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

Mental Health in Bosnia and Herzegovina
In the past half-century, mental health treatment has become a hallmark of national development and Europe has been no exception. Nations of the former Soviet Bloc have seen major developments in the last several years. Before violence broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina had a fairly strong psychiatric care system with wards in larger hospitals. However, since the stabilization of the region, the system has undergone rebuilding with a focus on not only hospital wards, but also community mental health care clinics.

Despite its small population of only 3.5 million, Bosnia and Herzegovina have been a model of mental health care in the Balkan region. Mental health care in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been extremely important since the deadly conflicts within the former Yugoslavia, particularly the Bosnian Genocide from 1992-1995. Additionally, it continues to be important into the 20th century with high rates of mental illness among survivors of the conflict.

The Situation

While mental health in Bosnia and Herzegovina has not received a lot of study, it is clear that post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina has comparatively high levels of mental illness stemming from trauma. This includes but is not limited to mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and personality disorders. Many citizens have experienced internal displacement or repatriation or suffered violent trauma during the period of unrest in the Balkans in the 1990s and early 2000s leading to extensive need for mental health care both long term and in crisis situations. While this suffering is certainly not ideal, it has encouraged a number of organizations to assist in not only the implementation of systems of accessible mental health care but also campaigns to destigmatize mental illness in new and innovative ways.

These systems have been highly successful and have provided care for thousands of individuals through 74 community mental health centers, several teaching clinical centers in major cities and nine full psychiatric wards all of which can handle both acute and chronic mental health concerns. The involvement of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs has helped make these achievements possible. It has made a major effort to structure and fund the creation of vast mental health programs and networks along with the help of several international NGOs including HealthNet International, the World Health Organization (WHO), Medica Zenica and the Red Cross. All of these organizations have contributed to funding, training and organizing clinics around the country. This has allowed for a complete restructuring of the mental health care system in the country including international advocacy groups collaboration on legislation to improve the lives of mentally ill citizens.

Government-Provided Mental Health Care

While Bosnia and Herzegovina have an absolute poverty rate of over 16% which is above the global average, citizens can rely on government-provided mental health care through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare operates through a decentralized system and receives funding through citizens’ mandatory national health insurance.

In addition to improvements in mental health care, new programs have seen extensive success in destigmatizing psychiatric illness. In the last several years, mental health in Bosnia and Herzegovina has improved through the implementation of mental health promotion programs in schools as well as in communities, which serve to normalize mental illness and discuss mental health. The success of these systems offers an example by which to construct mental health systems in smaller nations that desperately need access to these services.

Despite the struggles of the past half-century, Bosnia and Herzegovina has become an example of positive mental health care restructuring. Moreover, it seems likely that the system will continue to make improvements over time.

– Che Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small country in the Balkan region of Southeastern Europe, has been at the forefront of many episodes of violence, most notably the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. Today, the country is more stable. However, the issue of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina is an issue for both Bosnian nationals and foreign citizens.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is an annual report that the U.S. has produced since 2000. It rates countries on their efforts to combat human trafficking. Tier 1 countries meet minimum international standards on the issue, Tier 2 do not but are making significant efforts to do so and Tier 3 are not making efforts to do so.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been on a watchlist between Tier 2 and Tier 3 for the past three years, meaning it does not meet minimum standards and is making significant efforts to improve the situation but has an increasing number of victims. Here are five facts about human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

