Based on available statistical information, an estimate of 2 million persons have emigrated from BiH. This makes approximately 56% of the total population of the country. Regarding the number of emigrants, it is important to emphasize the lack of updated data in BiH.
In the meantime, the number of migrants including asylum seekers arriving in BiH significantly increased in 2018 and 2019. According to the statistics provided by the authorities, between January 2018 and August 2019, approximately 40,000 migrants entered the country irregularly. Most of them crossed Bosnia’s eastern border with Serbia, some entered from the southern border with Montenegro. They travelled through the territory of the Republika Srpska to Una-Sana Canton of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently, there are approximately7,300 migrants in the country, most of them in Una-Sana Canton, bordering Croatia.
“In my exchanges with government officials, I noted with appreciation that despite having different points of view on various issues, authorities at all levels have mentioned the humanitarian aspect of their approach to the migration situation in the country. It is equally hopeful to know that ordinary citizens have demonstrated their sympathy and solidarity towards migrants. Having experienced an atrocious war, many citizens of BiH relate themselves to the plight of migrants. It is remarkable that people generously distribute food, clothes and basic goods to migrants transiting through their towns. Some also sheltered migrants in their private homes. In areas where reception centres are located, local residents came forward to work with UN agencies and civil society organizations providing a wide range of services and assistance to migrants,” UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales said during his visit to BiH.
However, to my great regret, the increased flow of migrants has exposed the significant institutional and coordination weakness of relevant authorities at different levels of BiH. The State level Coordination Body on Migration was established in May 2018 as an operational headquarters following a decision of the Council of Ministers. Until now, the Coordination Body has not yet adopted a comprehensive strategy providing durable solution to the current migration situation. Despite being aware of the arrival of migrants including asylum seekers, the lack of preparedness and strategy of the State level authorities has generated frustrations. While the Coordination Body does not seem to have sufficient power to fully enforce its decisions at the entity, cantonal and municipal levels, additional efforts should be made at the State level. For instance, the Coordination Body has failed to allocate in a timely manner suitable premises as reception centres for accommodating asylum seekers and migrants. The political deadlock and negative rhetoric against migration, has undermined the capacity of the State to respond to the migration situation in line with international human rights standards.
I strongly urge the authorities at all levels in BiH to work together towards a State-led response to the migration situation, with the support from national and international stakeholders, particularly those with strong human rights protection mandate. Considering the nature of migration and the specific regional context, BiH may benefit from a meaningful regional consultation with neighbouring countries in seeking constructive solutions.
Legal and institutional framework
From the outset, I would like to recognise that the domestic normative framework of the country is generally aligned with the international human rights treaties ratified by Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the Convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families. The Law on Foreigners of 2015 upholds the principles of non-refoulement and non-discrimination. It also prohibits collective expulsion. Under the current normative framework, irregular entry and stay are not considered criminal offences. Immigration detention is not used in connection with irregular entry into the country or breaching the conditions of stay. Once an expulsion decision is adopted, irregular migrants are allowed to leave the country voluntarily within the deadline for execution.
Provided by the Law on Foreigners, detention is only used as a last resort for as long as deportation or extradition proceedings are in progress. Detention cannot be imposed for a period longer than 90 days. Exceptionally, this decision can be extended up to another maximum 90 days. If the migrant cannot be removed to a third safe country, then the detention could last up to 18 consecutive months, and afterwards a measure of restricted movement to a specific area or location with an obligation to report can be applied. This could be the case for countries with which BiH has not signed readmission agreements, such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Pakistan and Syria.