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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

Covid-19 Affects Refugee CampsCOVID-19 has had a significant impact on countries all over the world but developing countries have been most severely impacted. Many developing nations are under strain due to a lack of resources and inadequate infrastructure. Developing countries like Mauritania also house significantly vulnerable groups such as refugees. COVID-19 affects refugee camps in Mauritania especially hard.

The Mbera Camp

The Mbera camp is located 40km from Mauritania’s southern border shared with Mali. The Mbera camp first formed to house Malian refugees who fled the conflict in Mali. The camp is home to more than 50,000 Malian refugees. It is now one of the only camps in Mauritania that offers shelter and education for its refugees. Roughly 58% of the refugees in the Mbera camp are children.

COVID-19 affects refugee camps particularly harshly. Refugee camps are vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are overcrowded, densely populated and lack sufficient access to water, sanitation and health services. For more than 50,000 people in the Mbera camp, there is only one health center and four health posts. When 94% of the population rely on these facilities as their primary source of healthcare, it becomes overburdened when multiple people fall ill at once. This means at least 20% of households may be unable to access treatment because the health centers lack capacity to accommodate everyone or because the centers are a long distance away.

An Impacted Economy

In March 2020, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) established a crisis committee in order to manage communications and mobilization simultaneously. The committee ensures that refugees have access to as much information as possible regarding COVID-19 risks in the community. A survey evaluated how COVID-19 affects refugees in the camp. It showed that 100% of those surveyed knew about COVID-19 and its risks. Additionally, 62% could not afford the hygiene items necessary for preventative measures. As with many countries, the economic impact in Mauritania has been harsh. Roughly 75% of respondents reported that COVID-19 negatively impacted their livelihoods.

To address these issues, the UNHCR introduced a Cash for Social Protection plan that benefited more than 1,000 households within the Mbera camp.

The UNHCR’s Plan

Since the start of COVID-19, the UNHCR has supported the Mauritanian Government’s COVID-19 Response Plan. The Government’s response includes refugees and national health structures treat COVID-19 refugee patients. The NGO, Alima, along with the UNHCR and the WHO, trained 32 young volunteers to participate in the COVID-19 community surveillance system. On 15 September 2020, the UNHCR promised to provide free primary healthcare services in the Mbera camp for all refugees until the close of the year.

Part of the UNHCR’s comprehensive COVID-19 response includes 46 quarantine units at the borders as well as four isolation points. Ongoing awareness initiatives in the Mbera camp ensure that refugees are educated about COVID-19. The UNHCR has also distributed protective personal equipment to the four health structures of Mbera camp and the border points. The organization has also established a contact tracing system and a COVID-19 data collection system. Furthermore, the UNHCR has provided the necessary medication, equipment and medical transportation to support the COVID-19 response in Mbera camp.

By supporting an effective COVID-19 response in Mauritania, and in Mbera camp specifically, the UNHCR ensures that vulnerable populations are not overlooked during a global health pandemic. In order for the global COVID-19 response to be successful, minority and marginalized groups must be prioritized.

Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr

Addressing migrant and Refugee HealthAt the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million recorded forcibly displaced people in the world, with 26 million labeled as refugees. Roughly 68% of those displaced come from just five countries, which means that resources can be scarce for many of these people and their physical and mental health may become less of a priority in lieu of other needs. More focus needs to go toward addressing migrant and refugee health in order to protect the well-being of one of the most vulnerable populations.

7 Facts About Migrant and Refugee Health

  1. The Immigrant, Refugee and Migrant Health Branch (IRMH) is a branch of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine that works to improve the health and well-being of refugees. The IRMH also provides guidelines for disease prevention and tracks cases around the globe in migrant populations. The organization has three teams and five programs that work both in the U.S. and around the world to combat infectious diseases.
  2. Refugees are affected by illness and health issues through transit and in their host communities. Most refugees are likely to be in good health in general, according to the CDC, but migrating tends to be a social determinant in refugee health. Health inequities are increased by conditions such as restrictive policies, economic hardship and anti-migrant views. Poor living conditions and changes in lifestyle also play a role.

  3. Refugee health profiles are compiled through multiple organizations to provide information about important cultural and health factors pertaining to specific regions. Refugees from different areas often have very different health concerns. For example, anemia and diabetes are priority conditions in Syrian refugees but parasitic infections and malaria are the focus for Congolese migrants.

  4. About one-third of migrants and refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders. Mental health is a vital part of all refugee health programs and the priority for youth mental health programming is especially necessary. Forced displacement is traumatic and while there is likely a reduction of high anxiety or depression levels over time after resettlement, some cases can last for years.

  5. Healthcare is often restricted based on legal status within refugee populations. The 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization articulated that the right to health is an essential component of human rights but many people are limited to claiming this right. Activists for refugee health along with many NGOs call for universal health care and protection for migrant populations.

  6. Important needs in refugee health include the quality and cost of disease screenings. HIV, hepatitis, schistosomiasis and strongyloidiasis are diseases that are prevalent among vulnerable refugee and migrant populations. However, ease and quality of medical screenings are not guaranteed in many centers or camps.

  7. Mothers and children face many barriers due to their unique needs and few refugee health care providers are able to properly address them. There is an increased need for reproductive health services and many of the barriers provide more difficulty than aid to many women. These include language, costs and general stigma.

Prioritizing Vulnerable Populations

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is well known for its work to safeguard the rights and well-being of people who have been forced to flee. Refugee International is another organization that advocates for the rights and protection of displaced people around the world. Awareness of refugee health facts and concerns enables organizations to take a direct stance on improving conditions and procedures. With the growing number of refugees around the world today, addressing migrant and refugee health must be prioritized in order to better protect these vulnerable populations.

– Savannah Gardner
Photo: Flickr