Refugees face violence, abuse on Europe's new Balkan route

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Read more: Beyond capacity, Greek island refugee camps get more packed

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Refugees can no longer cross the borders from Greece to North Macedonia or from Serbia to Hungary without an entry permit, so people have been moving along an alternative route to Croatia via Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to an IOM report, there are about 10,000 migrants in the Western Balkans, almost 4,000 of them in Bosnia-Herzegovina — it is clear the refugee route has changed in a northerly direction.

The Bosnian government expects a further increase in the number of refugees crossing the country on their way to the EU. The “migration problem” has escalated, Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic told the AFP news agency. Last year, the EU provided Bosnia-Herzegovina with roughly €9 million ($10.16 million) to house the refugees.

A lengthy, partly mountainous land border separates Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Amnesty International has criticized the way the Croatian border police treat refugees, saying they are sent back to Bosnia-Herzegovina without access to an asylum procedure. “Many described how they were beaten and intimidated, how travel documents and mobile phones were stolen or destroyed,” the group said in a report published in March. Croatia had always rejected previous, similar allegations.

Albania

Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe, is on the route from Greece to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Every year, around 20,000 Albanians apply for asylum in the EU. Ever since people have been using the alternative Balkan route, the Albanian police have picked up significantly more undocumented migrants: around 3,400 in 2018, compared with some 750 in 2017, according to the IOM.

Media reports about a reception camp in Albania for refugees rescued in the Mediterranean have not been confirmed. Instead, Albania has ratified an agreement with Frontex designed to help stop migrants without an entry permit at the Albanian-Greek border. Montenegro has a similar deal with Frontex.

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