Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina
When it comes to feminine hygiene, many people bow out of the conversation. It tends to be a forgotten issue because of the taboo nature of the problem. Period poverty refers to the struggle that many women go through when they cannot afford to buy feminine hygiene products. According to MedicalNewsToday, period poverty is affecting more than 500 million people globally as of 2021. Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina is very much affecting thousands of women and girls throughout the country.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country located in the Balkan region with a population of around 3.2 million people. Along with its seemingly shrinking population, it is also a very rural country, with 60% of the population living in rural areas. These rural people are also twice as likely to be poor compared to a citizen who lives in a city. Poverty in this country is nothing out of the ordinary. According to Brookings, in 2015, 15% of people in the country could not afford “basic life essentials.” According to the World Bank, 50.8% of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population is female as of 2021. This leaves thousands of women and girls in the country at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to regularly afford sanitary products.

Period Products and Salaries

Period products are expensive. According to Bosnia’s Statistic Agency, the average salary of an average citizen in Bosnia and Herzegovina was just about €575 a month. A tax on tampons exists in many countries in the Balkan Region that many people have called on government agencies to address, as it has become difficult for many women to afford these products. In Croatia, for example, there is a 25-cent tax on tampons. On average, women in this country spend about €25 on period-related items such as sanitary items and painkillers each time they get their period.

The United Nations

The lack of access to these products makes it difficult for girls to attend school. Access to period-related products allows more girls to go to school and feel comfortable in their environments without the distraction of menstruation.

In the coming school year, the U.N. has teamed up with schools in Bosnia’s Sarajevo Canton to provide access to sanitary pads and menstrual health to students in order to shrink the effects of period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The name of the campaign is “Za naše dane u mjesecu/For our days every month.” This initiative’s goal is to provide wider access to sanitary products and create awareness of this taboo issue that many people feel uncomfortable talking about. The U.N. wants to make sure that no one has to miss school days due to their period. With the launch of this new initiative, the country hopes to see fewer social inequalities because of menstruation.

How Always is Using Its Platform

Always also launched an initiative called #EndPeriodPoverty to combat the challenges that many girls face. The brand found that since the outbreak of COVID-19, “one in three girls feel less confident because they have missed school activities because of period-related issues.” The brand has teamed up with retailers to donate its products to countries in need with purchases of its products at participating retailers. It also launched the hashtag to bring awareness to this issue so people can post under the hashtag to their followers to make others aware. Though Always does not have a specific campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the brand’s initiative is fighting period poverty on a global scale.

Moving Foward

Period poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to be shrinking with the help of these different initiatives. The U.N. campaign started in September 2022 and will continue through the school year until May 2023. Through this campaign, countless school-aged girls will gain access to the necessary products and education to ensure a hopeful school year and end the stigma and shame surrounding menstruation.

– Olivia MacGregor
Photo: Unsplash

EU Candidate Status
On October 12, 2022, the European Commission recommended official European Union (EU) candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Considered a potential candidate since 2003, the country only formally applied for EU candidate status in 2016. The recommendation of the Commission does not mean that Bosnia and Herzegovina will be granted candidate status very soon. Nevertheless, it is sending a positive message to the country, signaling EU candidate status in the future if it implements more reforms.

The EU Candidate Status: A Tool for the Country’s Development

Obtaining EU candidate status to bolster development drives many countries to apply to the European Union. However, in order to obtain candidate status, countries must pass specific legal and political reforms.  For instance, the EU may ask countries to work on reducing corruption, poverty and social inequality.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Pathway

On December 2019, the Council of the European Union endorsed 14 key priorities for Bosnia and Herzegovina to obtain candidate status. These 14 priorities are a roadmap for the country in its path to implement strategic reforms to achieve candidate status. Political priorities include aligning its constitutional framework to European standards and improving its judiciary. Economic priorities include improvements in educational quality and energy infrastructure.

Furthermore, the EU has a special process for Western Balkans countries, called the “stabilization and association process.” This process has three aims:  political stability and a quick transition to a market economy, regional cooperation and eventual EU membership. The Western Balkans process provides Bosnia and Herzegovina with financial assistance, trade concessions and assistance for stabilization and reconstruction needed due to the war in the 1990s.

The Progress and Obstacles

The European Commission’s 2022 Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina outlined some progress on the 14 key priorities. The country made some progress in addressing environmental challenges and sustainable connectivity. It also made progress in its migration policies.

