Migrants' life in northern Bosnia
They live in abandoned buildings, dismantled factories and old out-of-town houses without windows, water or electricity. They find shelter in tents and shacks built with wooden poles, ropes and plastic sheets in what are usually called "jungles," spontaneous makeshift camps set up in the woods near the Bosnian-Croatian border. They are mainly young people between the ages of 18 and 35, coming from countries with high internal conflicts such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. But there are also many families, most of whom are housed in official reception facilities that have been opened in the last three years along the 100 km of road that separates Bihac from Velika Kladusa, the two largest cities in northern Bosnia. In this part of the country, the canton of Una Sana, the number of people crossing the border to reach Europe has grown exponentially: since 2016 Bosnia has been an unintended waystation for people fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa and seeking a path to northern or western Europe through the Balkans after crossing from Turkey to Greece. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has recorded the arrival of nearly 68,000 people in the country since 2018. It is estimated also that at the moment there are about 9 thousand migrants present on the entire national territory.
The routes leading to Croatia are many: from Bihac there are some routes that climb the mountains whose peaks turn white with the arrival of winter. In the surroundings of Kladusa, on the other hand, the border follows the river Glina that runs along the border. Crossings can last for days and almost all of them end with violent pushbacks by the Croatian police and people are forced to go back, often with heavy marks on their bodies, without money and with broken cell phones. The people who manage to cross the Croatian territory, continue their journey through the valleys of Slovenia and then try to reach Italy. But according to the Danish Refugee Council in 2020, there are about 21 thousand people who were pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia and 9 thousand who managed to get to Slovenia and were returned to Croatia. The game, as the crossing attempt is called, sometimes ends up in Italy, near Trieste, where the Italian border police stop most of the migrants in transit. According to the data of the Italian Ministry of Interior, in fact, only in 2020 at least 1250 people, once entered Italy, were brought back by bus to Slovenia and from there transferred to Croatia and back to Bosnia. It is called the 'pushbacks chain'.
The multi-layered European border has made the passage more and more difficult and the living conditions of people left in Bosnia are getting worse day by day. One of the most significant situation is the one of Lipa camp, built in April 2020 to cope with the covid emergency and destroyed in December 2020 due to a fire. Of the 1,500 people who were there, about 700 have been relocated to an official camp near Sarajevo, while those who are still there, are living in inhumane conditions in overcrowded tents and without essential services, and with winter temperatures below zero, surviving becomes more and more of a daily challenge.
Photos have been taken between 01.01.2021 and 11.01.2021
Project alongside my friend and colleague photojournalist Michele Lapini