  1. The Numbers – The government identified 61 potential victims of trafficking in 2020, up from 39 the previous year. Of these, 36 were children, 49 were female and 12 were male. Moreover, 19 of the victims were victims of sex trafficking. Most of the victims were domestic, although a few were foreign nationals.
  2. Legal System – The country, though united under one constitution, further divides into two entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (F BiH) and Republika Srpska (RS) as well as one self-governing administrative district in Brčko. Each has its own constitution and legislature. Additionally, the Federation includes 10 cantons, each with its own constitution (modeled after that of the Federation) as well as individual legislative and executive powers. Human trafficking is illegal across these governments. However, a lack of communication and cooperation between them hinders efforts at prosecuting cases across cantons or entities. Different governments mandate different things for victims: for example, the RS mandates access to therapy, but not in the Federation. Because of difficulties collaborating across regional governments, it is challenging for the government to have a unified approach toward human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  3. At the Border – Border police and other first responders lack the training, capacity and procedures necessary to screen large groups of migrants and refugees for victims of trafficking. When potential victims received identification and underwent interviews with law enforcement, the process was not transparent, and victims needed to cooperate with investigations to receive assistance. Additionally, police often lacked interpreters to effectively communicate with victims.
  4. Shelters and Funding – The government operates seven shelters and a mobile team for 160 street children in Sarajevo, who are at a higher risk. Government shelters lacked the funding for anything beyond the most basic services and could only provide short term accommodations. Government ministries allotted 130,000 convertible marks (roughly $70,000) per year to NGOs assisting victims in 2018 and 2019, however, the funding simply did not reach the NGOs in 2019 due to issues in the state budget. Separate funds emerged for domestic and international victims, and although domestic victims are the majority, they receive lower funding (70,00 marks in comparison to 60,000.) The funds are not combined, and any rollover of funds for foreign victims did not go toward domestic ones.
  5. Roma Minority – According to official statistics, the Roma people number around 25,000 to 50,000, but the official number is likely much higher due to stigma associated with the term. UNICEF describes the situation as one of “chronic, multidimensional poverty.” The Roma are especially susceptible to human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, victims of trafficking among Roma children received dismissal as “traditional cultural practices.” Moreover, those investigating accepted that the children had gone home to their families even when those families participated in the act. Government discussions on anti-trafficking measures did not include Romani communities, despite their status as having continuous victims.

Solutions to Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Although the problem persists, new efforts have emerged to fight human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These include:

  1. New National Strategy – In January 2020, the country adopted a new National Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Persons with representatives from all administrative entities. It incorporated suggestions by international monitoring agencies and aims to address these five issues: support, prevention, prosecution, victim support and partnership.
  2. Council of Europe – The government recently entered into joint action with the Council of Europe, which aims to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This involves seminars and awareness training which will enable better management and identification of trafficking victims and improving the legal system’s response to human trafficking.
  3. Administrative Reform – In 2018, there were just four Regional Coordinating Teams (RCTs) to manage human trafficking across administrative borders. The number increased to 18, and each received new training and technical assistance. This will go a long way to mitigating issues that competing levels of administration within the country causes.

Although human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been an ongoing issue, the current efforts will hopefully ensure a reduction in victims going forward. Through the country’s creation of a National Strategy to its work to raise awareness about the issue, human trafficking should hopefully become a part of the past for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

– Bradley Cisternino
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

After the war
Bosnia and Herzegovina, more commonly known as Bosnia, used to be a part of former Yugoslavia and went through one of the most horrific genocides in 1992. Since the war, Bosnia has had one of the highest poverty rates in the world and an unemployment rate of 15%.

This article examines the perspectives of three Bosnian women from different generations and how difficult it is or was for them to get a good education, proper healthcare or make a comfortable living after the war. Naska is a 64-year-old retired house cleaner who has lived in Bosnia all her life. Elma is 40-year-old working as a dialysis nurse in the Nakas General Hospital in Sarajevo. And finally, Adna is a 20-year-old currently attending The Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo.

Living in Bosnia Now

Naska was only 38 when the war started. She was born and raised in Sarajevo and still lives in her old childhood home in the middle of the city. She says living on a pension fund in Bosnia is very difficult. She receives only 300 marks, which is equal to $182 a month. “If I didn’t receive help from my sister back in the United States I would not have enough to pay for all my groceries. I’m really lucky because my friends do not have family away to help and it gets really hard, especially in the winter.” The retirement age in Bosnia is 60 years, but due to health issues Naska was forced to retire early. In our interview, Naska explained that there was a train she used to take on her way to school when she was young. The station she used was bombed during the war and has not been repaired or rebuilt since 1995. She says that times felt happier before the war; her and her neighbors are tired of seeing constant reminders of the worst time of their lives.

