TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — It’s a cold and humid autumn night but hundreds of migrants in an eastern Bosnian town have no option than to sleep rough in the streets as they wait to move on toward Western Europe in search of a better future.
Their improvised beds lined up against the walls of Tuzla’s bus station, the migrants — including women and teenagers— have been spending chilly nights out in the open, with no facilities or organized help.
“Because the winter is coming and it’s already very cold, people don’t have enough things to cover themselves,” said Mohammed Osman Ali, from Pakistan. “Two hundred people are sleeping on the road.”
Migrants passing through the Balkans on their way toward Western Europe come to Tuzla after crossing into Bosnia from neighboring Serbia. Most are fleeing war or poverty in their home countries and want to continue toward the capital Sarajevo and on toward northwestern Bosnia, which borders European Union member state Croatia.
Impoverished Bosnia has been struggling with the influx of thousands of people into the country that went through a devastating war in the 1990s. Bosnia’s feuding politicians have failed to agree on a joint migrant policy, while local communities have refused to host migrant centers on their territories.
Volunteer Senad Piric said he was disappointed to see that migrants arriving in Tuzla have faced racist insults and discrimination, including not being allowed into some stores. Only volunteers like himself try to help, said Piric.
“Conditions are not suitable for animals, let alone people,” said Piric, his eyes filling with tears. “They are children, somebody saw these children off from their homes, someone is looking forward to seeing them, someone is worried; I think we have no right to judge and point our fingers at anyone.”
International organizations in Bosnia have urged the authorities to assign locations for the migrant camps amid warnings by aid groups that the situation could worsen as the winter approaches. Migrant journeys in Bosnia often take weeks, if not months, because they face pushbacks by the Croatian police and have to make several attempts before they make it over the border.
Lying mostly on thin matrasses placed directly on the concrete ground, migrants in Tuzla keep their jackets and caps on as they seek some warmth under the blankets.
Osman Ali said migrants flee their homes out of despair, to run away from daily violence, joblessness and hopelessness.
“These people cannot stay (in their home countries) any longer, they don’t have any life there,” he said. “They don’t have any jobs and money, they have to flee from their country.”