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Wave of refugees to Bosnia signals new migrant trail to the European Union

Bosnia-Herzegovina has recently seen a new stream of refugees seeking to reach western Europe. At least 80 people cross into Bosnia each day, joining the more than 3,500 others who have already made the journey this year. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on their journey and how their presence is being used to stoke nationalist sentiment in the country.

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  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    In a wood outside the town of Bihac stands a derelict student dormitory. The building may have power and running water, but it's still an overcrowded slum. In short order, it's become a potent symbol of the three year migrant crisis dividing the European Union. For the 500 or so inhabitants, it's a way station on their dream laden march towards sanctuary or greater prosperity. For opponents of immigration, it's a snapshot of a surge heading their way. For volunteers of the Bosnian Red Cross, this is simply a place of humanity.

  • AMIR DRAGANOVIC:

    It's very very hard when you see all these children who are right now suffering. They don't have a decent childhood. We are trying to do our best to make them like they at their homes

  • CHILD:

    Thank you

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Proximity to the long porous border with Croatia is the reason they are here. If they can enter Croatia they are effectively inside the European Union where theoretically they can cross national boundaries without documents. About two-hundred migrants are camping in this field two miles from an official crossing into Croatia. Croatia doesn't want the new arrivals, even though most intend to pass through on their way to somewhere else. Fatima has walked nearly three thousand miles from Kandahar in Afghanistan to escape the Taliban. She didn't want to give her full name or show her face.

  • FATIMA:

    Conditions aren't good because the water isn't clean, food is not good. It's cold here at night and the sleeping place is not good and we are facing difficulties here. So please do something for the children and pregnant women. We are helpless passengers, so please it's my request for all European countries, do something for these people.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    There are several reasons why the arrival of refugees in Bosnia Herzegovina is significant. One is that it proves that there is now a new migrant trail to the European Union, two and a half years after it was severed at the Macedonian border and people were forced to stay in Greece. Another is that these new arrivals have become a political football. It's an election year, and left-wing member of Parliament Maja Gasal Vražalica, once a refugee herself during the Bosnian war says the migrants' presence is being used to whip up nationalist sentiment in a volatile and divisive campaign.

  • MAJA GASAL VRAZALICA:

    These days we have our election year in Bosnia Herzegovina. And most parties, national parties they misuse the topic of refugees because they want to stoke up all this fear through our nation, through our people.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Anti-migrant rhetoric is most trenchant in Republika Srpska, the part of Bosnia predominantly populated by Christian Orthodox ethnic Serbs. Their current leader, a Serb nationalist, Milorad Dodik, is deeply suspicious that most of the new arrivals hail from Islamic countries.

  • MILORAD DODIK:

    Refugees or migrants can't be allowed to stay in Republika Srpska. People suggest that we are inhumane in Republika Srpska. That's not true. We're very humane. But we are trying to maintain our way of life here. And we don't want it to be jeopardised.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Dodik is campaigning to be elected in October as the Serbs' representative in Bosnia's three-person Presidency. He claims that ethnic Muslim Bosnians in the capital Sarajevo are encouraging the migrant influx to change the demography of the country. Latest statistics from the Bosnian authorities show that most new arrivals are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan.

  • MILORAD DODIK:

    There's a surreptitious Sarajevo plan that is encouraging Syrians, Afghans, and other Muslims to settle in the country over the next four, five, or ten years. Once that's happened, they'll tell us that this a Muslim majority country. That's the idea. That's what Sarajevo is doing.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Twenty three years after the Bosnian war finally ended, many in Sarajevo still remember being hungry. International generosity sustained them during the conflict when two million Bosnians were displaced. Among them these seniors who brought clothes for the migrants.

  • MEJRA MEHMEDOVIĆ:

    I know it's difficult for them. We were in the war too so we know how hard it can be.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Adnan Tatarevic runs a charity which ordinarily helps impoverished Bosnians but has now expanded its reach to sustain refugees and migrants.

