Crossing the border is the beginning of the story


On Oslobođenje 27.11.2018
Interview to Federica Iezzi by Edin Salčinović


Why you joined the humanitarian mission?

I’m following the balkan route from august 2015, when I worked in sanitarian field in Gevgelija, Macedonia.
Despite declarations by governments that improvements need to be made to peoples’ immediate conditions, this is far from happening today.
Between March and August 2015 transit countries try to adapt to the unexpected and significant increase in arrivals with reactive policies. For example, due to the influx of people, Macedonia changed its ‘Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection’. Migrants now must obtain a document that allows them to legally transit through and leave the country within a period of 72 hours.
These policies represent cynical complicity in the organised business of reducing human beings to merchandise in human traffickers’ hands.
The recent rise in people using Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and partly Serbia as a new transit route to reach Western Europe, re-opening the European migration policies dilemma.
That’s why with the italian NGO ‘One Life ONLUS’ we are supporting in sanitarian aspect the migrant needs.


With what you’ve been facing since coming to Bosnia?

Last october, with One Life ONLUS, I start an official collaboration with IOM (International Organization for Migration), already present in Bihać and Velika Kladuša refugees camps.
From the 2016 EU-Turkey deal, what we have seen in Greece, in France, in the Balkans and beyond, are a growing trend of border closures and push backs.
This agreement created in March 2016 meant to ensure the deportation of almost all asylum seekers arriving in Europe, and has seen thousands of people stranded in legal limbo in squalid conditions.
Blinded by the single-minded goal of keeping people outside of Europe, European funding is helping to stop the migration flows, but this policy is also feeding a criminal system of abuse.
All people need access to protection, asylum and increased voluntary repatriation procedures. They need an escape to safety via safe and legal passage, but to date, only a tiny fraction of people have been able to access this.


Infectious diseases still represent an important cause of morbidity and mortality. Are migrants at risk of infectious diseases?

The most frequent health problems of newly arrived refugees and migrants include infectious diseases, accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, gastrointestinal illnesses, cardiovascular events, pregnancy and delivery related complications.
Vulnerable individuals, especially children, are prone to respiratory infections and gastrointestinal illnesses because of poor living conditions, suboptimal hygiene and deprivation during migration, and they require access to proper health care. Poor hygienic conditions can also lead to skin infections.
In spite of the common perception of an association between migration and the importation of infectious diseases, there is no systematic association. Communicable diseases are associated primarily with poverty. Migrants often come from communities affected by war, conflict or economic crisis and undertake long, exhausting journeys that increase their risks for diseases that include communicable diseases, particularly measles, and food and waterborne diseases.


How do economic crises affect migrants’ risk of infectious disease?

When people are on the move and reach geographical areas different from those of their home country, they are more likely to experience disrupted or uncertain supplies of safe food and water, especially under difficult and sometimes desperate circumstances. In addition, basic public services, such as electricity and transport, can break down. In these conditions, people may be more prone to use inedible or contaminated food ingredients, cook food improperly or eat spoilt food. Refugees and migrants typically become ill during their journey, especially in overcrowded settlements. Living conditions can lead to unsanitary conditions for obtaining, storing or preparing food, and overcrowding increases the likelihood of outbreaks of food- and waterborne diseases.


Could act of migration be viewed as an opportunity for improving health – for example, through ensuring immunisation for people from countries with disrupted services.

Basic water, sanitation and hygiene standards are frequently not met during the journeys of refugees and migrants. Border or arrival points frequently lack sufficient numbers of sanitation facilities and washrooms; drinking-water is often not available in sufficient amounts, and the origin is unknown or water is untreated; hand-washing with soap and personal hygiene, including laundry, is often compromised. Waste bins and regular removal of waste in reception centres are insufficient, posing additional health threats for migrants, as flies, mosquitoes and rodents readily find breeding places.
It is important to prevent the development and spread of foodborne and waterborne diseases among refugees and migrants, especially during their stay in camps, where these diseases can easily attain epidemic proportions, especially in spontaneous settlements.
Access to sanitary facilities, including hand-washing, and sufficient amounts of safe drinking-water is critical for the prevention of food- and waterborne diseases, and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities at border points and reception centres should be thoroughly assessed.
Despite the widespread availability of vaccines in all countries of the Region, many people are opting not to avail themselves of the benefits of immunization due to misconceptions about vaccines. For others, access to vaccination services may be problematic.


Winter comes. Do the refugees in the camps in Bihać and Velika Kladuša have adequate living conditions?

The needs of refugees and the internally displaced are significantly higher during winter.
With One Life ONLUS, I’m deeply worried at the situation of refugees and migrants faced with harsh winter conditions across Europe. We have stepped up our assistance in several countries, including Bosnia.
Saving lives must be a priority and we urge States authorities across Europe to do more to assist and protect refugees and migrants.
Thousand refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants living in Bosnia, are now accommodated in heated government shelters. However, we are concerned at the situation of refugees who still stay rough in inadequate informal sites on the borders.


Who is responsible for this situation?

