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March 20, 2019

Bosnia braces for new 'surge' of migrants on Balkan route

Bosnia braces for new 'surge' of migrants on Balkan route
'Around 22,000 migrants passed through Bosnia last year while several thousand are currently housed in reception centres ' - By: AFP/File ELVIS BARUKCIC

Bosnia is expecting an "escalation" of EU-bound migrants passing through its country in 2019, Bosnia's security minister told AFP, saying the European Union had failed to solve a brewing crisis.

Last year some 25,000 migrants fom the Middle East, North Africa and Asia trudged through the mountainous country in hopes of entering the EU through neighbouring Croatia, which is a member state.

The vast majority -- around 22,000 -- successfully passed through Bosnia while several thousand are currently housed in reception centres, said Security Minister Dragan Mektic.

While the stream of migrants dwindled in the cold months of winter, Mektic said authorities are preparing for a large wave this spring.

"We expect the problem of migrants to escalate, not only in Bosnia but along this route," the minister said in an interview with AFP.

According to Mektic, information from "official institutions, including European ones" says some "70,000 migrants are currently in Greece and are moving" with the aim of reaching western Europe.

"It is not only Bosnia's problem.., we want to be part of the European solution, but the EU cannot agree on a solution. These illegal migrations have simply been allowed to continue."

Poor and paralysed by a fractured government, Bosnia does not have the economic or political capacity to support a large increase in migrants, he said.

Last year the EU allocated some 9.2 million euros ($10.3 million) to help Bosnia set up migrant reception centres with a current capacity of 4,500 people.

The centres helped stave off a humanitarian crisis as temperatures plunged over winter, as migrants were previously living in tents and other ramshackle sites in the country.

On Thursday Bosnia's Ministry of Security announced its intention to "close completely" the 600-kilometre (400-mile) border with Serbia and Montenegro in the east by deploying more police.

The country is also considering an offer from Hungary to send some police to assist with border patrol, Mektic said.

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