July 26, 2018 / 2:16 PM / 8 months ago

Bosnian border-town mayors demand government help migrants

SARAJEVO/VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Mayors and councillors from Bosnian border towns staged a rare protest in the capital on Thursday, demanding the government do more to help them handle thousands of migrants camped out near their towns and cities.

A migrant eats a meal in front of a tent in a makeshift tent camp in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

About 50 local politicians from communities along the northwest frontier gathered in central Sarajevo waving banners marked with messages including: “Humanity for migrants and safety for citizens”.

Many said they wanted to help the refugees but did not have the resources to assist roughly 5,000 people currently trying to cross the frontier into Croatia and head to still wealthier nations further north.

Many are staying in improvised shelters, tents and dilapidated buildings, or sleeping rough in graveyards, without running water and toilets.

“We can no longer cope with this problem,” Suhret Fazlic, mayor of the city of Bihac, said. “We are afraid the number of migrants could reach 13,000 by autumn and this could turn difficult to handle”.

“Our problem is not the migrants but the fact that we feel we are dealing with it alone and that the state does not function,” he added. “These people are desperate and by the winter, they will be in agony.”

The large numbers of migrants who came into Europe in 2015 largely bypassed Bosnia. Numbers are down across the continent, but more than 9,000 people from Asia and North Africa have come into the Balkan nation this year, including 3,000 over the past month, say Bosnian officials and the U.N. refugee agency.

In a makeshift camp outside the border town of Velika Kladusa, Afghani Salim Kahn said he had already been turned away at the Croatian frontier several times.

“Last time they took away my phone and all the money and I will have to stay here for some time now,” the 20-year-old told Reuters. He said he had arrived in Bosnia after a four-year journey through Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia.

The EU has promised 8.5 million euros (£7.6 million) in aid for new shelters but the scheme has been held up by bickering among rival parties, some of whom have been stepping up anti-migrant rhetoric in the build-up to October elections.

Writing by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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