Bosnia urges Bangladesh to repatriate irregular migrants

A group of irregular aspirant migrants at a temporary reception centre of International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on the outskirt of the capital Bosnia and Herzegovina. The picture was taken during the summer of 2021.Photo: Collected

The news of Bangladeshis' trek via the jungle of the western Balkans country Bosnia and Herzegovina is coming to the fore over the last few years.

It is often heard that Bangladeshis are stuck in the bitter cold of the jungle there. As a result, the names of Bangladeshis stuck in Bosnia are found on the list of irregular aspirant migrants. The matter causes worried to Bosnia and they have requested Bangladesh to send a delegation to solve this problem.

About 2,500 irregular Bangladeshi migrants have been staying at the reception centre of International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Bosnia.

Those who are working to prevent irregular migration and human trafficking, spoke to Prothom Alo about this from Bosnia this week.

A source requesting to be unnamed told Prothom Alo that the security minister of Bosnia, Selmo Cikotic, sent a letter to foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, at the end of last month to resolve the issue of Bangladeshis seeking illegal immigration.

Bosnia, a human trafficking route to Europe

According to the information provided by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the issue of human trafficking using the countries of western Balkans first came to the fore in 2015.

According to information revealed last year, more than 61,000 people crossed the border of six Balkan nations to enter Europe. 

Several Bangladeshi diplomats in Europe told Prothom Alo that many Bangladeshi are now being transported to Bosnia and Slovenia to enter Europe illegally.   

Concerned sources told Prothom Alo that Bosnia-Croatia or Slovenia-Croatia are now among the main routes of human trafficking to Europe. Human trafficking gangs take migration-seekers to Bosnia or Slovenia through Croatia by different means. They then push the people to the perilous route of cross Adriatic Sea to reach to Italy and different other European countries.

Bosnia is one of the six routes in the Western Balkans used by human traffickers to smuggle migrants to Europe. The other five countries are Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia.

International media in 2020 reported immigration seekers of some countries were found in the forests of Bosnia. Bangladeshis were also among them. This precipitated uproar in Bosnia.

Bosnia started to contact Bangladesh continuously over repatriation of the illegal migrants back then. In continuation of that, a delegation of top officials led by foreign ministry’s secretary (west) Sabbir Ahmed Chowdhury visited Bosnia in last year’s October.

Some Bangladeshis were identified that time and a decision to bring them back was taken. Later travel passes were issued for some Bangladeshis but over half of them fled. In the end, no Bangladeshis were repatriated, to the dismay of Bosnia.

Now the number of Bangladeshis arriving in Bosnia to go to Europe has increased so much that the country is worried.

In a letter written to AK Abdul Momen at the end of last month, the Bosnian security minister said the issue of repatriating several Bangladeshis was finalised and several ways out were identified in 2021 when a Bangladesh delegation visited his country in October 2021. 

But the presence of Bangladeshis in Bosnia has been increasing at an alarming rate  since then. The Bosnian government, in such a situation, wants a delegation from Bangladesh to visit the country and assess the actual situation. After verifying the identities of the Bangladeshi nationals staying there, they should issue travel documents to take them back home.

Bosnia has officially informed Bangladesh that the number of Bangladeshis (illegal immigrants) has exceeded 2500 as of November this year. Their identities have been confirmed in interviews at the temporary reception center in Bosnia. The Western Balkan nation said these people who are aspiring for illegal migration to Europe posed a security risk to them.

Denmark is funding a specialised programme in the Western Balkans to send illegal immigrants from different countries back to their homes. Sarajevo has offered to pay the return air fare, accommodation and food expenses if a delegation from Dhaka visits Bosnia to discuss the repatriation of Bangladeshis.

The former foreign secretary and former senior official of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Shahidul Haque, said the human traffickers entrap the aspiring migrants taking advantage of their desperation to go to Europe. It came to the fore several years ago that they have been taking dangerous routes via the Mediterranean as well as the Western Balkans to reach Europe.

He said the problem associated with the irregular entries into countries like Bosnia should be resolved quickly. There is no reason to think that turning an blind eye to the problem will make it fade away. If this problem is prolonged, it may create a crisis for Bangladesh in European countries, he added.