KONJIC: A convoy of buses transporting 270 migrants from Bosnia’s capital to a refugee center in the south of the country was stopped and turned back by police in a Bosnian Croat-dominated canton on Friday, officials said.
The decision reflects tension over how to deal with more than 4,000 migrants who have entered the country this year from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Algeria and Afghanistan after smugglers created a route via Bosnia to Croatia and western Europe. That route runs from Greece via Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia.
After they were turned back, the migrants got out of the buses and sat by the side of a road. Some drank from a stream. Children cried and some people said they were scared and hungry, according to a Reuters witness.
Local food companies later gave them something to eat.
Most of the migrants are Muslims, a fact that has made Bosnia’s Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats less willing to welcome them. More than a million migrants crossed into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East in 2015 causing a crisis for the European Union but relatively few went through Bosnia.
The migrants had been camped in a Sarajevo park but the government’s bureau for migrants ordered them to be moved to Salakovac refugee center about 100 km (62 miles) south.
The buses were stopped by about a dozen police vehicles in Herzegovina-Neretva, a canton dominated by ethnic Croats outside the southern town of Konjic, where their jurisdiction begins.
They returned via Konjic towards the Sarajevo canton, where special forces of the Sarajevo cantonal police arrived. The border between the cantons is a tunnel. Sarajevo police are stationed at one end, while Croat police are at the other.
The government said this week it would accommodate all migrants sleeping rough and also said it would secure the border with more police patrols.
Bosnia has 14 police agencies. One operates at the national level and two at the levels of the country’s two autonomous regions, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic. Ten federal cantons have a police force and northern Brcko district also has one.
Officials in Bosnia’s security ministry, which leads national efforts to manage migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, said they were not informed about the cantonal police action in advance.
“We are trying to resolve the problem,” a ministry official told Reuters, adding that the migrants will not be returned to Sarajevo.
Local media said the police acted on orders from the cantonal government but a government spokesman could not confirm the information. Duty officer at the cantonal police only said the buses were returned but could not provide more information.