Republika Srpska creates anti-immigrant taskforce

For months, a torrent of hate speech against immigrants has been coming from public figures in Bosnia. The xenophobia has now been institutionalized in a government body for “tracking the movement of illegal immigrants” in Republika Srpska.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
Republika Srpska creates anti-immigrant taskforce - NewsMavens
RS Prime Minister Željka Cvijanović and RS President Milorad Dodik, Twitter & Foto servis DS / KONTRAFOTO

Why this story matters:

Unlike most promises given by local politicians, this one was implemented with lightning speed: the government of Republika Srpska (RS), an entity in Bosnia, has established a group tasked with “tracking the entries, stays and movements of migrants and expediating their passing through Republika Srpska”. RS Prime Minister Željka Cvijanović called migrants a “security and health risk” and explained the duties of the “Coordinating Body” as follows:

"Every migrant will have to be put on record and quickly directed to designated migrant centers, without moving around or staying in RS, to prevent all the risks I mentioned. To handle that problem, we need different institutions to be in touch with each other.”

The move comes after months of increasingly radicalized rhetorics about migrants and refugees from the top level of the entity’s government. Claims that migrants are covert terrorists and/or criminals have become a constant. RS President Milorad Dodik has spouted several conspiracy theories about them, including that they are the “Trojan horse” of Bosniak politicians, who will provide them with citizenship and voting rights in order to “outvote” the Serbs in the country.

Most of the migrants are now located in the towns of Bihać and Velika Kladuša in the northern part of the country, close to the Croatian border. Many arrive there with visible wounds and injuries inflicted by Croatian border police. But that’s not an issue that local politicians are interested in tackling.

As is often the case in Bosnia, migrants have become another chip in the game of nationalist power brokering. All attempts to establish functional temporary settlements and provide aid to the migrants have been met with protest from representatives of all three ethnopolitical elites, who portray migrants as a threat to their respective ethnic groups.

Instead of beeing seen as survivors and victims of wars, humanitarian crisis and political persecutions, the immigrants and refugees are presented solely as a security threat. These dehumanizing attitudes -- increasingly spilling over from public figures and onto the general population -- can only be expected to worsen after they have been literally institutionalized by the entity’s government.  

The RS Government isn't the only one targeting the immigrants

  • Migrants and refugees have been coming to Bosnia in growing numbers in the past months, some entering from Serbia in attempt to reach the EU; others are running from police abuse they increasingly face in Croatia, where border police have been reported to beat and even shoot them. In one such incident, two children were shot and injured.
  • Until mid-May, several hundreds of migrants were also stationed in a public park in Sarajevo, depending on aid provided by the citizens. When the state Ministry of security made an arrangement to acommodate them in a refugee camp located in the neighboring Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, HNC police were instructed to stop them from entering. 
  • A stand off on an invisible “border” lasted for five hours, before a cordon of armed policemen, blocking the way for the buses carrying migrants, was finally lifted. The state security minister called it “a coup attempt”, while the local HNC politicians described it as a logical attempt to “protect the local community” from this “threat”.
  • Mayor of Mostar (administrative center of HNC) Ljubo Bešlić, phrased it this way: ''Of course there is fear, we all have children. And you know how these people have been acting in Bihać”.
  • A few weeks ago, local government representatives from the north came to Sarajevo to protest "the migrant crisis" in front of the Parliament building. Also present was Mayor of Bihać Šuhret Fazlić, who claimed that migrants are such a threat that “citizens are organizing night patrols to protect their property, like during the war”.
  • Dozens of local media continue to publish inflammatory, offensive and often explicitly false reports about migrants and refugees in Bosnia, portraying them as violent and criminal, some even calling them “animals”.
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