‘People are not animals’; stranded migrants freeze in Bosnian fores

‘People are not animals’; stranded migrants freeze in Bosnian forest
By Dado Ruvic

VUCJAK, Bosnia (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants and refugees stuck in a makeshift camp in a Bosnian forest are struggling to survive in subzero temperatures as snow weighs down on their tents, spurring fears that some may die unless they are resettled soon.

A senior human rights envoy who visited the camp on Tuesday demanded its immediate closure, though a Bosnian government minister said it could take up to a month to move the refugees to a more secure location.

“People are people, not animals,” said Mauloddin, 24, an Afghan who set off for Europe 3-1/2 years ago. “You see, … it’s very cold weather, (there is) no sleeping, no food.”

Mauloddin is among some 600 migrants from the Middle East and Asia stuck in the camp at Vucjak, a former landfill site about 8 km (5 miles) from the Croatian border, because Bosnian authorities cannot agree on where to settle them.

Bosnia is struggling to deal with an upsurge in migrant numbers since Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia closed their borders against undocumented immigration. The migrants hope to get to wealthy western Europe and find work there.

Some lacked warm clothes and were wrapped in blankets, some traipsed through the snow and mud in flip-flops to collect firewood. One man brushed snow from the roof of his tent to prevent it collapsing.

“Vucjak must be shut down today,” said Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe. “Otherwise the people here will start dying.”

Mijatovic added that as a Bosnian citizen whose country generated its own stream of refugees during the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s she was “ashamed” of the conditions in the camp, saying they were “not for human beings”.

Aid agencies have long urged the authorities to close the camp, which lacks running water and electricity. The forest is strewn with landmines left over from the wars of the 1990s. [L8N27G8O3]


Security Minister Dragan Mektic said on Tuesday the migrants would be moved to a location near the capital Sarajevo in the next month.

Until then, said Selam Midzic, head of the Red Cross from the nearby town of Bihac, the migrants will have to endure the freezing cold and many will fall sick. The Red Cross is the only organization providing food and medicines to the migrants.

Commenting on their plight, Rezwanullay Niazy, a 24-year-old Afghan, said: “We spent all our money… We came close to Europe, and now they closed the Croatian and Slovenian borders. When we go there they strike us, they hit us.”

Human rights groups have accused Croatian police of using violence to push the migrants back over the border into Bosnia, a charge denied by Croatian authorities.

“They (the Europeans) really don’t want refugees to come to their countries,” said Niazy.

(Reporting by Dado Ruvic and Reuters TV, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Bosnians outraged by alleged abuse of children with special needs

By Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Sarajevo’s prosecutor has launched an investigation into the alleged abuse of children with special needs at a state-run care home in Bosnia, after a lawmaker made public photographs and a video showing children tied to beds and radiators.

A protest in the Bosnian capital demanding the regional government take action drew several hundred people on Thursday. Nearly 2,000 people have meanwhile signed a complaint to the Sarajevo prosecutor about alleged abuse and neglect at the Pazaric care home, near the city.

Protesters in front of government buildings carried placards reading “Tie me if you dare” and “Children to schools, not chains”.

The prosecutor’s office said it has opened a case relating to the alleged abuses at the request of Federation Prime Minister Fadil Novalic.

Sabina Cudic, of the Nasa Stranka opposition party, shared the photographs and video in the parliament of the autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation on Wednesday, describing conditions for the children at the home as “modern-day slavery”.

The home’s manager, who took over early this year, told a news conference on Wednesday that the photographs of the children had not been taken during his tenure and that care standards have improved, with a ban on “fixing” restraint.

Cudic told parliament that 27 out of 149 employees at the home were trained economists rather than qualified carers, and that night shifts were covered by only one person, often not medically trained.

An ombudsman, Jasminka Dzumhur, said her office had repeatedly warned about poor conditions in Bosnian care homes.

“We demand that professionals deal with our children — this is only the beginning of our fight,” said Edo Celebic, representing parents of children with special needs at Thursday’s protest.

Lawmakers agreed after Cudic’s evidence to form a working group to collect evidence and to discuss its report next week.

The Pazaric home care has been under scrutiny for months over suspected historic financial misconduct. Some staff have been replaced but protesters said the government-appointed managing and supervisory board should also go.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said the abuse allegations were “profoundly shocking” and urged the authorities to bring those responsible to justice. The European Union’s delegation in Bosnia said it was appalled.

