While the world’s attention is drawn to the plight of migrants and refugees and Asia and Africa, a small but significant number of irregular migrants continue to arrive in central European countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, placing huge strains on local authorities.


Rawad (name changed to protect his identity) is one of 735 irregular migrants who crossed into Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017. He arrived just a few days ago, with his wife, one adult son and four young sons and daughters.


“We are from Syria, from a small town we had to flee about five years ago,” he begins.


“My family found refuge in Aleppo and stayed there until one month ago, when we decided to leave, being in fear for the lives of our children. On top of everything, one of my sons is asthmatic, while my daughter is sick too.”


“We sold everything we had for 5,000 euros and moved on towards Europe through Greece, Albania and Macedonia, reaching Bosnia on 28 December. During the trip,” he continues after taking short gasp, “the person who smuggled us across the border with Montenegro to Bosnia suddenly asked for an additional 2,000 euros to the 5,000 we already paid, which we didn’t have. The smuggler destroyed our passports and dropped us out in the open somewhere in the mountains of Eastern Bosnia.


“It was hard before too, but this is where true ordeal started; we spent four nights in the mountains, exposed to extreme cold with nothing to support us. We were later told that the mountains and places which we passed through were likely to be covered in landmines and that we were very lucky for making it here. Our youngest daughter is traumatized. I truly don’t know how we survived this.”

The family was eventually found by local police in Pale, a small town not far from the capital Sarajevo, exhausted, terrified and hungry. One of the possessions found on them was a plastic bag with their chopped and torn passports. Since the state migrant facilities are full due to the increased influx, the IOM migrant protection team was asked to assist.


They provided the family with emergency psychological checkups and accommodation in one of Sarajevo’s hotels, where they are still located and recovering.


Recognizing the close escape Rawad’s family had in the mine-pocked mountains,  IOM and the Red Cross is preparing information materials and maps identifying the areas in BiH that remain covered with minefields, following the war in the 1990s. “Migrants are not aware of this danger”, says Peter Van der Auweraert, IOM’s representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “While there have been no incidents so far, it is important to ensure that it remains this way, as some of the areas through which migrants are traveling are highly dangerous.”


IOM’s response was provided through the Direct Assistance activity of the project Enhancing Capacities and Mechanisms to Identify and Protect Vulnerable Migrants, funded by the U.S. Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration (US PRM).


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Ismar Milak is the Special Assistant to the Western Balkans sub-Regional Co-ordinator.