When it comes to the economic criteria, the country is slowly establishing a market economy. However, its economic performance is still below its potential. Its Economic Reform Programme does not include enough measures to tackle economic challenges on a national scale, such as the informal economy and unemployment, per the report.

The report also outlined little or no progress in the political sector. A key obstacle is that the country remains politically unstable. Indeed, the political entity representing the Bosnian Serbs, the Republika Srpska is trying to “unilaterally take over state competencies” and is threatening to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina due to potential accession to the EU. The European Commission also noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina did not make a lot of progress when it comes to tackling corruption and organized crime.

The Path Forward

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been seeking to join the EU for almost two decades. To reach the EU candidate status that will foster its development, the country needs to build upon its improvements on the 14 key priorities. It also needs to step up efforts to overcome the obstacles blocking any progress. If Bosnia and Herzegovina uses the support it has gained through the special Western Balkan process, the next report on its progress should be more positive. Perhaps the European Commission’s recommendation is the encouragement that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to improve its EU candidacy potential.

– Evan Da Costa Marques
Photo: Flickr

Education Reforms in Bosnia and HerzegovinaThe federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is divided across 10 independent cantons, each run by its own government and legislature. Education is split across 14 different ministries within Bosnia and Herzegovina, leading to an immensely complex, decentralized education system, offering unfocused educational goals and initiatives. As a result, many regions with lower budgets operate with outdated infrastructure. Furthermore, cooperation among local governments is rare which hurts enrollment as well as attendance rates.

Direct impacts of these shortcomings were apparent in 2018 data from the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) which showed that 15-year-old students from BiH consistently performed below the average proficiency levels across mathematics, reading and science. Data from the same report revealed that the educational standards and development of 15-year-old students in BiH lag three years behind their peers in other OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.

The Reforms

The disruptions during COVID-19 — half a million students were impacted by school closures — presented an opportunity for proactive measures to address inadequacies in education systems. With U.N. support, education authorities assessed existing institutions and then implemented a recovery program, targeting the most vulnerable and marginalized students via a gender-responsive initiative: Re-imagining Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The initiative supports public sector education across three administrative units, Republika Srpska entity, West-Herzegovina Canton and Una-Sana Canton, with the overarching aims of developing digital and blended learning facilities across the country, building a resilient education system that is responsive to emergencies and ensuring educational quality and inclusivity.

The advent of digital and blended learning techniques during the pandemic saw many changes in the way education is received, shedding light on the importance of connectivity. U.N. agencies stressed the significance of this in the education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, conducting assessments of the quality of digital learning across all stages of education, and simultaneously addressing the professional development needs of teachers to ensure they are equipped with the digital competency required to provide quality and inclusive e-learning.

The Re-imagining Education initiative funded an information management system in Una-Sana canton in September 2021, supporting the digitization of the education process in the region.

Of note, the Transforming Education Summit in September 2022 saw more than 1,500 representatives from BiH from both the governmental and non-governmental sectors, discussing the problems and proposed changes. Culminating with a drafted declaration, later accepted by education ministers across BiH, this heralds a country-wide policy of education reform and endorsement. Further collaboration with UNICEF and UNESCO is expected to offer support in developing a viable plan of action to achieve the outlined declaration objectives.

The Effects

Within a year of the Reimagining Education initiative, by March 2022, approximately 25% of schools across the country were provided with digital devices and along with it, about 2,500 teachers received training for digital learning.

The efforts could have spillover benefits to other countries. The end of October 2022 saw a joint meeting between Serbia, Montenegro and BiH under the Quality Education for All initiative, where representatives exchanged ideas on their experiences of the current systems, exploring policy reforms and outcomes. The benefit of such collective discourse is significant, offering each country fresh insights into new ways of managing their education systems.

The education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina have attracted interest from the European Union (EU) as well. Following extensive support to BiH, the EU is considering strengthening its ties to support further education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina through collaboration with local education officials and the U.N. agencies inside the country. Perhaps further success could pave the way for more expansive reforms within the EU, targeting other member states with a struggling education system as well.

Beyond merely advancing the teaching and learning environments of its various cantons, Bosnia has set a powerful example on an international scale, urging other countries with a struggling education system to follow suit, and those with an established one to not get complacent.

