Wednesday, March 31, 2021
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Report: Bihac cemetery in Bosnia, last resting place of migrants who died at the gates of the EU

Since 2019, around ten migrants have been buried in the Humci cemetery in Bihac. The graves do not usually bear the names of the exiles who died, but the authorities were able to identify the causes of the deaths. Here, no one has died “of natural causes”.

Reading the inscriptions on the tombstones of the Humci cemetery in Bihac, we see that the majority of the deceased were born in the region. But below the cemetery, a white stone stele refers to a city much further away. “Abdulhamed Noori, born in Herat, Afghanistan”, can we read there.

Beside it, several green stelae bear the words “NN Lice”, “Unidentified person” in Bosnian. In some, the place of death has been added. The bodies of “NN Lice 1”, “NN Lice 2” and “NN Lice 3”, presumably discovered at the same time, were buried side by side. Just in front, a tiny tomb is surmounted by a stele showing only one year, “2020” and a first name, “Noman”. That of a child who died before his first birthday.

>> To read : Report: between overcrowded camps and unsanitary squats, migrants in Bosnia condemned to live “like animals”

Among the migrants who lie in these graves, barely twenty kilometers from the Croatian border, none is over 40 years old. And “none died of natural causes”, underlines Abdul Aziz Nuspahic, imam in Bihac.

Abdul Aziz Nuspahic is an imam in Bihac. He has already buried several migrants in the city cemetery. Credit: InfoMigrants.

“Buried far from their land and their families”

Over the past two years, the cleric claims to have participated in the burial of at least three exiles. “The first drowned in the river, the second died of illness and the third succumbed to his wounds after being stabbed,” he explains in the red-carpet prayer room of the old Fethija mosque, in the city center of Bihac.

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>> To read: Bosnia: two police officers injured in a fight between migrants

In each of these tragedies, the body of the deceased is only handed over to the imam after the police and the authorities have been able to carry out the procedures to identify the deceased and investigate the causes of death. Then come the ritual ablutions then the Djenaza, the Muslim funeral prayer.

“During the migrant burials that I made, about twenty people were present. I say the verses of the Djenaza in Arabic then a few words in English about the deceased so that his companions understand. I also invite them to speak s ‘they want it,’ says Abdul Aziz Nuspahic.

If burials are part of his daily duties, the imam says he feels “very bad at the idea that these young people are buried far from their land and their families”. It sometimes happens that relatives request that the body of an exile who died in Bosnia be repatriated to his country of origin. In this case, it is the embassy of the country of origin which organizes the return of the body.

“Ali baba”

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In Bihac and the surrounding area, it is often members of the SOS Bihac association teams who have so far discovered the lifeless bodies of the exiles. This humanitarian organization, which helps both migrants and residents of Bihac in difficulty, walks the roads of the region every day. “Bodies were found in the hills, near the camps but also in the middle of the street,” said Zlatan Kovacevic, president of SOS Bihac.

According to him, these migrant deaths are sometimes the consequence of criminal acts: groups of ill-intentioned foreign people, nicknamed the “Ali baba” by the exiles, regularly attack migrants who try to cross the Croatian border to steal their money. or their business.

People who seek to defend themselves can be injured by stab wounds. “They are not here to pass [en Croatie], they are only there to steal the refugees, ”denounces the volunteer.

Illegal border crossing also puts migrants at great risk. Further south of Bihac, the Una River serves as a natural border with Croatia. Drownings are not uncommon and the cold can also be life threatening. “A few days ago, our teams found a young man in hypothermia, says Zlatan Kovacevic. When we put him in the car, he passed out. If we had not found him, he would have died of cold.”

“The police don’t even have a lamp”

Whenever the body of a migrant is found, the police open investigations, assures the founder of the humanitarian association. Several times, the aggressors of exiles have been arrested. But the police are sorely lacking in resources, deplores Zlatan Kovacevic. “They need more staff, more cars… The police don’t even have a light,” he sighs.

Zlatan Kovacevic, like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Union, is advocating for more accommodation camps for migrants in Bosnia. “This is the only way to make them safer.”

In the part of the Bihac cemetery where exiles were buried, there is a square of turned earth near the graves. The body of Borhanuddin, a young Afghan, was exhumed in mid-February, says Damir, funeral director in Bihac who did not want his last name to be published. “After the exhumation, the body was placed in a metal coffin and then sent to Sarajevo. From there, it left by plane for Afghanistan,” he explains.

In Laghman province, east of Kabul, Borhanuddin’s family were able to recover his body and bury it with his relatives. The young man will never have achieved his European dream. He died in Bihac hospital after being injured in a brawl. He was 24 years old.

Julia Dumont, special correspondent in Bihac.

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