Elma was in elementary school during the Bosnian War. She attended class in a basement with her friends. In Bosnia, after secondary school students are required to pick a specialty in high school that they carry on through university. Elma has been studying medicine since she was 16 and works in one of only two state hospitals in Sarajevo. A registered nurse for close to 10 years now, Elma believes that the healthcare system is not the same as it was before. Bosnia has a shortage of good healthcare professionals, and the private sector for medical supplies has taken over hospitals causing treatment to become more expensive for residents. Not only has the healthcare system gotten worse after the war, the possibility of finding a decent job has also worsened. “I have been applying for a job at hospitals for five years now. I could not even get an interview. [My mom] called me a year ago to tell me that her friend has an open position in his hospital. I honestly believe that if it was not for him I would not have a job right now.” Elma thanks her mother for a lot of the good things in her life. She says before finding a long-term job, she worked part-time night shifts at a nursing home and her husband’s job wasn’t stable either. They both live in the apartment her parents had bought previously so they have the luxury of not worrying about paying rent, only utility and groceries. Elma feels her life right now is good, but she worries this could change at any moment.

Adna was born in Sarajevo in 2000. She doesn’t know much about life before the war, only what her parents have told her. She told me in the interview that students in Bosnia don’t learn about the war in schools and everything they know about it comes from stories that get passed down. Her parents tell her it’s because the country is still in mourning and it’s hard for people to talk about what happened. The education system is very different in Bosnia compared to the United States. Primary school lasts for nine years while high school lasts for four. University education can take up to three to five years depending on the college. When I called her to talk one of the first questions I asked was if going to college was worth it. She said, “It depends. It is hard to find a job here with a degree, but it is also hard to find one without. Everybody knows that you need connections to find long lasting jobs. I have plenty of friends who have graduated college and work waitressing job for three years now. My cousin graduated with a sports medicine degree and had a friend who worked at this clinic in the city, but after six months she was let go because it was too expensive to keep her.” Her cousin now works at a boutique in the city’s mall.

COVID-19 in Bosnia

Working in a hospital during COVID-19 hasn’t been the easiest for Elma, but she does applaud her hospital for taking the necessary precautions. At her job, it is mandatory for workers to enter a tent before they enter the building to have their temperatures checked and get sterilized. Then workers must put on a suit complete with additional masks and gloves before being allowed to begin their shift. The only time workers can take the suit off is while they’re eating and after their shift when they are required to take a mandatory shower, change clothes and exit the hospital from the opposite side. Every night she comes home she is exhausted and says that there is too much work to do, but just not enough people to help. However, Elma, Naska and Adna all agree on one thing: the government is too corrupt to do anything that will help the people. And there is evidence that backs them up.

A scandal hit the news about Bosnia’s Prime Minister Fadil Novalic and his involvement with fake ventilators. The government had given $5 million to the Civil Protection firm of Bosnia to buy a hundred ventilators from China. When the ventilators arrived, officials were quick to learn that they were useless and not equipped to handle the virus. The Prime Minister and Head of the Civil Protection firm were arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering on top of an embezzlement charge.

Life in Bosnia has not been easy after the war. The government is ranked 101 out of 180 countries on the Corruption Perception Index and citizens of Bosnia hold out hope that times will change, especially those who remember life before the war. It is very clear however, that life in Bosnia is a long way away from where it used to be.

Hena Pejdah
Photo: Flickr

marshall legacy instituteCountries recovering from war face countless challenges, including their land being contaminated by landmines. Landmines hidden underneath the ground can be active up to 50 years and only take a small amount of pressure to set off. Around the world, landmines kill or injure someone every 40 minutes. The Marshall Legacy Institute is employing dogs to de-activate landmines around the world to help societies move forward from war.