– Bojan Ivancic
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina
After the conclusion of the Bosnian War of 1992-1995, USAID has been instrumental in charting a path forward for positive economic development in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, since 1996, USAID has helped provide more than $1.7 billion in assistance to foster democratic, social and economic growth. This has significantly improved the standard of living of Bosnian citizens over the past two decades. USAID programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been especially noteworthy in their outcomes of significantly reducing poverty.

For instance, USAID’s initial business development loan program aided private businesses in restarting operations and increasing job opportunities for citizens. It helped massively decrease the country’s unemployment rate from 50% in 1996 to 29.3% in 1998. USAID’s 1,600 projects in the country over the past two decades have been crucial in minimizing poverty as well as improving the health and education infrastructure of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Previous Major Programs

In just three years prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple USAID programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina targeting job creation and community investment. There were two notable programs, which began in 2017, that proved key in addressing the aforementioned goals.

The first project, USAID’s Workforce and Higher Access to Markets (WHAM) Activity, underwent implementation in June 2017 and sought to further integrate Bosnia and Herzegovina into E.U. and regional trade markets. The results were notable for jobs with the creation of nearly 2,000 new jobs, allowing for “female participation [at] 31 percent and youth participation [at] 56 percent.”

The second program that USAID launched, called the Diaspora Invest project, began in April 2017. It proved instrumental to investment in Bosnia’s diaspora communities to tackle poverty and enable socioeconomic development. The outcome of the project is evident; as of February 2020, the project has supported 86 diaspora companies, created nearly 300 jobs and has produced around $9.5 million in new investments.

COVID-19 Initiatives

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID has significantly stepped up its initiatives in Bosnia to address multiple aspects of poverty that have worsened as a consequence of the pandemic. One of the most crucial policies USAID conducted in April 2021 was to coordinate with UNICEF. The coordination provided $4.8 million in additional funding for pandemic relief for the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina plan to use the relief over the next two years. Beyond COVID-19 relief policies, USAID has additionally established two significant programs in the country as part of COVID-19 recovery and poverty reduction in the long term.

  1. The Sustainable Tourism Development Project: The first program established is called the Sustainable Tourism Development Project. USAID launched this five-year, $20 million project in January 2021 to substantially improve the country’s tourism industry through three main facets: strengthening the quality of tourism services, expanding access to finance for businesses connected to tourism and opening the country to broader international tourism markets. The program will look to have a notable simultaneous effect on reducing poverty in the nation as it expects to create more than 3,000 jobs associated with tourism and inject over $40 million in private investment. This will improve the standard of living of communities within numerous tourist hotspots.
  2. The CARE-GBV Program: Another notable USAID program in Bosnia and Herzegovina that underwent implementation as recently as the beginning of August 2021 to tackle a sporadically spoken aspect of poverty. As part of its $500,000 grant to multiple countries, the Collective Action to Reduce Gender-Based Violence (CARE-GBV) Small Grants Program is contributing significantly to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a part of its mission to address gender-based violence, a phenomenon that is increasingly characteristic of low-income family households in the country. By giving grants to the local organization Žene sa Une (ZSU), USAID aims to establish a Staff Wellness and Resiliency-Building Program which will cover a planned 30%-40% increase in aid for household safety services as part of domestic violence prevention. In addition, the program will also accommodate the increased support necessary for its childcare center.

As efforts continue to address issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, USAID programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina will work to tackle different dimensions of poverty in multiple ways throughout the region.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Bosnia and Herzegovina Vaccine Rollout
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been quite profound. The country has been experiencing a severe recession, the worst in 25 years. Due to government borrowing in an effort to ease the strains stemming from the crisis, the national debt has soared. As a result, the Bosnia and Herzegovina vaccine rollout has been slow because its government has been unable to afford vaccines.

However, due to Russia, China and Europe providing donations, the country has received a large number of vaccines. On top of this, overseas organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have been continuing to advocate for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most vulnerable citizens.

The Lack of Purchase

In stark contrast to neighboring Serbia’s successful vaccine rollout, Bosnia and Herzegovina has not bought a single vaccine. Due to a disorganized government and the impact of a steep recession, the country has been relying on donations. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia and Herzegovina has prevented the nation from organizing a rollout of its own, thus endangering its citizens.

