Bosnia & Herzegovina
We have always been aware of the terrors faced by refugees and displaced people crossing, and in Bosnia & Herzegovina but we were able witness this ourselves in October 2019.
In October 2019 RBB founder and CEO Ruhi Akhtar with volunteer Natalie Kling from Germany embarked on an aid delivery mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina. It was apparent that people were travelling from Greece to Italy and then into Western Europe crossing countries such as Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia.
Being a witness to and hearing accounts of the horrors faced by displaced on this route compelled Ruhi to refer to this journey as ‘The Balkan Route from Hell.’
Whenever people spoke of considering the Balkan route into Western Europe, volunteers always advised against this, due to the associated dangers and ‘unofficial’ nature of this land route.
However, there are dedicated volunteers, local and those who travel there, who are committed to help those on this journey, should they be in distress.
So why are people doing the Balkan Route into Western Europe?
Because they have no choice!
Once you become aware of how people are terrorised on this journey it is evident that there is no way anyone would put themselves through the ‘The Balkan Route from Hell,’ unless they had a choice or sanctuary elsewhere.
They are the people who have been rejected on their asylum claims in Greece and faced with detention or deportation back into danger. These are also the people who are burdened by the uncertain nature of their asylum cases, riddled with mental health issues and PTSD from their traumatic journey’s forced into camps or on the streets where human rights are violated daily, that they were forced to leave.
As we received distress calls from those stuck in Bosnia & Herzegovina, we also encountered inspirational volunteers helping them at different hotspots in Tuzla, Ključ, Sarajevo and Bihać.
People are arriving to the country in poor condition, passing countries such as Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia and many, including children, have walked for weeks. They are hungry, exhausted, ill, cold, beaten by police, robbed by thieves and severely traumatised by their journeys.
It is estimated over 25,000 people have passed Bosnia in 2019, on this route however the figures are not accurate because many people are unregistered, missing, or unaccounted for.
Tuzla and Kljuc are two of the hotspots displaced people arrive to in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Including families with young children, they are then forced to sleep outside regardless of the poor weather. Photo Credit: Volunteers in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
In winter Bosnia & Herzegovina becomes a winter prison for those stuck there and as a priority we had been asked by those on the ground to support a camp in Vučjak with winter aid.
This was the first winter for this camp at the Bosnia & Herzegovinian - Croatian border, which opened in the middle of 2019. It was based in the towns former garbage dump which may have hazardous gases that might even be explosive and those on the ground say the garbage was only covered with soil and flattened. That is correct. human beings are made to live in a garbage dump! The camp is up a mountain and 2 hours to walk in the summer to the nearest town for the able bodied, with an elevation of 1642 metres where it can snow up to 2 metres high in winter.
At the time there was almost 1000 currently people stuck there including unaccompanied minors as young as 12 years old as they try to travel on. Scabies and infections are rife due to the poor camp conditions and lack of washing facilities and there is a lack of medical care which is being filled by volunteers as best as they can. Nearby woods have minefields and it was once reported that a bear came into the camp. People have gashes and infected wounds with bloodied legs and feet, poor food, a lack of clothes and shoes.
Vucjak Camp hosted approximately 1000 people at the Bosnia Herzegovinian - Croatian Border.
People are made to live in tents without heating, lights, and electricity on hard, cold ground.
As with every winter in Europe we have known displaced people to die due to cold, hypothermia, exacerbation of medical conditions, gangrene, chill blains, and amputations of extremities and if we aren’t able to help provide some form of winterisation we knew the people suffer, and some will die. This will happen on our watch.
We were able to raise funds, buy aid on the ground and provide winter shoes and socks for the people in this camp in conjunction with volunteers who were operating there.
We also helped a team of independent volunteers make up 147 food packs of easy food items that did not need cooking which they then distributed to squats, abandoned buildings and those living outside in Bihac.
We provided medical aid to a local hospital with a small emergency unit and to a family with a child suffering from cancer, which was highlighted to us by a local gentleman who was helping our work.
As well as helping refugees and migrants in Bosnia & Herzegovina we soon became aware of the poor situation the locals were in especially as they are still essentially in recovery from a war only 25 years ago and we will continue to help them also.
We also supported the buying of was given to firewood, wood for building a shelter, rent for the toilets and some winter aid for those travelling through a roadside, temporary camp in Kljuc.
We carried medical aid and clothing from UK and Germany for people at these hotspots and later fundraised for the buying of washing machines for those sleeping outside in Tuzla.
We aimed to document and raise awareness on the struggles faced by displaced people in Bosnia & Herzegovina and so we did.
Although Vucjak camp was closed and demolished there are other camps and hotspots for displaced travelling people in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
We continue to support the efforts of other volunteers and the people displaced there remotely with plans to revisit this year on another humanitarian aid mission.
Ruhi concludes the previous humanitarian aid mission in Bosnia & Herzegovina by saying:
“The needs are mammoth, and many people need support that we felt like we had not done enough.
However, after all that, when I was looking at photos taken by others of our distribution I came across one where a man had the most genuine smile as he received his shoes and I thought to myself maybe we didn’t make a big difference but just like in the starfish story even if we made a difference to that one person it was all worthwhile.”
Aid Distribution in Bosnia & Herzegovina