What do Bosnians think of Pakistan?

When the trees bloom again

The Lipa refugee camp in Bosnia now exists twice. Tents stand on both sides of the winding road, surrounded by steel fences. Refugees live in only one. The other burned down a month ago. The new camp consists of dark green military tents, with a small electronic heater at each entrance. 900 people live here. They share 20 Dixi toilets, there are no showers, and there are no special protective measures against the corona virus. Those who live in the new Lipa camp are still the luckier among the refugees who have stranded in Bosnia.

At the point where the Una River divides the city of Bihać, a five-story ruin towers into the sky. More than 60 people live here on five floors. There is trash everywhere on the muddy ground. It's cold, individual compartments are covered with curtains. People are just waking up. It is in the afternoon. But they can hardly sleep at night, it is too cold. Now little fires, tea and people's hands are warming everywhere. You tried to preserve a piece of dignity in the ruins. Sama Zaman Khan straightens his hair with a look into a shard of glass. Zaman means time in Turkish, he knows that because he lived there for four years. When Khan left Pakistan, he did not have a beard. He was 16 years old.

He twists the green stones of his necklace in his fingers. He got it from a school friend, back in Peshawar. Now he is carrying her to Europe. He has been on the run for six years. Iran, Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, everything on foot. Now Bosnia-Herzegovina. He's been stuck here for a year. He wants to work for a few years, then back to Pakistan. His brother is now as old as he was when he left.

Why did he leave Pakistan? Khan just smiles wearily at the question. “Do you know the Taliban? Have you ever heard of ISIS (Islamic State, ed.)? From IS? My father was a policeman, now he's dead. People shoot each other on the streets of Peshawar. Why should I stay there? "

According to the Bosnian police, 3,000 people are in the Una Sana canton on the Croatian border at the gates of the European Union. There are probably 1,000 more. At night, with temperatures close to zero, people seek shelter under tarpaulin tents in the forest, in abandoned buildings and emergency shelters. Dozens of people have already suffered severe frostbite treatment.

Khan is one of around 20,000 people coming to Bosnia this year to continue their journey north. With security measures becoming increasingly restrictive along the Balkan borders, thousands of people continue to seek a route into Europe. The poor living conditions in winter and the violent returns from Croatia have made Bosnia one of the toughest places for migrants to be. As if in a bottle neck, people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran and many other countries gather in the two border towns of Bihać and Velika Kladuša.

Elena was where people want to be. She lived in the Netherlands for 23 years, says the woman in almost perfect German. She worked in a factory there, making internet cables. Under a false name, with false papers. While she talks in front of the ruin, they greet those passing by. She is called "Sister Elena". The little blonde woman from refugee camps in Serbia knows some of them, while others have only recently moved to the ruins of Bihać. “I'm proud of these people. You know pain and loss. They have nothing and share everything, «says Elena.

While she is talking, Nissar walks through the ruins. With a piece of paper and incredibly small writing, clean paper is a rare commodity, he notes what the residents need. Aid organizations will deliver it later.

Elena doesn't need anything at first. When she caught her husband with a prostitute, she broke up with him. Her ex blackened her at immigration, catapulted her out of his life and hers. From Ukraine she tried again to Europe. Once she had already made it to Croatia, marching across a border river alone. When she lay down in a forest to rest, the Croatian police picked her up. She was arrested, then taken to Bosnia-Herzegovina. She has been here since June 17th, the first day of summer in Bihać.

She doesn't want to go back to Ukraine. "I'm Dutch, just without a passport," she says. The lockdown in most European countries runs until February 14th. She knows that very well, she is following the situation. She hopes it won't be renewed. Because then she can try again to get into the EU.

Sama Zaman Khan looks at the ruin in which he has lived for six months. "What a shitty place," he says. And smiles tiredly. Snow-capped mountains loom behind the rubble. It takes eight hours to walk to the border. Khan has already taken the road several times, and the police have always picked him up. He could not apply for asylum in Croatia, although the country would be obliged to examine it under European law. Instead, he was repeatedly brought to Bihać, where some Pakistanis are washing their battered bodies in the cold water of the Una. A bare, thin tree stands abandoned on the bank. It's too cold right now to venture north. But when his branches bloom again, says Khan, he will try again over the mountains. What else should he do?

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