  • ADNAN TATAREVIC:

    We were refugees too, we were refugees in our own cities, we were refugees in Europe. People have welcomed us and shared with us the last piece of bread they had. The Bosnian people want to help, feel the obligation to help and share with these people even the little they have at this moment since we all know that the situation is not great in our country, but we will help in any case as much as we can.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    This family from North Eastern Syria is seeking asylum, Like most other new arrivals, they spent time in Greece. The oldest man in the family, Salem Al Fadli says asylum would have been unthinkable in Greece.

  • SALEM AL FADLI:

    I like to drink coffee in the morning, I'm going to any coffee in the Greece and see people look at me like so bad, they speak something, I hate it, I don't like it. But when I come to Bosnia I go to any shop, to any coffee shop, I see people make smile and speak to me so good. This is important for me, this I like it.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    When I filmed this scene, it was still Ramadan when Muslims fast from dawn till dusk. The smallest children could eat. But the elder siblings did not. When the younger ones had finished, their sisters swept up even the smallest crumbs of bread for the Iftar supper at sundown when the fast could be broken. Never knowing from where the next meal comes is a migrant trail reality. The second largest group after the Syrians are from Pakistan. The majority are not refugees fleeing persecution, but economic migrants seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

  • ADNAN ALI JAT:

    All journeys are very tough. No food, no water.

  • ATIF NAWAZ:

    We entered here walking at least nine hours every night and there we are sleeping because of police problems.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Like most of the other migrants at Europe doorstep, the Pakistanis too, are muslims, meaning that in some quarters at least, their welcome is unlikely to be a warm one. Still, Atif Nawaz hopes that his degree in electronics will enable him to find work in the European Union.

  • ATIF NAWAZ:

    We have a financial problem in Pakistan. My mother is sick, my father is sick. It was my dream. It was my dream to come here for money.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Developments in Bosnia are being closely monitored by the UN's International Organisation for Migration. It's Sarajevo representative is Peter Van Der Auweraert.

  • PETER VAN DER AUWERAERT:

    We've seen this all over the world. You can close and you can increase the border controls but you can never close the border. Because if people are very determined they will find a way through. If you look at the map and you see the borders in Bosnia Herzegovina or even the map between Greece and Albania you will see that it's virtually impossible to close those borders. Once people are determined to use the route they will use it.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Many of those who've found their way to Bosnia have simply followed the GPS on their phones. Others have relied on smugglers.

  • PETER VAN DER AUWERAERT:

    Here in the Balkans there is a long tradition of smuggling. Smuggling of weapons, smuggling of drugs. Our understanding is that a lot of those gangs have diversified if I can put it in that way, and now also smuggle migrants.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    The refugees and migrants are trying to enter Europe through Croatia at a time when the new government in neighboring Italy is promising to deport unwanted migrants and Croatia is stepping up border patrols.

  • RADIO:

    Sixty meters after this turn you can see in front of you, twenty meters, you're very close now. Stop there. There they are, on your right.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Croatian Border police on the ground are being directed by their colleagues in a helicopter.

  • RADIO:

    They're just in front of you on the left and on the right, there is a lot more of them than we could see at the beginning. There they are on your left side, and one group is in the bush.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Fatima from Afghanistan made it across the border once, but was deported by the Croats.

  • FATIMA:

    Croatia, this Croatia is very bad. Very bad police, and very bad people.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    At the former student dorm in Bihac, Red Cross official Amir Draganovic fears the problems here are only just beginning.

  • AMIR DRAGANOVIC:

    The main problem is that all the borders now are closed. And the more police stand on the borders that the migrants cannot cross to Croatia and other parts of Europe so very much they are stuck here.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    As word of the new route spreads to those further back on the migrant trail, more people will head this way, increasing the likelihood that this corner of Bosnia will succeed Greece as Europe's latest chokepoint. A place where the epic journey comes to a halt. And hope is replaced by frustration and anger.

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