Tolic, V.: Asylum Seekers and Immigration in Bosnia and Herzegowina

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Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a State party to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. The Constitution of BiH, which is inspired by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, as well as other human rights instruments, guarantees, in its Annex 1, a right to asylum. Also, BiH has in 2003 adopted the Law on Movement and Stay of Aliens and Asylum , and the Book of Rules on Asylum in 2004. 

The majority of the provisions of BiH legislation that deal with asylum  conform to international standards, including the principle of non-refoulement, non-punishment for illegal entry or stay of asylum seekers, access to the asylum procedure for unaccompanied or separated minors, the principle of the best interests of the child and family unity, the obligation to inform asylum seekers about the procedure, the right to legal aid, and confidentiality of data.

The Law on Movement and Stay of Aliens stipulates that an alien, who has been granted residence in BiH on humanitarian grounds shall be entitled to work, and shall be ensured education, health and social care under the same conditions as the citizens of BiH. According to the BiH legislation, their lives cannot be arbitrarily taken, they y not be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Until the year 2004, the applications for asylum were submitted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in BiH, who was in charge of refugee status determination and granting asylum to the seekers. However, in 2005, BiH took responsibility and jurisdiction on this matter through the Ministry of Security of BiH . The UNHCR continues to support the BiH authorities in an advisory capacity during the process of refugee status determination and asylum granting . According to UNHCR the entire asylum procedure usually takes up to six months.

With regard to accommodation, asylum seekers can choose to live in private accommodation or, if they are without financial resources, in the Asylum Centre at Rakovica (Sarajevo), which is run by the Ministry of Security, but financially and materially supported by UNHCR. However, this reception center is a transitional solution and a specialized institution to shelter asylum seekers has not yet been set up by the Ministry of Security.

According to the non-governmental association Vaša prava, which provides free legal aid to refugees, asylum-seekers, persons who have the right to temporary residence on humanitarian grounds, persons who have the right to temporary admission and persons entitled to protection as victims of human trafficking, (, more than 100 individuals are accommodated in asylum Centre Rakovica there are . The status of the majority of these individuals, most of who are temporarily admitted persons, has been continuing for seven years so far. They come from various countries: Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Moldova and Ethiopia.

According to the report that has been issued by the Helsinki Committee in Bosnia and Herzegovina, after their visit to the asylum centre Rakovica, these individuals live in inadequate housing conditions. According to the established standards , each individual receives less than 17 euros monthly, plus 7,5 euros for their individual needs. Children and nursing mothers receive 5 to 7 liters of milk per month. Each resident of Rakovica centre receives a loaf of bread daily.

They are provided with primary health care. The chronic patients are provided with transportation to the health institutions and somemedication. Still they are required to buy the medicines that are not listed as free of charge. Provision of the secondary health care is carried out in cooperation with the UNHCR. In general, the asylum seekers have difficulty obtaining and exercising the right to hospitalization.

It is a very common that persons who are brought to the camp or who try to cross the border without any documentation escape or leave in an unknown direction. It is assumed that these persons continue to live illegally in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some of them become victims of human trafficking. According to the Ministry of Security they have no data on the number of illegal immigrants in BiH. Currently there is no centre for illegal migrants in BiH whatsoever.  The European Union approved that it will fund a project which includes the building of such a centre next year in Eastern Sarajevo. 

Steps that Need to be Implemented in BiH Related to Asylum

- The main deficiencies present in the field of asylum are lack of by-laws that would ensure full implementation of the existing legislation.

- The work of all institutions working on migration and asylum issues needs to be synchronized. The Ministry of Security, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees and the Ministries of Interior have not yet established a coordinated and harmonious -approach to aliens and asylum seekers. 

- Bosnia and Herzegovina still lacks a specialized institution for the reception of asylum seekers.

- It is also necessary to provide a budget for the implementation of the legislation and to build up the staff and technically equip institutions for the reception of asylum seekers.

- Staff of the institutions working on issues of migration, such as the State Border Service, the police, the Ministry of Security and the reception centre need to be additionally educated on asylum and refugee related issues.

- The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina must still fulfill many obligations in order for aliens and asylum seekers to enjoy   the rights guaranteed to them by international standards and domestic constitutional and legislative provisions in our country. 

Temporarily Admitted Persons in BiH

 The UNHCR staff states that most of the temporarily admitted persons come from Serbia and Montenegro (SCG) with which BiH has signed an Agreement on Dual Citizenship, according to which the SCG citizens who have had an approved residence in BiH for more than three years, are entitled to apply for citizenship of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Such persons, according to the allegations of the UNHCR, are faced with discrimination by the BiH institutions, because their applications for citizenship are denied.

Recognized Refugees from third Countries

According to UNHCR, in June 2006, there were 283 recognized refugees in BiH. The implementation of the rights of recognized refugees and persons with temporary residence on humanitarian grounds is to be regulated by a by-law that is currently being drafted by the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees in cooperation with the Ministry of Security, Ministry for Civil Affairs and UNHCR.

Croatian Refugees

Following the conflict in the Republic of Croatia, many Croatian Serbs fled to Bosnia and Herzegovina and now live in Republika Srpska. Refugees from Croatia currently represent the largest group of refugees residing in BiH. According to UNHCR, more than 8000 persons have re-registered as refugees. The decisions on the status of this category are issued in accordance with the Instruction on Re-registration and Regulation of the Status of Refugees from the Republic of Croatia in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which entered into force in November 2005.

Capacity-Building Activities

The European Commission has donated funds to support Asylum Management Capacities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The overall aim of the project is to assist the BiH authorities in building national capacity to ensure that all asylum seekers have access to the territory and to a fair and effective refugee status determination procedure, and that they benefit from national legislation and regulations conforming to international and EU standards.

Valentina Tolic, International Commission on Missing Persons