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The non-resolved question of IDPs in Bosnia and Herzegovina

A refugee camp in Jezevac in Bosnia and Herzegovina / Alessio Mamo / The Guardian / 2020

In 2020’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, the problem of the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) is still unsolved. According to the definition of UNHCR “Internally Displaced Persons” are defined as someone who: “ […] have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.

In the Bosnian case, the causes of an high number of IDPs is the destruction of houses directly by the conflict or as a result of the partition of Bosnia between the two Entities and therefore, the legitimacy or not to reside in an area on the basis of ethnic and religious origins of the family. The UN Refugee Agency has estimated about 2.2 million people who have been forced to leave their homes because of the war, and about 50,000 have been moved to the “collective centres nationwide”. These collective centres were supposed to be a temporary accommodation for families, in view of a new housing reallocation in the corresponding entity.

In 2015, it was estimated that about 98,000 people were still “Internally Displaced”, a number that fell to 96,421 in 2019 according to the Human Right Watch annual report. On the contrary, the report of IDMC (Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre) identifies 99,000 current refugees (2019) because of direct or indirect consequences of the war. We can suppose that the current number of refugees observed by some independent research centres remains very high and that the attribution of new houses to them is very slow.

IDMC 2019 report on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to Milena Mitrovic’s article published on Balkan Insight, at the beginning of 2020 there are still 8,000 people in these collective centres, whose hygienic-sanitary conditions are in really bad conditions and where medical assistance is almost nothing. Today there are 158 centres, mostly occupied by the poorest, the infirms, the unemployed and more generally persons who are marginalized by society.

Let’s have a look at the example of Mihatovici centre, located about 20 km from Tuzla in the FBIH. It gathers about 500 people, mostly Muslim survivors of Srebrenica’s massacre and several Roma families – therefore not belonging to any of the three « Constituent Peoples » recognized by central government. This subtle difference in belonging or not to one of the three Constituent Peoples and the non-application of the Sejdic-Finci judgment on the recognition of the civil and political rights of minorities, prevents these Roma minorities to apply for financial and social aid (including housing) from the central government. As a reminder, the « Sejdic-Finci » sentence was issued by the European Court of Human Rights in 2019 and is supposed to protect against the practice of dividing executive, legislative and judicial powers on ethnic and religious grounds.

This situation creates a conflict with the signing in July 2019 of the Declaration on the integration of Roma in the process of EU enlargement, which calls for greater involvement of the Roma minority in public policies. Also, Bosnia and Herzegovina is obliged by the Dayton Agreement (Annex VII) to allocate housing to each component of the refugee shelters. However, there is no indication of the methods of application, the measure, the timing or even which state bodies should be used for this task.

Signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995. From left to right at the table, Slobodan Milosević, Franjo Tudjman and Alijia Izetbegović.

The obligation of the application of the Dayton Agreements in the field of IDPs was reaffirmed by the UNHCR in Sarajevo, in December 2017 with the promotion of a new strategy to support the relocation of people present in the fields, the so-called: “ Strategy of supporting solutions for vulnerable internally displaced persons and returnees in BiH ”. This strategy included the active involvement of all government bodies in order to find a homogeneous solution to the problem of collective centres.

However, even in this case, the reports of the following years by the UN Agency for Refugees, as well as the reports of many international research centres do not find any particular improvement in the living conditions of these people. In a state with a weak central government, with a corrupted bureaucratic system, divided into Entities, cantons and municipalities, any possible resolution at this point seems impossible, simply because no institution of any level takes charge of it.

In 2013, the Development Bank of the Council of Europe (CEB II) highlighted the problem of Bosnian IDPs and collected 60 million euros for the construction of new homes and for the renovation of 121 out of 158 centres, with the aim of finish in 2017. Unfortunately, due to the administrative fragmentation on which the Bosnian State is based, only a small part of the funds have been properly used for the success of the project, according to Milena Mitrovic.

Unfinished house in a village in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One positive initiative has been mentioned recently by SarajevoTimes. Mayors of 58 municipalities associated themselves in order to promote the construction and renovation of 785 houses and 390 apartments for refugees and IDPs, with an economic contribution of 63 millions euro from the EU. At the beginning of February 2020, an estimated 1500 housing units were built, and a further 1,700 are under construction by the end of 2022.

In conclusion, the continuous delays in the reallocation of public resources by the state administration and the total lack of guidelines at the time of the signing of the Dayton Agreements, led to a situation of uncertainty and deep discomfort for all those who lost their homes during the war. Despite the renovated warnings of the UNHCR and the economic subsidies from the EU, it is clear that there is still no effective programme supporting people in difficulty, excluded from the allocation of suitable housing units. Something is slowly moving at the level of local policies (thanks also to the contribution of NGOs) but the way to solve the problem of IDPs is still tortuous and hampered by the fragmented administrative system of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The author’s views are personal and can in no way engage the legal responsibility of the association Euro Créative.

Letizia Storchi

Previously studying at the University of Bologna (Bachelor in International and Social Political Science) and the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve (European Studies), Letizia now holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Turin. Her thesis on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European integration process was published by the Transeuropa Observatory on the Balkans and Caucasus (available here). Finally, she also completed an internship at the « Europe Direct » Institute in communication and social media. Letizia speaks Italian, English and French.

Posted in Articles, English

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