European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson’s visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina this week has highlighted the EU’s role in alleviating the suffering of migrants and asylum seekers in the country. During her visit, Johansson emphasized the European Commission’s high expectations of Bosnia and Herzegovina around migration management as the country remains an aspiring candidate for EU membership.
Johansson visited the remains of Lipa, a migrant camp in northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina that was destroyed by fire on December 23.
The fire left hundreds stranded in freezing temperatures without access to basic services and illustrated the failure of local, entity, and state level authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide a comprehensive response to protect migrants and asylum seekers.
However, Johansson failed to recognize the EU’s responsibility. Many migrants and asylum seekers trapped in Bosnia and Herzegovina had escaped Greece where they faced a lack of protection due to the country’s dysfunctional asylum system, and were met with violent pushbacks by Croatian police when attempting to seek protection in the EU.
Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented countless cases of illegal pushbacks, involving gruesome violence and theft, by Croatian police. Migrants are forced back across the border injured and without shoes, mobile phones, and money, further exacerbating their plight once they reach Bosnia and Herzegovina. The humanitarian assistance provided to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the European Commission is no excuse to ignore abuses by its own member states.
If the EU really wants to help asylum seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it needs to hold Croatian authorities accountable for their abusive border policies and address shortcomings in other EU countries. Failing that, Bosnia and Herzegovina is unlikely to listen to lectures that people should be treated humanely by a bloc that doesn’t practice what it preaches.