Hundreds of migrants were left in limbo for hours Friday after Bosnian police dismantled a makeshift camp in Sarajevo but police in the south refused to let them reach a centre offering them accommodation.
The standoff came after police carried out a two-hour operation to clear 250 people from a migrant camp in a tourist area in Sarajevo, which took place without incident.
Since the beginning of the year, a growing number of migrants have carved a Balkan route through Bosnia to reach the European Union raising fears of a humanitarian and security crisis in the impoverished country.
With the evacuation completed by 8:00 am (0600 GMT), the migrants were put on buses to be transferred to an accommodation centre in the country’s south. But police prevented the buses from entering the district, without giving a reason.
The buses waited for nearly five hours, held up in the Mount Ivan area some 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside Sarajevo, before being allowed to continue their journey.
The permission was finally given after Security Minister Dragan Mektic labelled the blockade “illegal” and called for the arrest of the district police commander.
Some of the migrants, mostly young men but also some families, could be seen leaving the buses while at least two women needed medical assistance as they fainted on a very hot day, an AFP reporter said.
Bosnia has a complex system of governance which has at least three separate levels of police which operate independently of each other with no clear chain of command.
– A peaceful evacuation –
The migrants were due to go to Salakovac, near Mostar, some 100 kilometres south of Sarajevo.
There, they were to be rehoused in a former refugee camp, set up after the 1990s Balkans wars which has been refashioned to take in around 300 people.
Peter Van Der Auweraert, who heads the Bosnia mission of the International Organization for Migrations (IOM), told AFP the migrants had complied peacefully with the Sarajevo evacuation order.
“There was no violence or incidents … people left voluntarily,” he said, indicating that the situation in the camp had been getting steadily worse.
“The number of tents was growing, it was raining this week, the hygienic and health situation was really very bad.”
Government figures indicate 4,000 migrants have arrived in Bosnia this year, with between 80 and 150 people entering daily from Montenegro and Serbia this month.
The IOM puts the figure at closer to 3,600, of whom 2,500 are still in the country.
The numbers are by no means comparable with the hundreds of thousands of people who took the so-called Balkans route in 2015 before it was closed in March 2016. But that route avoided Bosnia’s mountainous terrain.
Bosnia says it does not have the means to handle a major migrant crisis with its leaders calling for both financial and technical aid from the EU and the United Nations to handle the influx.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic pledged Friday that the neighbouring EU member state would do “everything to protect its border and prevent any attempts of illegal border crossings.”
She offered help to Bosnia in tackling the issue.