May 23, 2018 / 1:00 PM / 3 months ago

Bosnian border town residents help migrants but worry about security

VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Thousands of refugees and migrants have crossed this year into EU member Croatia from Bosnia on their way to Europe’s richer countries but many are stuck in border towns, where locals say they can no longer cope and worry about security.

“It began spontaneously, us feeding them. All of a sudden there were 500 of them,” said Rasim Pajezetovic, a businessman in the town of Velika Kladusa who has been voluntarily feeding migrants for more than three months.

“We can’t finance it and it happens that I really have nothing to make for them to eat,” said Pajezetovic, stirring cauldrons of cabbage broth. He said that nobody from Bosnia’s institutions have offered any help.

About 4,500 people from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and other troubled countries have entered Bosnia this year after smugglers created a new route from Greece via Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia to Croatia and western Europe.

More than a million migrants crossed into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East in 2015 causing a crisis for the European Union but relatively few went through Bosnia.

Governmental authorities, who say that up to 40 percent of the migrants entering Bosnia have remained in the country, moved those sleeping rough in the capital Sarajevo to a southern refugee centre last week. Bosnia has strengthened border controls and pledged to accommodate all migrants who apply for asylum.

The mayor of Velika Kladusa has also moved migrants sleeping in the town’s park to a tented camp near by, where they are given food, clothes and medical help.

But locals worry that more may come and make trouble for impoverished and ethnically divided Bosnia, where Orthodox Serb and Catholic Croat politicians have already used anti-migrant themes in campaigning ahead of October’s general election.

“They come from Greece, which is in the European Union, also Bulgaria, and they let them through; Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro too,” said resident Asim Lace. “So, something is being planned... A ghetto in Bosnia?”

Rahmanka Mrzljak worries about security.

    “There are many very honest people amongst them, but... it isn’t that easy for us. When my granddaughter is late from school, believe me, I worry a little. I don’t know what may happen in the street. Anything.”

“I’d simply let them pass (the border).”

The Croatian police has increased patrols along its 1,000 kilometre (621 miles) long border with Bosnia.

Reporting by Boris Kavic, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Toby Chopra

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