The scandal adds to acute public dissatisfaction with Bosnia’s health and care network and its inefficient multi-layered government system.

“The system does not support us, they give nothing to our children,” said Mirsada Begovic, a mother of a disabled child who was among protesters on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Catherine Evans)

As bigotry stirs globally, Bosnian Jews, Muslims recall lesson in tolerance

As bigotry stirs globally, Bosnian Jews, Muslims recall lesson in tolerance
By Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia’s Jews and Muslims on Thursday marked the bicentenary of the rescue of a dozen Jews from an Ottoman-era governor’s jail, saying their liberation by Sarajevo Muslims is a great example of co-existence at a time of rising global sectarian hatred.

The 1819 rescue, which happened during a Muslim uprising, and consequent removal of corrupt Turkish governor Mehmed Ruzdi Pasha is a holiday for Sarajevo’s Jews, known as Purim di Saray. The governor had sought a huge ransom to spare the Jews’ lives.

The event was marked by a joint exhibition and conference depicting the events and celebrating nearly 500 years of peaceful coexistence between Jews and their Muslim neighbors, as well as between Jews and Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

“Bosnian Muslims and Jews are one body,” said Bosnia’s Muslim top cleric Husein Kavazovic.

“Amid the ever rising evil of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia … we are renewing our pledge that we will remain good neighbors who will watch over each other as we did in the past.”

The Muslim rebellion was recorded by renowned Sarajevo Jewish historian Mose Rafael Attias, also known as Zeki Effendi, in his book Sarajevo Megillah.

The book’s title is a reference to the Book of Esther, which is read aloud during the Jewish holiday of Purim. The holiday celebrates the Jews’ salvation from genocide in ancient Persia and is normally held in about March.

Attias studied Islam and mediaeval Persian literature and was a passionate interfaith advocate.

His tombstone, which has epitaphs in Bosnian, Hebrew and Turkish, the latter inscribed in Arabic script, has been renovated at the town’s Jewish cemetery as part of the Purim bicentenary.

“The tombstone itself is a proof of Sarajevo’s multiculturalism,” Eli Tauber, an author and historian, told Reuters. “Close links between our communities are unique. The way we mark Purim is also unprecedented and could serve as a role model to the rest of the world.”

Jews have played a significant role in Sarajevo’s cultural and economic life for 450 years. Expelled after the Christian re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula, they found sanctuary in the city, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

At the height of the city’s influence, Sarajevo had eight synagogues serving some 12,000 Jews. But most of them were killed during World War Two, when the city was occupied by Nazi Germany. Fewer than 1,250 remained.

The community recovered somewhat in the post-war era but was dealt another blow with Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse and the subsequent siege of Sarajevo, the longest in modern history.

Before the Bosnian 1992-95 war, Sarajevo was a multi-ethnic melting pot – mosques, churches and synagogues standing virtually side by side. It afterwards become predominantly Muslim, but some 800 Jews living in the town remain an important part of its multi-ethnic identity.

(Reporting by Maja Zuvela, Editing by William Maclean)

Council of Europe, U.N. agency urges Bosnia to move migrants camp

Council of Europe, U.N. agency urges Bosnia to move migrants camp
SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The U.N. migration agency and the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner urged Bosnia on Thursday to relocate an overcrowded migrant camp, warning of a humanitarian risk because of “deplorable” conditions.

Bosnia has been struggling with a rise in migrant arrivals since nearby European Union member states Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia sealed their borders against undocumented immigration.

The Vucjak camp, about eight km (five miles) from the border with Croatia, lacks running water and electricity and was built over a former landfill where land mines remain as a legacy of the 1990s wars triggered by the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

“The living conditions in this camp…are already deplorable … With winter coming, the situation cannot but worsen,” Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

The Council of Europe is the continent’s main human rights watchdog.

Peter Van Der Auweraert, the sub-regional coordinator of the Western Balkans at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), urged the authorities to find “alternate, safe and secure accommodation in line with national and international laws and obligations (and) humanitarian principles and practices.”

Over 40,000 migrants have entered Bosnia since 2018, of whom around 7,300 have settled in the northwest Bihac area, hoping to cross into nearby Croatia and go on to the affluent north and west of the EU.

