UNHCR – Asylum seekers cultivate new life in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Most people associate the countryside with the beauty of nature, but when Adel, an asylum seeker, first glimpsed the countryside near his new village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he saw a chance to transform fertile land into a flourishing business.


It was in 2018 and he had just arrived in the village near the northwestern town of Bihac with his 12-year-old son Sajad after fleeing Iran.

“The countryside around Bihać has good land and I immediately saw a chance for my son and I to build a new life… The good people in the village offered me the opportunity to start my life over and I took it this chance, ”he said.

He tapped into his knowledge as an agronomist in Iran to plant corn, onions and pickles, raise poultry and raise bees on the free plot of land the villagers had given him. His goal now is to create a thriving business that will provide jobs for the local population.

However, he cannot fulfill this dream until he receives a decision on his asylum claim.

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is aware of some 75,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who have passed through Bosnia and Herzegovina since the start of 2018. Only a small percentage remain in the country to seek help. asylum, while most try to reach Western Europe.

Adel is one of a tiny minority of those who see their future in Bosnia and would like to stay there. Overall, the number of asylum seekers and migrants arriving in the country fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, but authorities still face challenges in providing both humanitarian assistance and access. the rights of vulnerable groups, including asylum seekers.

“I have plans and resources to improve my family’s life.”

The capacity of the authorities is particularly strained in the north-western part of Una-Sana canton, where the village of Adel is located, as well as in Sarajevo, the capital.

The long waiting times make the situation particularly stressful for those seeking asylum in the country due to the resulting uncertainty. Adel, for example, applied for asylum in 2019 with the help of UNHCR.

Nine months later, he obtained the right to work. In addition to caring for his land, he put his language and other skills to good use as a cultural mediator with World Church Service at reception centers in Una-Sana Township while waiting. a decision on their refugee status.

“Now my main concern is to wait for the decision of the authorities. I have plans and resources to improve my family’s life in Bihać, expand my crops and be able to sell the products. To do this, I must have my status regulated, ”he said.

  • Adel kneels next to the pickles he planted on his farm in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina. © UNHCR / Dorijan Klasnic

  • Adel rocks eggs at his farm in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Adel rocks eggs at his farm in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina. © UNHCR / Dorijan Klasnic

  • Adel and her 12-year-old son Sajad surrounded by onions planted on Adel's farm in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Adel and her 12-year-old son Sajad surrounded by onions planted on Adel’s farm in Bosnia and Herzegovina. © UNHCR / Dorijan Klasnic

UNHCR’s Deputy High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, met Adel during her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina in July. She congratulated him for his entrepreneurial contribution to the country’s economy and to his local community, while still being an asylum seeker.

“It is important to identify genuine asylum seekers in Bosnia and Herzegovina as early as possible and to register and process their applications,” she said, stressing that she understood the pressure Adel and others are faced as they wait, many times for years, for their decision.

“Long waiting times, especially for vulnerable people, can affect their integration potential. UNHCR will help the authorities to improve asylum processes, ”she said.

UNHCR is working with the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees as well as with civil society and refugees to develop a settlement for better integration. The law would help asylum seekers navigate the country’s complex administrative system, improve access to education, vocational and language training, and social services.

“Be patient and learn the language.”

In the meantime, however, the road to finding a place in society can be long. Saiffedin Khalid, for example, arrived in the country from the Syrian city of Aleppo on a student visa in 2015 and applied for asylum soon after.

It took him another two years before he could enroll in the University of Travnik, but he was forced to drop out because he was not allowed to work and earn an income. Eventually he was granted subsidiary protection status – a form of international protection that usually comes with fewer rights than refugee status – and moved to Sarajevo where he found work as a tour guide in an agency. local travel.

In April 2020, he lost this job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to an EU-funded project to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he received assistance from UNHCR until COVID restrictions were relaxed and he could recover his work.

Since May, he has been working with UNHCR’s free legal aid partner in the country, Vaša Prava, as a peer-to-peer educator on another EU-funded project that provides information to potential asylum seekers. It’s a fresh start and an opportunity to practice your Bosnian language skills, but it has been a long journey to stability.

“I tell people who want to seek asylum in Bosnia (…) to be patient and learn the language because it shows respect for the community that welcomes you,” he said. “It takes time, but having a safe new life is doable.”

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