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The European Union is the point of arrival for all the migrants on the Balkan Route. Since the out brake of this phenomenon in 2015, this tough path, that brings migrants in the EU by land, has seen hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. Afghans, Pakistani, Iranian now, but also Syrians, Iraqi and people from Northern Africa. They left their home countries due to economical difficulties, the lack of job, religious intolerance, political and ethnics conflicts. The lack of a clear future for them and their families is the trigger that has moved most of them to emigrate. More than half of these migrants are single men between the age of 15 and 30 years old. They have been on this trip for years, someone till six. Their families have invested thousands of euros on this journey that lead them to cross illegally the many borders they have encountered. They have crossed all Bosnia and Herzegovina and, at the end, they have settled in the north-west of the country, in the Una-Sana Canton, the area nearest to the Croatian border. The Canton has five Temporary Reception Centres (TRC) for asylum seeker in its area, but since the establishment they where already at full capacity and clearly insufficient.
On December 23rd, 2020 the fire of the TRC for single men in Lipa, has put one more time the Balkan Route under the spotlight, showing the tough situation this area is facing. That day, the same day the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) was leaving the TRC of Lipa due to the failure by the Bosnian government to comply with the agreements about running water, electricity and sewage supply, a fire broke out destroying part of the camp and living the rest of it unusable. Out of the more than 1500 present in the camp, around 600 migrants left the area and found shelter in the nearest town of Bihać, 30km away. For the approximately 900 who have decided to stay, the Bosnian government - which currently manages the camp - in the following weeks slowly installed military tents to provide shelter from the snow and cold of the winter season. Despite the Govern intervention, the camp still remains a hostile place, without running water, located in the middle of a cold and windy valley, far from any kind of inhabited center.
Due to these conditions, many of the migrants choose to live in abandoned buildings or build themselves makeshift shelters in the woods. Despite the lack of running water and electricity, in these places life goes on day after day; with the help of the many organisations that distribute food, clothes and, when necessary, medicines, migrants have organised themselves to cook, make bread, take care of their personal hygiene, do laundry and warm up with chopped wood. Religion often helps all of these people to remain mentally stable: Muslims for the majority, but also Catholics, they daily pray wherever they can. They visit churches and mosques to find comfort after yet another forced rejection, or to gain strength before the next attempt. Scattered among the mountains on the border with Croatia or in the city center such as Dom Penzjonera or Krajinametal, these abandoned buildings give shelter to hundreds of migrants who are waiting for the winter season to pass to try the game.
This is how the migrants call that two to three weeks path that takes them through Croatia, Slovenia and finally Italy, the last hypothetical bulwark before reaching their final EU destinations. Loaded with food, clothing and sleeping-bags, they walk through the dense bush, guided by offline maps downloaded on mobile phones. They walk tens of kilometres every day in the snow and sleep in the icy open air without even the possibility to light a fire. The chances of being discovered by the border authorities who patrol the border areas with drones, thermal cameras and dogs, are really high. Due to the strong cold temperature, due to some accidents and due to the violence suffered in the pushbacks, some migrants are unable to go back to the camps and they lose their life. The “lucky ones” have been buried in the local cemeteries; the rest of them is still there in the woods. A different alternative to the walking game it is to hide under the many trucks that travel to Europe. Even in this case the danger of being discovered at scanner checkpoints is high and the risk of road accidents is tangible too.
Each of them has tried these paths at least twice, some even dozens of times, and the fact that they are represented in these photos means that each time they have been discovered and sent forcibly back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, suffering the theft of all their belongings like mobile phones and power-banks, physical and psychological abuses, and above all, they have been denied their rights as asylum seekers.
Each of them, for different reasons, wants to reach an European country: someone want to reach relatives or family, someone have friends who already work legally or illegally there, someone else have only heard about those countries and have invested all their money and hopes in this difficult adventure. They stay on the road for years, making stops in countries like Turkey and Greece to work and rise the necessary amount of money that will allow them to pay the smuggler, the person who will lead them to the other side of the border.
None of them, however, is discouraged to the point of interrupting the trip. Each one is focus on his own goal: reach the European Union to have a better future, have a legal work and then be able to go back to visit their home country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 2021
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