Bosnian war veteran turns his cafe into free kitchen for migrants

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a new thoroughfare on the European migration route, exhausted and demoralised refugees and migrants have found charity and support from a local population that remembers its own hardships in the not-so-distant past.

Four months ago, about 70 migrants arrived in the city of Bihać, close to the border with Croatia, and pitched tents in the centre. The mayor, Šuhret Fazlić, suggested they move to the concrete shell of a half-built dormitory on the edge of town.

“During the war, Bihać was under siege for 1,200 days,” said Fazlić. “We feel enormous empathy with these people.” There are now about 1,000 people living in the building.

Few migrants and refugees want to stay in Bosnia, citing a lack of economic opportunity, but as people have been repeatedly and violently pushed back from Croatia, they have been made to feel welcome by many locals.

Asim Latić, a restaurant owner in Velika Kladuša, another border town, said: “In February I saw a man standing in the street in the snow. I asked if he was hungry, and he said he didn’t have any money.

“I said it didn’t matter and fed him. That guy texted his friends and the next day they came. More people came, and I had to close the restaurant. Since then, we’ve given out 68,000 meals.”

Latić, 63, now receives funding from the International Organization for Migration, but for two months he and three friends funded the operation.

“We are all war veterans. We know what it means to have nothing, we know what it means to be hungry,” he said during an interview at the back of his cafe, as dozens of people tucked into plates of spaghetti at the front.

As the months go on, the mood is beginning to sour, however. On Monday in Bihać, locals protested against the current situation. Most of the anger was directed at authorities for mishandling the situation, but there is also growing unease about the migrants.

Harun, 20, held up a sign saying “immigrants go home”. He said that three days previously, two migrants had stolen his mobile phone, possibly a result of Croatian police stealing or breaking phones, an allegation that came up repeatedly.

The situation is made more difficult by Bosnia’s complex and dysfunctional political system, which has four separate levels of authority. Added to this are upcoming elections in October. Milorad Dodik, who leads the Serb-majority entity that forms half the Bosnian political system, has claimed Sarajevo authorities are deliberately settling Muslim migrants in order to change the demographic balance of the country.

Fazlić said the government in Sarajevo was more concerned about scoring political points than finding a workable solution to the issue. “There are so many scumbags in politics who will say anything for political advantage,” he said.

Source: theguardian