So far in 2020, BiH authorities have registered 4,586 new migrant and refugee arrivals to BiH. Compared to the same period in 2019 (6,201), this represents a 26 percent decrease. Just in April, BiH authorities reported 102 arrivals which, compared to April 2019 (2,631), represents a 96 percent drop. The number of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants currently accommodated in reception centres and other state facilities across the country amounts to 5,600, while some additional 2,000 persons are estimated to be settled outside formal accommodation or on route, UNHCR found in a new report.
For the time being, no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants. The situation is changing daily; the actions taken by the authorities to date have already affected access to asylum and basic services.
UNHCR recalls that the decision by the BiH Council of Ministers on 16 April continues to restrict freedom of movement and stay for several categories of aliens in BiH, including undocumented foreigners and asylum seekers who either do not hold valid documents or do not have dully registered residence. “Adopted as a COVID-19 prevention measure, it is foreseen to remain in force as long as the conditions for its implementation require. Furthermore, the measures on the restriction of movement for asylum-seekers and migrants in reception centres remains generally strict. Residents of Temporary reception Centres in Una-Sana Canton can leave for onward movement but are not allowed to return. In Sarajevo, the situation in centres is much tighter in terms of in-and-out movement. Increased onward movement and departures from centres have been observed in Una-Sana Canton. Subsequently, the number of recorded alleged pushbacks is also rising”, the report continues.
UNHCR noted several cases of documented asylum-seekers transferred from their regular private accommodation to the emergency centre at the Lipa camp, without a clear legal basis. Although UNHCR reacted by advocating with the local authorities for the practice to cease, similar cases were reported as having occurred on 8 May.
The restrictions of movement continue to affect the mental health of the beneficiaries and exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and depression. Psychosocial support activities were provided to a limited degree, but resources and capacities are largely insufficient to serve those in need. The registration process of asylum-seekers and migrants continues to be impacted by the COVID–19 measures.
During the reporting period, UNHCR’s legal aid partner Vaša Prava BiH filed a request with the Constitutional Court of BiH on behalf of two asylum-seekers, to take an interim measure to repeal the Decision on the Restriction of Movement and Stay of Foreigners in BiH, adopted by the Council of Ministers at its 13th extraordinary session. The appeal explains that this decision is in conflict with the standards prescribed by the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms, and the UNHCR’s legal aid partner Vaš Prava continued providing free legal aid through phone calls, WhatsApp/Viber calls/chats and the newly created VP BiH online communications platform.
They have also continued providing assistance by extending and delivering asylum-seekers’ cards. Extending documentation has become a challenge due to restrained access to the relevant authorities. The Sector for Asylum re-assumed the responsibility of extending asylum seeker cards to asylum-seekers in private accommodation, but the delivery of cards to persons accommodated in temporary reception centres Ušivak and Blažuj has been halted.
During the reporting fortnight, Vaša Prava BiH provided legal counselling to 505 asylum-seekers and served as an attorney from 8 asylum-seekers throughout BiH. UNHCR’s protection partner BHWI continued to provide protection in a variety of ways, alongside child protection, psychosocial interventions and education activities in formal and private accommodation locations in Sarajevo and Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. /ibna