Pilgrimage to Serbia

Because of the slow vaccine rollout in Bosnia and Herzegovina, many Bosnians have migrated to neighboring Serbia, which has had an exponentially more successful vaccine rollout, to receive their vaccine. This is particularly striking because of the tensions between the two countries. The Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is well-known for downplaying the Srebrenica genocide, which took place in 1995. This was during the Yugoslavian wars of independence and took the lives of many Bosnian Muslims.

Donations are Keeping the Country Afloat

Because of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the country has been relying on large donations from countries that are further into their vaccine rollout than Bosnia and Herzegovina. After initial donations from Russia and China, the E.U. provided vaccines to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This also included Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, with 651,000 doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine in April 2021. In June 2021, Austria committed to donating 1 million doses of mainly AstraZeneca vaccine to the Western Bulkan bloc.

The UNHCR Advocate for the Vaccination of Asylum Seekers

While the Bosnian government is reluctant to vaccinate its population of refugees and asylum seekers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continues to advocate for the vaccination of those within the country without international protection. Previous successes have been seen in Serbia where the UNHCR has managed to vaccinate a large number of refugees, with 53 having their vaccine on the first day of operations.

The Future

Despite the crushing impact that the recession has had on the vaccine rollout, with international collaboration the future is looking brighter for the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With organizations such as UNHCR advocating for the nation’s most vulnerable, few will slip through the cracks in the vaccine initiative.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Bosnian War ended in 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, yet its impact reverberates throughout the country today. The Bosnian War was a three-year conflict between ethnic groups comprising of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), roughly 80% of Bosniaks died during the war. As a result of the war, homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina became rampant, leaving thousands without shelter. As of 2018, more than 90,000 refugees of the Bosnian War remain internally displaced, many of whom currently live in collective centers across the country. Homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina became a harsh reminder of the trauma endured more than two decades ago. It also serves as a reminder of the enduring challenges of post-war reconstruction.

Homelessness Statistics in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Data regarding the extent of homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina is elusive. There has only been one census completed since the conclusion of the war, limiting the government’s ability to support the homeless. Refugees and internally displaced persons are eligible for housing assistance under the Dayton Peace Accords. However, government monitoring makes the accessibility of these resources difficult.

A study by Hilfswerk Austria International, one of the few studies about the need for social housing in Bosnia, revealed data about the thousands of families who are not eligible for aid under the Dayton Accords. As of 2010, 395 families were living in collective centers. Meanwhile, another 553 families were living in temporary housing such as barracks. Roughly 359 families lived in improvised shelters and 219 families lived on the street without shelter.  Since 2010, social programs have emerged to support the homeless in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Regional Housing Programme

Under the Dayton Accords, the government pledged to close down collective centers by 2020 to find more permanent housing solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons. In the last decade, the Regional Housing Programme has worked to do just that. By 2018, the program had already changed the lives of about 14,000 people. The program has six specific sub-projects with particular goals.

  • BiH1: Securing more than €2 million worth of grant funding, this project provided building materials to 20 families and “reconstruction assistance to 150 families.” The project reached completion in 2018.
  • BiH2: Securing more than €10 million worth of grant funding, this project reconstructed 30 family houses for Croatian refugees with an additional 750 family houses for others. The initiative finished in 2019.
  • BiH3: With an estimated cost of more than €17 million, this project constructed 552 flats for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The initiative reached completion in 2019.
  • BiH4: Securing more than €2 million, this project reconstructed 435 houses for returning refugees. It also constructed 90 houses to support community integration of IDPs. The project finalized in 2019.
  • BiH5: With an estimated cost of more than €10 million, this project reconstructed 550 family houses. The project finished in late 2020.
  • BiH6: With an estimated cost of more than €18 million, 235 family houses were reconstructed and 380 flats were developed for returning refugees and IDPs. The project reached completion in late 2020.

Project Success

In July 2018, Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, visited the newly constructed apartment buildings. “The Regional Housing Programme contributes to the building of peace and coexistence in the region,” Lars-Gunnar Wigemark stated. The ambassador also explained the EU’s plans to continue work on similar projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the housing market. Since the Bosnian War, the Regional Housing Programme has made significant progress in addressing homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Another Refugee Crisis

While Bosnia-Herzegovina continues to address its poverty following the Bosnian War, a new refugee crisis threatens the country’s progress. Since 2018, an estimated 60,000 migrants arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. About 8,000 migrants are currently in Bosnia due to immigration restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of January 2021, 6,000 of the refugees are in housing centers. Now, Around 2,000 homeless people are trying to survive the severe winter in the country.