How Landmines Harm Post-War Places

Landmines hinder economic development, as well as the health and safety of populations in post-crisis places. In particular, landmines threaten rural populations. Unlike urban areas, the dangers of landmines deter the building of infrastructure in rural areas. This also prevents the emergence of new opportunities to stimulate the local economy. Landmines also stop agriculture production, resulting in food insecurity.

Every day, landmines kill 12 people globally and threaten the livelihoods of citizens already trying to recover from war. People walking to work, to school or even on their own land may be injured or killed when they step on an unmarked landmine. Those in war-torn countries who become injured by explosions have a harder time escaping poverty than ever before. This is particularly devastating because half of landmine deaths are children. In this situation, hospitals are vital to providing surgeries, rehabilitation and psychological help to victims. Unfortunately, most hospitals that treat landmine injuries are in the cities, while a majority of these accidents affect rural areas. Not receiving help has a lifelong impact on a person’s health, and they face social discrimination and physical challenges when finding work.

Landmines also pose challenges to aid organizations. Refugees are more likely to return home if the land is mine-free and safe. However, aid groups working to assist populations only help safe places and cannot help these rural places in need. Aid groups that do travel to contaminated areas risk their life, as evidenced by the two polio workers who were killed by a landmine blast in Pakistan.

The Marshall Legacy Institute and Mine Dogs

The Marshall Legacy Institute aims to deactivate landmines so that nations can become landmine-free. Founded in 1997 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, the Marshall Legacy Institute promotes long-term peace and stability by saving lives in nations affected by conflict. Though wars may be a distant memory, millions of landmines are still a deadly problem in more than 50 countries around the world. The Marshall Legacy Institute addresses this through programs such as Survivors’ Assistance, Children Against Mines Programs (CHAMPS) and the Mine Dog Protection Partnership Program.

The Mine Dog Protection Partnership Program uses 900 dogs to sniff out and identify landmines in 24 countries. Most landmines contain barely any metal pieces, which makes them challenging to detect. While human de-miners use metal detectors during searches, dogs can smell both plastic and metal to discover landmines. This strong sense of smell allows these explosive-sniffing dogs to search the land 30 times faster than manual teams.

The program trains dogs for three to five to months. They are motivated to find mines through rewards like toys. Donations from people and companies sponsor the dogs, and organizations care for them during their working lives. None of the Marshall Legacy Institute’s dogs have been hurt during a clearance operation. So far, the Mine Dog Protection Partnership has cleared 49 million square meters of contaminated land.

A Future Without Landmines

The Marshall Legacy Institute has been successful in establishing “Mine Free” countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina with help from dogs. The war from 1992 to 1995 in Bosnia-Herzegovina caused 100,000 deaths and scattered millions of landmines throughout the country. After the war, the country had some of the highest number of land mines in the world, placed over an estimated 247,000 acres. More than 8,000 deaths have occurred from landmine accidents in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

To promote safety and development in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Marshall Legacy Initiative created the “Mine Free Sarajevo Project.” In this project, the Mine Dog Protection Partnership Program aims to clear 8 million square meters of landmines in the country. It has already cleared 14,000 square meters of land, which can now be developed into tourist sites and sports facilities. In short, the “Mine Free Sarajevo Project” can help Sarajevo and surrounding regions to finally become mine free.

The Marshall Legacy Institute is currently aiding countries with an immediate call for assistance such as Yemen and Colombia. The Marshall Legacy Institute’s Development Director, Indre Sabaliunaite, shares that “The Marshall Legacy Institute aims to free war-torn and post-conflict countries of landmines. Mine-free land improves the livelihoods of so many people by expanding their financial opportunities and by ensuring that no more children, women, or men will get injured or killed. MLI’s mission is to help countries help themselves. Once the organization removes landmines and other explosives, it returns the land back to the people. This has allowed communities to employ the land for farming, economic development, tourism purposes, and housing development.” By continuing to free land with the help of mine dogs, people can advance from the challenges of war and start their new lives.

Hannah Nelson
Photo: Wikimedia