SARAJEVO - Bosnia's security minister said on Wednesday he would seek legislative changes to enable border deployments of the army to help stop migrants entering the impoverished country en route to European Union territory.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants who streamed northwards through the Balkans to EU territory in 2015 largely bypassed Bosnia. But the ex-Yugoslav republic now finds itself struggling to accommodate about 5,000 people intent on making their way via neighboring Croatia to affluent EU countries further north.
More than 9,000 people from Asia and North Africa have entered Bosnia from Serbia and Montenegro since the beginning of 2018, including 3,000 over the past month, and a similar number have managed to cross into EU member Croatia.
"I am planning to initiate changes to the law that will provide for the deployment of the army in the protection of our borders," Security Minister Dragan Mektic told reporters.
With only two official asylum and refugee centers, the small country of 3.5 million people — which aspires to EU membership — is hardpressed to accommodate the migrants.
New facilities are planned pending a deal among Bosnia's multi-layered, semi-autonomous regional governments, many of which reject hosting migrants on their territory.
Many migrants are staying in improvised shelters, tents and dilapidated buildings, lacking running water and toilets, especially in the northwestern towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa, near the Croatian border.
Red Cross officials have voiced concern over worsening conditions for thousands of migrants stranded in Bosnia and many say the government is failing to adequately protect the rights of refugees.
The authorities of Bihac and Velika Kladusa, their resources stretched and citing health and security risks, plan to stage a protest in front of the central government building in the capital Sarajevo on Thursday to demand an urgent solution to the problem.
"We [Bosnia] have become the collateral damage of an EU problem. We will not allow the country to become a hot spot," said Mektic. "The EU has failed this test, for it has allowed criminals and people smugglers to run this process instead of its own institutions."
He said he expected the European Commission to soon draft the text of an agreement that would allow deployments of officers from the EU border agency Frontex to Bosnia to help it curb migration and organized crime.