CoE Human Rights Commissioner Mijatovic calls on authorities in BiH to provide assistance to asylum-seekers and migrants

Photo: OSCE/Alexander Kim

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Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic has sent a letter to Minister of Human Rights and Refugees Semiha Borovac and Minister of Security Dragan Mektic, amid the growing influx of migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The letter reads - among other things - that Mijatovic is confident authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina would agree that the issue of asylum seekers and other migrants needs to be resolved in a human rights compliant way.  

A number of migrants who recently arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina have applied for international protection, and their claims need to be assessed fairly and effectively. In addition, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s obligations under human rights law are not limited to persons who have applied for such protection. Even when persons have not formally applied for asylum, any decision on their return must be taken in line with obligations arising out of the European Convention on Human Rights. That includes prohibition of returns to a situation where an individual may be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, and the prohibition of collective expulsion”, the letter reads.

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Furthermore, Mijatovic noted that “shelter must be provided even when migrants have been requested to leave the country and even though they may not require long-term accommodation”. “Foreign nationals, whether residing lawfully or not in the country, are entitled to urgent medical assistance and such basic social assistance as is necessary to cope with an immediate state of need (accommodation, food, emergency care and clothing)”, wrote Mijatovic.

In light of the above, I am concerned to learn that many refugees and migrants, including families with children, sleep rough on the streets, and have irregular access to food. This seems to be due to the lack of a systematic response by your authorities to the humanitarian needs of these persons”.

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I have noted with profound appreciation the assistance provided to these refugees and migrants by civil society and charity organizations, international organizations and ordinary citizens who have worked hard to ensure that these people are provided with much needed accommodation, food, medical assistance, and legal aid. However, in my view, this situation cannot continue in this way”, said Mijatovic.

She concluded that the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina “need to take the responsibility and meet their obligations in an effective and systematic manner”. “As a matter of urgency, the authorities need to provide all refugees and migrants, including asylum seekers, with adequate accommodation using all available resources”, wrote Mijatovic.  

In a statement for Sarajevo-based daily Oslobodjenje, Mijatovic assessed the overall rhetoric of high-ranking officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina as unacceptable.  

If there’s a country which should treat the issue of migrants, which is an issue of the entire Europe, in a different way, it is Bosnia and Herzegovina. People from BiH know very well what it means to be a refugee and how it feels (…) not to have the possibility to be treated with dignity”, said Mijatovic.

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“(Increased influx of migrants) is indeed a big economic and social challenge for BiH and the entire region. My letter is actually some kind of an early warning, because I believe that right now is the time to start with providing shelter for those people. Things might escalate and caught BiH unprepared”, said Mijatovic.

She added that BiH needed the assistance of other countries in the region and the European Commission, as well as the assistance from all institutions dealing with the issue of migrants, “but the first step is to have the country and officials start working, because they have responsibility”.