bosnia full of questions, of contradictory sensations and with the annoying sensation that there is not much time left.