In December 2020, the situation became increasingly worse, as a fire destroyed a migrant camp called Lipa in the northwestern part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The other major camp in Bihac, just 15 miles north of the Lipa camp, closed in the fall of 2020. Despite the dangerous conditions at the destroyed Lipa camp and requests from the European Union, the mayor of Bihac still refuses to reopen the Bihac camp.

The European Union was specifically concerned with the freezing Bosnian temperatures as migrants who previously resided at Lipa now lacked shelter. In response, the Bosnian military set up 20 heated tents to accommodate hundreds of these migrants. Additionally, NGOs have also been working to support those displaced. Fresh Response, a volunteer-driven humanitarian organization has been aiding refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2019. The organization provides information, referrals for medical support and resources such as sleeping bags, jackets and blankets to those in need.

Moving Forward

Homelessness in Bosnia and Herzegovina is largely a tale of two converging refugee crises. Social programs and NGOs are working hard to provide for those displaced and have made major progress in helping the country’s homeless population. In the future, a collaboration between the European Union, advocacy groups and different Bosnian cantons will be able to increase safety, security and shelter for homeless people, hopefully ending the crisis for refugees.

Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Civil wars, violence and poor governance in North Africa and the Middle East pushed people to Europe. Based on the statistical data of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), a total of 1,046,599 people arrived in Europe in 2015. The total number of arrivals to Europe by land in 2015 was 34,887, with 1,011,712 people arriving by sea. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country that has received these migrants. Here is some information about migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Driving Forces of the European Union Migration Crisis

Every migration process remains influenced by a combination of several factors. The motivation for migration can be economic, environmental, political and social. The IOM defines the “push factor” as the situation or factor in a country of origin that encourage people to leave their country. The “pull factor” is the situation or factor that draws people to another country.

For the migrants, pull factors are high wages, employment and labor opportunities. But the essential push factors are lack of economic opportunities, slow economic growth and low wages. In other words, factors that have a connection with the economic situation. However, the situation is different for refugees. The main push factors for them are wars, interstate or civil strife and political oppression. The pull factors are safety and security.

The Western Balkan Migratory Route

Within a short period, a high number of arrivals of asylum seekers and migrants to the European Union (E.U.) has presented European leaders and politicians with one of the enormous challenges in the history of the E.U.

The case of Bosnia and Herzegovina can be an example of how the migration crisis created new challenges for a country that has unstable institutions and a weak economic situation. Since the beginning of the migration crisis, Bosnia became an unintended waystation for asylum seekers and migrants. The majority of the people who snuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina used the Western Balkan migratory route.

The majority of asylum seekers and migrants made their way from Turkey to Greece and northwards via the Western Balkans. The people who entered Greece tried to travel through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia to Hungary and Croatia. However, the violent act of Croatian border police pushed asylum seekers and migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to the United Nations (U.N.) data, around 8,000 asylum seekers and migrants are currently present in the country, and 5,400 individuals are accommodated in E.U.-funded camps. Most of the people were from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority of the asylum seekers and migrants were not eager to stay in Hungary or Croatia. Their main goal was to travel towards Western Europe.

The Numbers

In 2014, 43,357 illegal border crossings were registered in the Western Balkan route. However, in 2015, the numbers drastically increased. In 2015, 764,033 illegal border crossings occurred. Over the next few years, the numbers dropped. The total number of illegal crossings in 2016 stood at 130,325 and in 2017, it dropped to 12,179.

The lowest number of border crossings in 2018 was 5,869. However, after 2018, the numbers increased. For example, in 2020, there were 26,918 illegal crossings. The data refers to the detection of illegal border crossing rather than several individuals. The same individual may have attempted to cross the external borders several times.

The Situation in Refugee Camps

In January 2021, the European Commission announced that €3.5 million in financial aid will go toward helping asylum seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main goal of the funding is to supply warm clothing, blankets, food, healthcare service and psychosocial support. Since early 2018, the E.U. has provided more than €88 either directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina or to partner organizations that implement projects to improve conditions in the camps.

