|A group of migrants attempting to cross into Croatia gather around tents erected near the Maljevac border crossing, Bosnia and Herzegovina Photo: EPA|
Bosnian courts have done little to address the problem of people-smuggling, which is believed to be growing, as thousands of people attempt to cross from the non-EU Bosnia into EU-member Croatia.
In the first 11 months of 2018, only one person was convicted of smuggling migrants and refugees and received a three-year prison sentence, data from the state court of Bosnia and Herzegovina show.
One trial is also ongoing, concerning another eight persons charged with smuggling, data from the same source show.
The situation with thousands of migrants and refugees in Bosnia on their way to the EU remains highly complex.
Most of them are unable to leave non-EU Bosnia and get into EU-member Croatia, turning them into potential targets for smugglers.
This year, up to early November, 21,163 migrants and refugees were registered as having entered Bosnia, according to the Service for Foreign Affairs.
Of these, 19,986 expressed an intention to seek asylum in Bosnia while 1,314 of them had filed requests. So far none was approved.
The precise number of those still currently in Bosnia is hard to confirm, but is estimated to range between 4,000 and 6,000 – which means that most of those who declared an intention to claim asylum in Bosnia have already left and moved on.
Most are travelling on a new so-called “Balkan route” to Western Europe, which passes through Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and in some instances Serbia.
The largest number, 6,910, came from Pakistan. The next largest number, 3,373, came from Iran. This was followed by Syria (2,529), Afghanistan (2,491), Iraq (1,874) and Libya (760) data from the Bosnian Service for Foreign Affairs show.
Meanwhile, within Bosnia, local authorities continue to argue over where to house the remaining migrants.
For the second time in a month, a group of some 100 migrants and refugees was prevented from disembarking from a train in Bihac, in northwest Bosnia, near the border with Croatia, on Friday.
After waiting for some hours, they were returned to Sarajevo.
The stand-off came after officials in Una Sana Canton, one of ten cantons in Bosnia’s Federation entity, said they had not given them permission to enter the territory.
Media reports say Una Sana Canton wants a solution that will prevent migrants and refugees from travelling there again from Sarajevo.
While only one person was convicted of people smuggling in 2018, Bosnia’s prosecution that year charged 16 people with smuggling migrants and refugees, data from the prosecution’s archive show. Nine were citizens of other countries, such as Kosovo, Germany and Croatia.
The State Protection and Investigation Agency, SIPA, in 2018, according to its archive, arrested 34 people on suspicion on smuggling migrants and refugees.
One of those arrested, on October 23, was a citizen of Iran, who apparently falsely declared he was a migrant as part of a plan to become involved in smuggling through Bosnia.
“It turns out that foreigners are also participating as perpetrators in the smuggling of migrants,” Nedzad Karajlic, Dean of Sarajevo’s Faculty of Criminology and Security Studies, told a conference on security risks in Bosnia on November 8.
Authorities in northern Greece have reported a sharp increase in migrant crossings at the Greek land border with Turkey along with a rise in arrests of smuggling suspects, AP reported on November 9.
The number of migrants registered and arrested after crossing this border was 3,543 in October, a rise of 82 per cent on the same month the previous year.
The number of smuggling suspects arrested also nearly doubled, from 66 in October 2017 to 110 last month, AP reported.