Nearly 20% of the migrants are children.

Bihac’s mayor said this week the cash-strapped town would next week stop providing food and water to migrants at Vucjak, where over 1,000 migrants have been steered to, to force national authorities in Sarajevo to tackle the problem.

Mijatovic urged Bosnian authorities to uphold their responsibilities to handle migration in a way that is compliant with human rights and provide the necessary help to local authorities who have been dealing with this issue by themselves.

In July the EU pledged 14 million euros ($15.56 million) in aid for new shelters but the scheme has been held up by bickering among rival ethnic parties and anti-migrant rhetoric.

Mijatovic said it was as a matter of urgency that all the migrants in Vucjak are relocated to facilities with adequate standards in Bosnia’s two autonomous regions, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic.

The nationalist Serb-dominated Serb Republic has refused to accept any migrants on its territory.($1 = 0.8998 euros)

(Reporting by Maja Zuvela and Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Timothy Heritage)

Turkish PM calls Rohingya killings in Myanmar ‘genocide’

Rohingya refugee children play at the Shamlapur refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Turkey’s prime minister on Wednesday dubbed the killing of minority Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar by its security forces “genocide” and urged the international community to ensure their safety back home.

Binali Yildirim met several Rohingyas in two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in neighboring Bangladesh.

Almost 870,000 Rohingya fled there, about 660,000 of whom arrived after Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the Myanmar army launched a counter-offensive.

“The Myanmar military has been trying to uproot Rohingya Muslim community from their homeland and for that they persecuted them, set fire to their homes, villages, raped and abused women and killed them,” Yildirim told reporters from Cox’s Bazar, before flying back to Turkey.

“It’s one kind of a genocide,” he said.

“The international community should also work together to ensure their safe and dignified return to their homeland,” Yildirim, who was accompanied by Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, said.

Surveys of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh by aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres have shown at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state in the month after violence flared up on Aug. 25, MSF said last week.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the violence “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and said he would not be surprised if a court eventually ruled that genocide had taken place.

Yildirim inaugurated a medical camp at Balukhali, sponsored by Turkey, and handed over two ambulances to Cox’s Bazar district administration. He also distributed food to Rohingya refugees at Kutupalong makeshift camp.

He urged the international community to enhance support for Rohingyas in Bangladesh and help find a political solution to this humanitarian crisis.

U.N. investigators have heard Rohingya testimony of a “consistent, methodical pattern of killings, torture, rape and arson”.

The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an Islamic State campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.

Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s less than two-year old civilian government has faced heavy international criticism for its response to the crisis, though it has no control over the generals it has to share power with under Myanmar’s transition after decades of military rule.

Yildirim’s trip follows Turkish first lady Emine Erdogan’s visit in September to the Rohingya camp, when she said the crack down in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was “tantamount to genocide” and a solution to the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar alone.

(Reporting by Mohammad Nurul Islam; Editing by Malini Menon and Richard Balmforth)

Bosnian Serb leader blames Muslims for ‘preparing for war’

A woman walks past graffiti of Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic in a suburb of Belgrade, Serbia,

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Ratko Mladic’s lawyers told judges on Friday that Bosnia’s “fanatical” Muslim leaders had been preparing “jihad” long before the Bosnian Serb general, on trial in The Hague for genocide, ever set foot in the country in uniform.

Mladic, 74, once an officer in the federal Yugoslav army, led Bosnian Serb forces in a three-year campaign to carve an ethnically pure Serb state out of Bosnia. The campaign reached its nadir with the slaughter of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica.

Summing up at the end of Mladic’s four-year trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, defense lawyer Branko Lukic said Mladic had been defending his country and its people from “ethnic and religious fanaticism.”

“The Bosnian Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) was preparing for war,” Lukic said.

He quoted from an “Islamic declaration” by Bosnia’s wartime leader, Alija Izetbegovic, which stated that “there can be no peace between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic social and political institutions”.

Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded life imprisonment for Mladic for leading Bosnian Serb forces as they encircled the U.N.-designated safe haven of Srebrenica and then murdered some 8,000 of its male Muslim inhabitants, burying them in mass graves.

Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic (rear) attends his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague

Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic (rear) attends his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/File photo

But Lukic told the court that all parties, not only the Bosnian Serbs, were responsible for the violence in Bosnia — not least Arab “mujahideen” fighters who had come to fight alongside their Bosnian co-religionists.

“To believe the prosecution’s vision of the case, one has to ignore the presence and activities of an opposing armed opponent,” he said, as Mladic, described by another defense lawyer as a popular “soldier’s soldier”, listened from the dock.

“Mladic is here today because he is a Serb and dared to stand up against Alija Izetbegovic’s jihad,” or Islamic holy war, asserting the Bosnian Muslim leader had enjoyed the covert backing of NATO and Western powers.

The Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst since World War Two, triggered NATO air strikes that ultimately ended the three-year Bosnian war, part of the break-up of Yugoslavia in a series of wars that killed 130,000 people and lasted for most of the 1990s [nL5N1E2450].

Mladic is charged with two counts of genocide in connection with the war. His old ally, the Bosnian Serbs’ political leader Radovan Karadzic, was convicted of a single count of genocide this year and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

A verdict and, in the event of a conviction, a sentence are expected next year.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Larry King)

Srebrenica buries 127 victims of massacre, Serbs absent over genocide denial

Muslim woman cries near coffins of her relatives, who are newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which are lined up for a joint burial in Potocari

By Maja Zuvela

SREBRENICA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Thousands of Muslim Bosniaks paid respect to 127 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre buried in individual graves on Monday in a ceremony avoided by Serbs after survivors said they were not welcome because they denied genocide had occurred.

Nationalist Bosnian Serb forces led by General Ratko Mladic executed 8,000 Bosniak men and boys after overrunning Srebrenica near the end of Bosnia’s war 21 years ago and dumped their bodies in pits – Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two.

Serb forces subsequently dug up the bodies and scattered them in a systematic effort to conceal the crime. U.N. war crimes investigators later excavated the mass graves, but over 1,000 bodies are still missing.

Most Serbs, both in Bosnia and Serbia whose 1990s leadership armed and funded Bosnian Serb forces, strongly deny that the massacre was genocide as judged by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

They dispute the death toll and the official account of what happened, reflecting conflicting narratives about how and why Yugoslavia broke up in bloodshed. That divide continues to hinder reconciliation and stifle Bosnia’s progress toward integration with Western Europe. The Balkan country today is split into autonomous Serb and Bosniak-Croat entities.

For Muslim Bosniaks, Srebrenica has become a symbol of collective suffering and July burials of victims an annual ritual. July 11, the start of the five-day massacre, was made a national day of mourning by Bosnia’s weak post-war central government comprised of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

Some Serb officials attended previous burial ceremonies but this year was the first time none came after families said that those who deny genocide happened in Srebrenica were not welcome.

“How can anyone say this was not a genocide?” said Nura Suljic, 57, pointing at endless rows of white marble tombstones in the flower-shaped Potocari memorial cemetery near Srebrenica, where more than 6,300 victims are now interred.

Suljic buried her brother after his bones were found in three different mass graves.

Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak chairman of Bosnia’s three-person inter-ethnic presidency and son of its late wartime president, urged Serbs to face up to historical facts.

“Acceptance and recognition of the truth is the first step toward genuine trust,” he said.

Last year’s 20th anniversary was marred when an angry crowd at the ceremony chased away Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who had enlisted ally Russia to veto a U.N. resolution that would have condemned the denial of Srebrenica as genocide.

Survivors did not want a possible repeat of any such incidents that would distract attention away from the victims.

Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials bristled at the condition for attendance. “That was not genocide and Serbs will never accept that word,” Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik said.

Thousands of grieving families stood by green-draped coffins in sweltering mid-summer heat, some kneeling, crying and hugging the caskets before they were lowered into freshly-dug graves.

“All I have been left with are these three cold stones I can hug instead of my two sons and husband, and a grief I will carry in my heart until I die,” said 67-year-old Nezira Memic.

(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Bosnian Children in Syria and Iraq a “Time bomb”

Children play inside a devastated house struck by rocket fire from Syria in Turkey's southeastern border town of Kilis

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – More than 80 Bosnian children are in Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq and represent a “time bomb” that could pose a major security risk when they return, a study said on Monday.