Despite the E.U. monetary help, the authority of the country faces difficulties to handle the situation, and most of the camp residents live in poverty. Residents of camps suffer from a lack of food, clean water and sanitary conditions. On the other hand, one of the main problems resulted in that the responsible authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and other international organizations did not manage monetary aid properly. Also, as NGOs have argued, the E.U. often focuses on short-term solutions rather than long-term.

Despite all the financial aid from the E.U., the Bosnian Premier Zoran Tegeltija states that “Bosnia-Herzegovina can’t handle the migrant crisis on its own.” The position of Bosnian authorities is that they are carrying a heavy burden and financial support is not enough.  Zoran says the “number of migrants in proportion to the number of residents is significantly higher compared to other countries.”

Conclusion

The E.U. provided monetary aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016. Despite the ongoing challenges in the refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, hopefully, continued financial aid will improve their conditions.

Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

Refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a southeastern European country situated in the western Balkan Peninsula of Europe. The state has borders with Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. The migration process that peaked in 2015 had an impact on many European states. A mix of civil wars, violence and bad governance in North Africa and the Middle East pushed people outside of their motherlands. According to the statistical data of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 1,015,078 people irregularly crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and 3,771 people died or disappeared at sea during their journeys to reach Europe. These migrations have resulted in a need for refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has land borders with the E.U.

Refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The number of asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina drastically increased at the end of 2017. An average of 32 new arrivals registered per month between January-November, but in December, the number of newcomers reached 198. The tendency continued into 2018 and the number of asylum seekers and migrants increased from 237 in January to 666 in March. Since the beginning of 2018, approximately 70,000 asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina via the Western Balkans migration route. Based on the United Nations (U.N.) statistics, around 8,000 asylum seekers and migrants are currently present in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In most cases, new arrivals were from Syria, Libya, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Algeria and Iraq.

Due to economic and social reasons, new arrivals mostly do not have the willingness to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their main priority is to reach E.U. countries. However, strict border controls by the Croatian authorities and the slow readmission process by the E.U. have made the situation more complicated. In the last years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights groups have documented violence against asylum seekers and migrants by Croatian border police. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are five fully operational Temporary Reception Centers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the same time, 5,616 asylum seekers and migrants are present at Temporary Reception Centers and 8,116 asylum seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Current Struggles in the Refugee Camps

The poverty level of the residents in refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains very high despite the humanitarian aid of the E.U., U.N. agencies, humanitarian organizations and Bosnian and Herzegovinian authorities. Especially during the winter, all camps lack the most basic conditions for hosting people. Since the fire of the main camp in Lipa, residents of camps live in tents built by the Bosnian and Herzegovinian military. The refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina provide minimum comfort from the harsh weather conditions and 13 people live in one tent on average.

Food security remains a significant problem in camps for asylum seekers and migrants. According to U.N. data, 67% of residents of camps eat one meal per day. Asylum seekers and migrants purchase second and third meals with their own money. Personal funds of people are running out and they do not have income sources. Some residents of camps beg for money or sell tissues in the streets. Also, food security can change by location. Camps in the Sarajevo area receive food on a regular basis. However, residents of camps on the east and west of the country suffer from a lack of food distribution.

At the same time, people do not have any access to education while they live in refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By international law, asylum seekers have the right to primary and secondary education.

European Initiatives

Since early 2018, the E.U. provided €40,5 million directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina and project implementing partners. These funds help address the problems asylum seekers and migrants face in the refugee camps. Despite all of the humanitarian aid from the E.U., humanitarian organizations, non-governmental organizations and local authorities, problems remain. After visiting the notorious Lipa camp in the early months of February 2021, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson recommended a new European program for migrants and asylum seekers. However, to start a new program, consent is necessary from all E.U. members.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

The Dayton Accords
On Nov. 21, 1995, the Dayton Accords were completed in Dayton, Ohio. The peace agreement ended a four-year war in the Balkans that claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people. The deal has been declared brilliant, insufficient, crucial and shortsighted. A former Bosnian energy minister described it as, “diplomatic and political butchery,” while simultaneously stating, “it was by far the best option available at that particular moment in history.”

These juxtaposed opinions are commonplace for the Dayton Accords, as it managed to end a horrific, genocidal war while enshrining a political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina that some believed was nothing more than, “a house of cards about to come tumbling down.” As similar wars driven by territorial conflict and ethnic tension continue to haunt people around the world, it bears consideration what lessons in conflict resolution can be taken from this peace agreement.

