The PM of Bosnia’s northwest Una-Sana Canton has voiced concern over the number of migrants being sent back to Bosnia from Croatia and housed in a detention centre close to the city of Bihac.
The Prime Minister of Una Sana Canton, one of ten cantons in Bosnia’s Federation entity, Mustafa Ruznic, has sent an open letter to Bosnia’s state security and foreign ministers, as well as to the head of the Foreigners Affairs Service, SPS, demanding an explanation for the increased number of migrants and refugees reportedly returned from Croatia to Bosnia based on a bilateral readmission agreement.
Ruznic said a significant number of them are unknown to the authorities and might present a security risks and complained of not being informed about a detention centre.
“There are indications that a detention centre has been opened in the Temporary Reception Centre,TRC, in Lipa, with your apparent approval, without informing us,” Ruznic wrote in the letter on Thursday. “According to our information, which you have kept silent about, migrants who are prohibited from moving are being accommodated and monitored in this centre,” he added.
He sought an explanation from the SPS, which is in charge of TRC Lipa, in the northwest Krajina region, one of the areas most affected by the refugee crisis.
The new mass deportation that has reportedly been going on for weeks caught public attention in Bosnia last week when 80 migrants and refugees were deported from Croatia to Bosnia and sent to the Lipa Temporary Reception Center in Bihac.
Una-Sana Canton police spokesperson Bahrudin Dzelalagic said the police were not informed about the detention centre, or the number of readmissions.
“Only yesterday, 37 migrants were deported back to Bosnia and Herzegovina and we have noticed an increased presence in the city,” Dzelalagic told BIRN on Thursday. “We do not have information on how many of them are in the detention centre,” he added.
The SPS did not reply to BIRN’s query about how many people are being held in the detention centre, or why, by time of publication.
On March 30, Ruznic stated that he had tried to reach the Minister of Security, in charge of migration-related issues, for information but didn’t get an answer, N1 reported.
“It is impossible that no one knows anything, and that large groups of people are returning to Bihac under official police escort, and that an area fenced off with a large wire has been built in the Lipa centre,” said Ruznic.
The fenced area he was referring to is a detention centre under construction in Lipa TRC, on which BIRN reported earlier.
It is financed by the European Union with the aim of scaling up non-voluntary repatriations of aliens to their home countries. International organisations and local authorities of the Una-Sana canton were not informed of its construction.
The practice of mass deportation recalls the “informal readmissions” put in place in the first half of 2020 by Italy in cooperation with Slovenia and Croatia.
Such “informal readmissions” were declared illegal by a ruling of the Rome Tribunal in January 2021, but recently Italy has started talks with Slovenia and Croatia on resuming the practice.
Rights groups and migration activists criticised the mass deportations. Border Violence Monitoring Network, a watchdog grassroot organisation documenting human rights violations on European borders, said the people being deported were subjected to abuses. It called on the Croatian Ministry of Interior to clarify the matter and provide all rights guaranteed by law.
The Foreigners Affairs Service of Bosnia confirmed to BIRN that the detention centre in Lipa camp is under construction with the financial support of the EU, but is not in service yet, and it is not under their jurisdiction.
“The persons for whom a measure of supervision has been ordered are placed in the immigration center of the Foreigners Affairs Service located in East Sarajevo,” the SPS stated.
However, it confirmed an increase in the number of readmission requests from Croatia. The SPS also added that during the 2022, 829 persons were deported from Bosnia and Herzegovina.