The migrant problem in Europe this year has hit Sarajevo, with people using a new route through Bosnia and Herzegovina to try to get to Western Europe. More than eight times as many migrants are using the new route in Bosnia and Herzegovina so far this year, according to aid agencies.
The migrants are mostly from Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Aid groups say more than 5,600 people have entered Bosnia so far this year, while that number was only 750 people in 2017. And the year is only half over.
We saw some of these migrants during our stay in Sarajevo. They were lining up for help in a place that is poor, but somehow finds help to give. And just like everywhere else around the world where we have seen migrants – from Tijuana to Barcelona to Marrakech – my heart goes out to these men, women, and children.
The Associated Press reports the migrants in Bosnia are using a new route from Serbia or Montenegro after traveling from Greece to Albania, Bulgaria or Macedonia. Hundreds of thousands of people passed through the Balkans toward Europe at the peak of the mass migration in 2015. The AP reports that flow eased for a while, but has recently picked up again with the new way through Bosnia.
We saw the migrants near the Sarajevo train station. They were lined up in the parking lot outside the station outside a white van, where volunteers put food on plates for hungry people. The migrants were mostly young men, as you can see in Tedly’s pictures. We did also see a few women and children walking around the parking lot away from the line.
We spoke with an aid worker who told us a few more details. Every day, a meal is provided to the migrants at that same spot, from the same van. The effort is run solely through contributions of Sarajevo residents, and volunteers who give their time to hand out the donations.
Local people make donations — and yet they don’t have much to give. The economy is weak, unemployment is an astounding 67 percent among young Bosnians.
And yet — Sarajevans know what it’s like to be displaced by war, and many of these migrants fled their home countries due to war, and so the locals give whatever they can. This is one reason why Sarajevo may be the most special city I have ever visited. No, there’s no beach, and not many incredibly historic art galleries. But these people are real people who love and give despite all they’ve had to endure.
The aid worker we talked to also told us families get more help than the single men, and so the families are not out on the food line each day because they’re in a shelter. Tedly and I felt a little better knowing women and children were not all sleeping outside, although I bet there are many who do.
I later read Bosnia has some asylum centers for migrants. Some people decide to stay in Bosnia, citing how kind everyone is to them. Police don’t beat them. Locals try to help them, not hate them. Still, most migrants don’t stay longer than a couple of weeks in Bosnia, according to aid groups, because they are looking for greater job prospects or family members who’ve migrated before them.
Some experts warn the new route to Europe could become a humanitarian crisis because Bosnia is not equipped for an increase in migrants. News reports cite Bosnian government officials who’ve asked for help from the European Union. But that’s not likely, given the new nationalism wave. (I previously wrote about that here.)
The International Organization for Migration said arrivals in Bosnia can hit a sustained 400 a week now. Activists in Sarajevo say that number is already higher, and will grow the good weather months continue, straining an already weak economy.
It’s a good thing Bosnians are strong people.