Bringing Enemies to the Table

The agreement itself was negotiated in just 21 days from within the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. U.S. Diplomat Richard Holbrooke served as the chief negotiator between the Presidents of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Additionally, a contingency of Russian, French, British and German negotiators was present at Wright Patterson, though the U.S. took the lead in the proceedings.

One of the more notable aspects of the negotiation process was Holbrooke’s care. He sought to create an environment that forced an agreement among representatives who appeared reluctant to come to one. Representatives were not allowed to discuss the negotiations with the press. They were each given their own floor of the building so that Holbrooke could work separately with each party. He went from floor to floor, slowly hammering out an agreement to end the conflict for good. The result created one country composed of two parts. It was complex, but the preceding nightmare that brought them all there was worse.

Ending a War

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina had raged for four years, with “Serb and Croat forces aiming to carve the country up into a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia, respectively.” Bosnia’s four million citizens belonged primarily to three main ethnic groups: Bosniak or Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats which made up roughly 44%, 31% and 17% of the population, respectively. The remaining 8% was Yugoslav.

The war began in 1992 when Bosnia declared its independence from Yugoslavia and was met with a swift military assault from Bosnian Serbs seeking to gain territory and commit ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. During the genocidal conflict, 80% of the fatalities were Bosniaks. Additionally, numerous atrocities and war crimes were committed across the conflict. One U.N. report discussing artillery attacks on Sarajevo in 1994 stated that 200 to 300 impacts were a “quiet day” in contrast to an “active day” which could see 800 to 1,000 impacts from shelling by Serb forces.

In February 1994, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began its first combat operation in history, shooting down Bosnian Serb aircraft to enforce a U.N.-declared no-fly zone. This would be followed up with later bombing raids that would eventually force Presidents Milošević, Tudjman and Izetbegović to the negotiating table.

A New Nation

The Dayton Accords cut Bosnia almost exactly in half. The predominantly Bosniak-Croat Federation took 51%, and 49% went to the Bosnian Serbs as the Republika Srpska. There the simplicity stopped. According to The Guardian, “Dayton spawned a political system that is a cash cow for politicians. It is among the most complex in the world.” Rather than solving ethnic tensions, it froze them in time with a constitution that allocated key government posts to Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. All other ethnic groups would remain barred from political positions throughout the government.

Beyond the issues of complexity, many view the Accords as having rewarded genocide and numerous other war crimes, as the original aggressors walked away with major territorial gains. President Milosevic of Yugoslavia, President Karadzic of Bosnian Serbia and General Mladić (known as “The Butcher of Bosnia”), all went on to be tried for international war crimes. Dayton’s harshest critics see the peace agreement as having been a strategic win for those men. It is believed that NATO forces would eventually have been able to roll back the incursions they made.

25 Years of Hindsight

The flaws that the Dayton Accords both perpetuated and created are numerous and frequently pointed to amid calls for its reform or complete scrapping. However, its legacy lives far more as a mixed bag than as an outright cautionary tale. The peace created, while fragile, has lasted longer than many experts dared hope. The Accords brought an end to a genocide, the likes of which had not been seen in Europe since the Holocaust. Yet conversely, it trapped the split nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in unending ethnic discontent and a political system predisposed to corruption. Looking at Dayton as a future peace negotiation model will require reconciliation with each of these conflicting narratives.

Scott Mistler-Ferguson
Photo: U.S. National Archives

Conditions Improving in Lipa Migrant Camp
Deep in the snow in Bosnia’s Lipa migrant camp, hundreds of refugees huddle in wind-blown tents without food, water or heat. A fire outbreak destroyed the refugee camp in December 2020. The 1,700 inhabitants of the camp evacuated but, with nowhere else to go, 900 migrants returned to the remnants of the camp where they are now living in tents along steep wintery slopes.

Migrants Face Struggles

Many of the migrants in Lipa are coming from Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. Since the European Union shut its doors to new members in 2015, the migrants’ goal was to reach Croatia, which many see as a “gateway to the E[.]U.” According to The International Organization for Migration (IOM), 8,500 migrants are currently living in Bosnia with hopes of someday getting farther into Northern Europe.

