In South and North America, migrants and refugees are being left stranded at the borders. In vivid images, we witness the same at the borders of European Union, this time in Bosnia & Herzegovina. This is a first hand account of the situation in Bihac, a city in the south of the country, hosting many refugees at a time where winter is beginning and insisting “on being more and more cruel and persistent”. 

Big problem, my friend!

This is the usual greeting of thousands of refugees in the three camps in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And it is indeed a big problem. Nothing prepares us for this. We can read, study, talk to those who have been there and imagine a thousand and one scenarios in our head, but reality far surpasses everything we have already thought.

We knew that it was going to be difficult, that the conditions we were going to see would be inhuman, especially now that the winter insists on being more and more cruel and persistent. We were aware of lot of things, but what we did not know was what is really going on. Hundreds of people arriving daily wrapped in blankets, shivering with cold and without adequate clothing, who spend hours, days in a row to be able to register in the camp and thus to have the right to a bed, food and a hygiene kit in Bira – an old factory in Bihac that now hosts  over a thousand people.

An old factory full of tents and containers for families, single men and minors; where the entries and departures are controlled by the presentation of the white card which defines those who are registered in this camp;  where the queues for meals last all day and there are only two showers. Where security is scarce and the human resources of organizations shout at people instead of clarifying their doubts, as if they would understand something more due to their higher tone of voice; where people say “not me” instead of trying to guide and solve problems or where a whole health staff decides to take a “lunch break” and leaves a queue of people waiting to be attended; where there is always lack of warm clothing, shoes to cover bare feet and everything is always “tomorrow, tomorrow”.

Working in the field of Bira this week was for us turmoil and a great stress, we saw a lot of disorganization, mismanagement and incompetence of some.

It hurt us when we went to get a group of minors to the mountains left there by the police themselves; It hurt to hear a group of young people tell us how many times they tried to cross the border and they were caught; it hurt when we felt the cold weather cut our skin and we warmed under the blankets, knowing that thousands of people could not do it; It hurt us to look people in the eye and not have any answers, it hurt us every day to go home devastated and feel that we did so little. And it continues to hurt us and them even more.

Story: Susana Costa, member of Refugees Welcome Porto volunteering in Bihac, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Originally posted here