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#Coronavirus - €12 million to support Bosnia and Herzegovina's SMEs

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The European Investment Fund (EIF) and Raiffeisen Bank dd Bosna i Hercegovina (RBBH) have signed a guarantee agreement allowing the bank to increase its lending capacity to offer €12 million of new financing with improved terms and conditions to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The EIF's guarantee to RBBH is provided under the COSME Loan Guarantee Facility, as part of its coronavirus economic support package. This tool helps provide working capital to European SMEs for the recovery.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton (pictured) said: “Small and medium-sized enterprises are heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We reacted very quickly to provide them with immediate liquidity. Thanks to this rapid action, the coronavirus measure under the COSME Loan Guarantee Facility is already available in more than 20 European countries. With today's agreement SMEs in Bosnia and Herzegovina will benefit from the EU support for recovery as well.”

For more information, see this press release.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

'Please help us': Migrants, exposed to freezing Bosnia winter, await chance to reach EU

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Hundreds of migrants are taking shelter in abandoned buildings in and around the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihac, wrapping up as best they can against the snow and freezing weather and hoping eventually to reach EU member Croatia across the border, writes .
Bosnia has since early 2018 become part of a transit route for thousands of migrants from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa aiming to reach Europe’s wealthier countries.

But it has become increasingly difficult to cross EU borders and impoverished Bosnia has become a cul de sac with its ethnically divided government unable to cope, leaving hundreds of people without proper shelter.

Ali, 16, from Afghanistan, has been sleeping in an abandoned bus for almost six months after he left a Bihac camp.

“I’m in really a bad way, there’s no one to look after us here and the conditions are not safe here,” Ali told Reuters.

“People who are supposed to support us have been coming and taking things from us and then selling those things inside the camp or in other places. We have nothing here ...Please help us.”

There are about 8,000 migrants in Bosnia, some 6,500 in camps around the capital Sarajevo and in the northwestern corner of the country bordering Croatia.

On Monday (11 January), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell talked by phone with Bosnia’s presidency Serb chairman Milorad Dodik, urging Bosnian authorities to improve dire humanitarian conditions of migrants and open centres more evenly distributed across the whole country.

The Serb and Croat-dominated parts of Bosnia refuse to accommodate any migrants, most of whom come from Muslim countries.

“Borrell stressed that failing to do so would have severe consequences for the reputation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” his office said in a statement.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is running the Bosnian camps, said its mobile teams are helping around 1,000 people squatting in houses that were deserted or destroyed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

“They don’t have the possibility of regular food distribution,” said IOM camp manager and co-ordinator Natasa Omerovic. “They can’t seek medical assistance.”

Until last week, an additional 900 people were left without shelter after the Lipa summer camp, some 26 km away, was set on fire just as the IOM decided to withdraw because it was not warm enough for winter.

Bosnian authorities, who for months ignored requests from the European Union to find an alternative location, have now provided heated military tents and beds.

On Sunday evening, a group which found shelter in an abandoned house in Bihac, ate a modest dinner cooked under torchlight on an improvised fire. They slept on the dirty concrete floor without water. Some wore only plastic slippers in the snow.

“Too hard life here,” said Shabaz Kan from Afghanistan.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina: EU allocates additional €3.5 million to support vulnerable refugees and migrants

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The European Commission has announced today an additional €3.5 million in humanitarian aid to help vulnerable refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina facing a humanitarian disaster. More than 1,700 refugees and migrants remain without appropriate shelter and support in Una Sana canton. After the closure of the reception centre in Lipa, which was not winter-proof and which also suffered a fire, 900 people are currently on the former campsite. In addition, a further 800 refugees and migrants are staying outdoors in harsh winter conditions, including children.

High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell, said: “The situation in Una Sana canton is unacceptable. Winter-proof accommodations are a pre-requisite for humane living conditions, which need to be ensured at all times. Local authorities need to make existing facilities available and provide a temporary solution until Lipa camp is rebuilt into a permanent facility. The EU's humanitarian assistance will provide the people in distress with access to basic items as an immediate alleviation to their current plight. However, long-term solutions are urgently needed. We urge the authorities not to leave people out in the cold, without access to sanitary facilities in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: "Hundreds of people, including children, are sleeping outside in freezing temperatures in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This humanitarian disaster could be avoided, if the authorities created sufficient winterized shelter capacity in the country, including by making use of existing facilities available. The EU will provide additional emergency assistance including to those sleeping outside by distributing food, blankets, warm clothes and continue to support unaccompanied minors. However, humanitarian assistance would not be required in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if the country implemented appropriate migration management, as requested by the EU for many years.”

The humanitarian funding announced on 3 January will provide refugees and migrants with warm clothing, blankets, food, as well as healthcare, mental health and psychosocial support. It will also contribute to efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This funding comes on top of €4.5 million allocated in April 2020, bringing EU humanitarian assistance for refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina to €13.8m since 2018.

Background

While over 5,400 refugees and migrants are accommodated in EU-funded temporary reception centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the current shelter capacity made available in the country is not sufficient.

Despite continued EU engagement with the authorities, they have not agreed to open additional reception facilities and proceeded with the closure of the existing ones, such as the Temporary Reception Centre Bira in Bihać. People continue to sleep in abandoned buildings or makeshift tents, without access to safe and dignified shelter, water and sanitation, electricity and heating, and they only have limited access to food and safe drinking water. Without access to basic services, vulnerable refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina are exposed to serious protection and health risks, aggravated by the coronavirus. The much needed lifesaving help does not replace longer-term solutions to the current situation.

The EU provides technical and financial support to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the overall migration management, including in relation to the asylum system and reception facilities, as well as strengthening border management. Since early 2018, the EU has provided more than €88m either directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina or through implementing partner organisations to address the immediate needs of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants and to help Bosnia and Herzegovina strengthen its migration management capacities.

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EU humanitarian aid in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Journey to nowhere: Migrants wait in the cold to be bussed from burnt Bosnia camp

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Hundreds of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East waited in the cold on Tuesday (29 December) to be bussed out of a burned camp about to be dismantled in Western Bosnia, but there was no agreement where they should go, writes Ivana Sekularac.

Fire destroyed the camp in Lipa housing about 1,200 people last week. Police and UN officials have said the blaze was probably started by migrants unhappy at the temporary closure of the camp, scheduled for the same day.

On Tuesday, media quoted Bosnia’s security minister, Selmo Cikotic, as saying that the migrants would be moved to a military barracks in the town of Bradina, 320 km (200 miles) away. Finance Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda disputed that, saying that there had not been any agreement.

Bosnian media showed pictures of buses parked for migrants to board. Residents gathered in Bradina to protest against migrants moving there, the portal klix.ba reported.

About 10,000 migrants are stuck in Bosnia, hoping to reach wealthier countries in the European Union.

The Lipa camp, which was opened last spring as a temporary shelter for the summer months 25 km away from Bihac, was due to shut on Wednesday (30 December) for winter refurbishing.

The central government wanted the migrants to temporarily return to the Bira camp in Bihac, which was shut down in October, but local authorities disagreed saying that other parts of Bosnia should also share the burden of the migrant crisis.

The European Union, which had supported Bosnia with €60 million to manage the crisis and pledged €25m more, has repeatedly asked the authorities to find an alternative to the unsuitable Lipa camp, warning of an unfolding humanitarian crisis.

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