Since the beginning of the mixed movement situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina in January 2018, some 2,500 people registered their asylum claim with BiH authorities. Some had no other choice to legalise they stay in the country, but some genuinely wanted to end their plight and find a new home in the country.
In order to fulfil its national and international legal obligations, but also to land a helping hand to people escaping conflict and persecution, the BiH authorities assess the asylum claims and make decisions, some of which leading to refugee or a status of subsidiary protection.
The non-governmental organisation Vaša Prava BiH gathers lawyers specialised in International Refugee Law and has a standing cooperation with the Sector for Asylum of the BiH Ministry of Security as well as multi-year partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. All with the goal of strengthening the asylum system in Bosnia and Herzegovina for it to be able to give a safe-haven for people in need of protection – the refugees.
“Clearly, with many people arriving to the country, the national asylum system is overburdened and many asylum-seekers are facing long waiting times and have a need for legal support”, says Emir Prcanović, Executive Director of Vaša Prava BiH and continues by adding that “the role of Vaša Prava BiH is multi-layered. On one hand our role is to assist the authorities in many legal and administrative matters and help them as much as we can to deal with claims that have merit. At the same time, we also act as lawyers for asylum-seekers having their best interest in mind”.
For this partnership to be efficient, Vaša Prava BiH engages in reception facilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and, together with partners incl. UNHCR, engages in direct communication with arriving asylum-seekers.
“First, we make sure that basic information on access to asylum system is available to all people arriving to BiH. We use posters, online media, brochures and engage in focus group discussions with interested individuals or groups”, says Prcanović.
“Then, in practice, people interested in asylum in BiH approach our field offices in centres and during individual interviews we have a better idea of who they are, where they come from and what are potential repercussions if they would be returned to their country of origin. Then, and only then, after we are convinced someone’s asylum claim has potential merit, we take their power of attorney and assist them during the process of asylum claim registration”, explained the Vaša Prava director.
Vasa prava BiH closely cooperates with authorities in charge of reception centres and, apart from UNHCR, other relevant national and international organisations such as IOM, UNICEF, Danish Refugee Council, Save the Children International, BHWI, World Vision and others in a network of referral mechanisms.
“It is often the case the first information about a potential asylum-seeker is established through the activities of aid workers engaged in provision of humanitarian services. This is especially true in activities with vulnerable groups such as single women and unaccompanied and separated children. We have a great cooperation in all centres and among outreach teams and over the last years, this referral mechanism provided us with valuable information and brought the asylum system in BiH closer to people in need”, says Prcanovic.
With the help of UNHCR and the European Union, Vasa Prava BiH engaged translators and cultural mediators to act as a bridge towards asylum-seekers and build a relationship of trust. A relationship much needed to ensure the quality of the asylum claim and thus assist the authorities in the decision-making process.
“Working with people in distress is a challenging job. I am extremely proud of my team of young and driven lawyers whose engagement does not stop at procedural matters within the complex asylum system”, reiterates Prcanovic. “Often we are assisting matters, such as facilitating access to employment for those asylum-seekers who are present in the country more than nine months, but definitely the most rewarding one, from human perspective, is when we assist asylum-seekers to register their new born babies, a symbol of continuation of life even in stressful situations”, concludes Prcanovic.
In 2020 alone, Vaša Prava BiH provided basic information on asylum system in BiH to over 9,000 people. Of those, Vaša Prava BiH assessed 649 individuals and provided them with legal representation. Vaša Prava BiH activities, in cooperation with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee agencies, are funded by the European Union project “Special measures in support to the response to the refugee and migrant situation in BiH”.
TEXT/PHOTO: UNHCR/Dorijan Klasnić