The United Nations explains that thousands of migrants who have spent innumerable weeks outside in negative temperatures are in desperate need of viable shelters. Many migrants, according to The New York Times, live in tattered tents, have exhorted to washing themselves with snow and stand in line barefoot for food and supplies.

In October 2020, authorities in Bihać, Bosnia, closed its migrant reception center, the biggest in the area. Those living there underwent relocation to the Lipa, Bosnia, camp 75 kilometers away. Bosnia’s central government then ordered local enforcement to reopen the reception center in Bihać, Bosnia, but the local enforcement refused. Therefore, approximately 2,500 people currently live on the outskirts, suffering exposure to the elements.

Migrants’ Struggles Amid COVID-19

Due to the threat of the novel coronavirus, the IOM quickly established the camp in Lipa, Bosnia, in summer 2020 when the country had to close its borders.  Even before the fire, the camp did not prepare itself for winter. Migrants would usually have received thermal floor mats, insulation for shelters and tents, new blankets, stoves and fuel. But now, lacking amenities such as power, water, winter clothes and tents, the camp was virtually unsustainable.

On December 11, 2020, the IOM stopped funding the migrant camp due to the failure of authorities to make conditions sustainable through winter. Aid agencies left later that month. As of January 6, 2021, 700 people remained in the camp, finding shelter in abandoned shipping containers and the devastated remnants of tents. Bihać, Bosnia’s mayor apparently agreed to reopen the Bihać Reception Center and even sent buses to relocate the migrants. However, the buses left Lipa, Bosnia, completely empty. Migrants experienced outrage at the heating and sanitation conditions and went on a hunger strike to protest the issues.

Raising the Alarm

The approaching threat of harsh winter brought to light the migrants’ predicament. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic raised alarm over the growing danger in December 2020. Conditions seem to be looking up for refugees in both Lipa and Bihać, Bosnia. Peter Van der Auweraert, chief of mission in Bosnia for the IOM, says that aid groups distributed winter sleeping bags, apparel and food. The army has begun to bring in heated tents for migrants living in the Lipa migrant camp in Bosnia in what Van der Auweraert calls an “important step forward.”

The Danish Refugee Council

The Danish Refugee Council has provided protection, shelter, food security, community infrastructure as well as water, sanitation and hygiene supplies. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, currently, 82 staff members from the Danish Refugee Council are caring for a total of 8,500 displaced peoples. Working alongside the Red Cross and the IOM, the Danish Refugee Council had distributed food, winter clothes, sleeping bags and hygiene kits to more than 1,500 displaced peoples. The Bosnian local officials agreed to relocate migrants from the Bosnian Lipa migrant camp to the reception center in Bihać, Bosnia, while reparations to the Lipa Emergency Reception Centre are taking place. The center will also have water and electrical services ready for occupants come April 2021.

Mijatovic continues to advocate for better conditions for migrants in Bosnia, including rapid procedures for asylum-seekers, ending the anti-migrant rhetoric of Bosnia, as well as better care for the approximately 500 unescorted migrant children. Currently, the European Union has provided Bosnia with €60 million, approximately $70 million, for emergency funding, including migrant centers. This response to the crisis is not uncommon. According to Nicola Bay, the country director for the Danish Refugee Council, “Every year we have this winter crisis and an emergency response is crafted at the last minute.”

Looking Forward

For the future, refugees hope that conditions will continue to improve, with further services and supplies going to those living in dangerous conditions. The Danish Refugee Council is focusing its efforts on improving human health and emergency response in regards to the migrant crisis. The organization is also currently working on improving the availability of primary healthcare services in reception facilities, providing mental and psychosocial support for refugees and documenting human rights violations experienced at the Bosnia-Croatia border. The humanitarian group supplied the migrants with doctors beginning in January 2021 when the migrants at the Lipa camp in Bosnia underwent screening for respiratory and skin infections, as well as other health conditions.

The Danish Refugee Council Secretary-General Charlotte Slente believes that the fault lies in the inherently flawed immigration policy of the European Union: “We believe it is necessary for the European Commission to move beyond the current crisis mode approach to migration and ensuring that there is sufficient long-term and predictable financial support made available, in this case to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to ensure that a dignified reception capacity can be put in place.” Hopefully, with the reopening of the Lipa Emergency Reception Centre in Spring 2021, those from the migrant camp currently bracing the cold will have shelter and safety.

– Nina Eddinger
Photo: U.S. National Archives