Bosnian Muslims are the largest group from the Western Balkans fighting for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, alongside fighters from countries such as Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The study by the non-profit Sarajevo-based Atlantic Initiative, which made an advance copy available to Reuters, found that the number of adult male fighters, estimated at 188 in the three-year period to end-2015, had dropped to 91, after 47 returned to Bosnia and 50 had been killed.

As of April, less than half of Bosnians in Syria were men of military age, while there were also 52 women and 80 children. Some children, who went to the region with their families, have joined Islamic State combat units, the study said.

According to witnesses and social media, boys of 13 or 14 undergo military training before being sent to join fighting formations. At least one minor from Bosnia had been killed as a combatant, the study said, urging Bosnian authorities to prevent children from being taken to conflict zones.

“We are seeing a completely new generation of children who were raised on the battlefield or near the battlefield,” said Vlado Azinovic, a co-author of the study. “They are like a time bomb for any country they may end up in.”

Departures from Bosnia and returns from Syria had almost completely stopped by early 2016 because Bosnian authorities were prosecuting more aspiring fighters as well as those who returned, the study said.

Bosnia’s Muslims are generally moderate but some have adopted radical Salafi Islam from foreign fighters who came to the country during its 1992-95 war to fight alongside Muslims against Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

Some of them have formed illegal communities which the moderate national Islamic organization wants to shut down. [L8N1644OR] The study said Islamic community officials or property may become a target of possible retaliatory attacks.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Giles Elgood and Richard Balmforth)

Bosnia eyes closure of radical Islamic centers over links to Syria militants

GRACANICA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Dozens of breakaway Muslim community groups in Bosnia face shutdown by police for rejecting the authority of the moderate national Islamic organization and radicalizing young men who have left to join Islamist insurgents in Syria, officials said.

Most of Bosnia’s Muslims, known also as Bosniaks, are moderates well integrated in its widely secular society, which also comprises Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

But during and after Bosnia’s 1990s ethnic war, some came under the sway of foreign Islamist “mujahideen” who slipped in to fight in support of Bosnian Muslims against nationalist Serbs and Croats, fostering more radical forms of Islam.

Echoing the experience of other European countries with Muslim communities, more than 150 Bosnians have gone to fight alongside Islamist militants such as Islamic State in Syria and Iraq over the past few years, police say. More than 50 have returned to Bosnia and about 30 were killed in combat.

Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic said this week that police would soon shut down Muslim community groups that refuse affiliation with the state-recognized Islamic Community organization based in the capital Sarajevo.

“It is correct and true that criminals who have made fascist and violent threats against us from the Middle East have been members of these illegal community groups,” an editorial on the Islamic Community’s website said on Friday.

It was referring to death threats sent via the Internet this week to Bosnia’s top Islamic cleric, Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic, by a Bosnian believed to be fighting in Syria.

The man who made the threats came from a village adjacent to a breakaway Muslim community, one of 64 in Bosnia, in the northeastern village of Gracanica, according to Bosnian media.


Fikret Duric, the Gracanica community leader, acknowledged that it had adopted a fundamentalist form of Islam but denied any connection with radicalized men going to join Islamic State or other Islamist insurgents in Syria and Iraq.

“They accuse us of organizing departures to foreign wars, which I absolutely deny,” said Duric, 39, sporting a long beard and traditional Islamic robe. “We don’t support the so-called (Islamic State) caliphate and will not help it in any way.”

The official Islamic Community organization has agreed to negotiations with dissident local groups that face having their centers of worship and study sealed by police in coming days.

But it defended the crackdown as vital to restoring order and unity among its faithful – who make up almost half of Bosnia’s population – and allow it to vouch for all its members.

“We live in a world where radical Muslims take actions with undesirable consequences, and the Islamic Community has decided to take stock of what we have in Bosnia, start a dialogue with them and call on them to come under our roof,” senior Islamic Community official Razim Colic told Reuters.

But Duric said tensions had been raised by repeated police harassment of his community. He said some members had been forcibly removed by police from their mosque after they stayed on for Koranic studies following prayers.

Dissident Muslims want mosques to be open 24 hours, one of their disputes with the mainstream Islamic Community.

“Going back under the Islamic Community roof would mean returning to where we started, but I fear that this time the problem may be bigger because our believers have got used to the freedom they have here,” Duric said.

(Additonal reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Mark Heinrich)