SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia’s central government said on Thursday it would step up border controls to prevent a further influx of migrants and try to accommodate those already in Bosnia in the face of criticism that it is failing to adequately protect their rights.
Hundreds of men, women and children are sleeping in parks in the capital Sarajevo and in two towns in the western Bosnia bordering Croatia, a European Union member state, which they are trying to reach on their journey to western Europe.
Local officials in those cities have urged the central government to act, as the tourist season is heating up in Sarajevo and they lack the capacity to accommodate migrants.
Two years after the so-called Balkan route for migrants was closed, Bosnia has emerged as an alternative route, starting from Turkey via Greece and Albania through Montenegro, as well as for migrants stuck in Serbia.
The central government in Sarajevo tasked the migration coordination body to take measures to prevent illegal transfer of migrants, after police detained more than 20 people earlier this week suspected of having smuggled up to 200 migrants into the EU. [L8N1S13Y8]
The authorities say that nearly 1,200 migrants mostly from Syria, Pakistan, Libya and Afghanistan have entered Bosnia since the start of 2018 and almost as many were intercepted at the border.
They have warned that impoverished Bosnia cannot cope with a steep increase in the number of migrants expected with warmer weather. It has only one centre for asylum seekers and another one for illegal migrants, both of which are full.
“Migrants who have entered Bosnia and Herzegovina will be adequately assisted and authorities are already trying to find new locations to accommodate them in a human and dignified manner,” the government said in a statement.
Many volunteers, non-governmental organisations and ordinary residents, some of whom were also refugees in Western countries after Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, are providing food and accommodation to migrants, many of whom sleep outdoors.
They say their numbers are double the official estimates.
Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Toby Chopra