Three years since the start of the European refugee crisis, the continent’s politics are still convulsed by disagreements over migration.
The European Union’s immigration policy is a failure and was the greatest mistake made and will only pave the way for a humanitarian catastrophe.
We strongly reiterate our call to increase safe pathways for the admission of people in need of protection, including via resettlement, family reunification, private sponsorship and other mechanisms to provide a viable alternative to irregular movement and reliance on human smugglers.
The last EU-Turkey deal threatens the right of all people to seek asylum and violates your obligation to assist them.
Pushing people back to their country of last transit transforms asylum into nothing but a political bargaining chip to keep refugees as far away from European borders and the eyes of the European voting public as possible. Today, there is virtually no option left for people to safely reach European shores to claim asylum.
This deal is sending a troubling signal to the rest of the world: countries can buy their way out of providing asylum. If replicated by many nations, the concept of refugee will cease to exist. People will be trapped in warzones unable to flee for their lives, with no choice but to stay and die.


Do you think that Bosnian politicians could do more for refugees?

Last year, there were fewer than 1.000 migrant arrivals to Bosnia, but this year the Balkan country has seen at least 14.000.
In Velika Kladuša, a makeshift field camp on the outskirts of the town is home to about 800 people. Basic tents made from wooden sticks and tarpaulin provide temporary shelter for those planning a crossing, and those arriving back from violent returns.
In nearby Bihać, about 2.000 people are living, 30 to a room, in the concrete shell of a half-built building, left uncompleted by the bosnian war.
And other refugees camp are under construction.
The numbers heading north from Greece via Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia have considerably increased since last year, with Bosnia now struggling to provide accommodation and food to around 14.000.
It has put a particular strain on Bosnia, still in the long process of recovery from a 1992-95 war that killed 100.000 people and left the country divided along ethnic lines.
Bosnians memories of war and deprivation are still fresh, some residents have been quick to help, organising volunteers and donating food and clothes. But the situation has stirred fear and prejudice in others.
Dozens of local councillors and mayors from northwestern Bosnia staged a protest over the state’s handling of the situation. They are not against migrants, but they ask the Council of Ministers to find adequate accommodation and to get them off the streets.


While I was with migrants, they was constantly asking: “Will border be open?”. What do you think about that?

Croatia’s border with Bosnia stretches for several hundred miles and is porous, but getting across the border is just the start of the game.
Those, with the 2.500 dollars smugglers charge for the trip to Italy, spend a week or more walking, sleeping in the day and moving by night, attempting to stay inside forested areas and avoiding roads and villages. Often, they are found by Croatian police close to the border with Slovenia, driven to the Bosnian border and unceremoniously shoved back.
Croatia is not part of the Schengen zone of free movement inside the EU, but hopes to accede to it soon, and as such is keen to prove it can police the EU’s external border. Croatia, governed by the alliance HDZ-Most since January 2016, thus began to protect the EU’s external borders, frequently resorting to illegal rejection and violence.
Amnesty International, as well as a number of Croatian non-governmental organisations and media, have documented cases of police using disproportionate force. The use of violence is not an exception, but a consolidated practice.
Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović has declined all responsibility, emphasising the need to control the borders and fulfill the technical conditions set by the European Union to enter the Schengen area, which Croatia hopes to access in 2019. The insistence on respect for the law in stopping the flow of what are now called ‘illegal migrants’ contrasts with the behaviour of the police, which uses violence and sabotages the right to asylum outside any form of legal legitimacy.


Many migrants want to come to Italy. Is Italy a good country for them?

UN was alarmed by recent anti-migrant violence in European countries like Germany, Austria and Italy.
Italians of all political persuasions are irritated by the way immigration has been mismanaged.
Italy’s interior minister, the leader of the hardline anti-immigration policy, has been accused of fomenting intolerance and hatred towards migrants with his uncompromising rhetoric. As head of the hard-right Lega Nord party, he made bold promises during Italy’s election campaign earlier this year to kick out half a million migrants. But rhetoric has fallen far short of reality.
A lack of bilateral agreements with source countries, making it hard to send some nationalities back home, as well as the time it takes to process migrants’ requests for asylum and the appeals they are entitled to lodge if rejected.
The insane decision to close Italian ports to NGO rescue vessels had had devastating consequences for vulnerable people.
Salvini’s rise to power has heightened concerns in Italy about the escalation of racist and xenophobic violence in the country.


Right-wing politics are in expansion in Europe. Is that dangerous?

Across Europe, nationalist and far-right parties have made significant electoral gains.
The joint programme for italian government includes plans for migrants mass deportations, in line with the strong anti-immigration stance.
From its beginnings, as an anti-euro party, the far-right Alternative for Germany has pushed for strict anti-immigrant policies.
A far-right party in neighbouring Austria has vowed a hard-line on immigration.
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats made significant gains in the last general election. The party has its roots in neo-Nazism.
The french far-right National Front is opposed to EU and blames Brussels for mass immigration.
Last april, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán secured a third term in office with a landslide victory in an election dominated by immigration.
Although it fell a long way short of a majority, the anti-immigrant Slovenian Democratic Party was the largest party in 2018 general election.
Here the disastrous european landscape.

Oslobodenje “Prelazak granice je početak priče”



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