By Talha Ozturk, Vesna Besic
BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) - Migrants in the pursuit to reach western Europe are now opting for an alternate route through Bosnia and Herzegovina as anti-trafficking forces clamp down on them.
Earlier, the Balkan route -- through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary or Croatia -- was closed for refugees in March 2016.
Now, the migrants are trying to cross into Croatia through Bosnia and Herzegovina.
They are helped by various institutions and citizens when they reach the country.
Some imams allowed the migrants to stay in mosques to protect them from the cold, while a citizen opened his house for 35 migrants in capital Sarajevo.
The migrants are mostly from Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Morocco. Most are residing temporarily in border cities like Zvornik, Trebinje and Velika Kladusa.
Yasir Miakheli, an 18-year-old Afghan living in the house, told Anadolu Agency that he left his home three years ago.
- Helping hand
"I first was in Iran, then went to Turkey and Greece. I came to Bosnia from Serbia. I just want to find my relatives in Ireland," said Miakheil.
Syrian Fela Ahmed left his home in Aleppo three months ago and headed to Slovenia.
"Aleppo is destroyed, only the name is left. Bosnia is a beautiful country, but there are limited opportunities for us. We are on a private property, we cannot get enough food, clothing and health services," said Ahmed, adding that he lost his entire family in the war.
Husejin Sarajlic, who helps the migrants at the house said that they were once refugees too.
"It is important that these people are not left hungry. We were once refugees too. I understand the struggle," said Sarajlic.
Elvir Karalic from Pomoziba charity group said that they will try to provide aid for the increasing number of asylum seekers in the capital Sarajevo due to lack of room in the asylum centers.
The issue is also on the agenda of Chairman of the Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdic.
- Lacking capacity
Zvizdic said they are aware of the migrants staying in the mosques and houses and they will provide aid to them as much as they can.
He emphasized that Bosnia does not have capacity to accept thousands of migrants.
"They already want to go to European countries, not stay here. We have centers that will accept about 100 asylum seekers. If the number increases we will ask for help from the European Union," said Zvizdic.
According to a statement by the Bosnian police, 754 asylum seekers entered the country illegally in 2017, while 458 entered only in January of 2018.
The migrants want to cross into neighbouring Croatia, which has built fences and increased forces at its Serbian border. If the number of migrants from Bosnia increases, it is likely that Croatia will build fences at the Bosnian border as well.
For the migrants who have set out on the treacherous journey, the harsh weather and lack of supplies is not the only struggle. Mines from past wars are yet to be diffused in the country.
According to the Bosnia-Herzegovina Mine Action Center, the most dangerous locations in Bosnia are along the Sava River, which is the border between Bosnia and the cities of Croatia and Brcko, Orasje, Samac and Trebinje-Ravno on the Montenegrin border.
The center told Anadolu Agency it was distributing maps of the minefields online so that refugees do not come in harm's way. The maps can be accessed through the center’s official website.
Bosnia has 1,388 minefields across 1,081 square kilometers of territory.
Croatia too has a large number of minefields. There are an estimated 50,000 mines within 496 square kilometers of minefields in Croatia and the highest risk areas are on its two border points with Serbia and 40 square kilometers of area along the Bosnian border, according to the Croatian Mine Action Center.