STATEMENT OF THE COALITION FOR COMBATING HATE SPEECH AND HATE CRIME, ON THE OCCASION OF THE VICTORY DAY
The institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina are unprepared in treating the increase of migrants and refugees in our country, which has directly reflected on the conditions these people have found themselves in. The reports of the volunteers who, on a daily basis, work with the persons who seek asylum in BiH, protection from persecution from their countries, or pass through BiH on their way towards the EU countries, state that the centres for accommodation are full, that they lack food and have no conditions for dignified living.
The BiH institutions, especially the Service for Foreigner Affairs and Ministry of Security, in the previous period, have not informed BH citizens about their work in this field, nor have made public the information on the number of foreigners, their origin countries, conditions in which they are treated, nor the number of requests for approving asylum and refugee status in BiH.
The public appearances of the heads of these institutions, on the contrary, are based on convincing the public that these are “false migrants”, people who are just passing through BiH and who have come to our country to “rest”, consumers of “different opiates and narcotics” who are a “health risk” and “do not want to be accommodated in the existing places but want accommodation in the centre of Sarajevo”. Additional contribution to this kind of xenophobia and racism is the unethical reporting of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian media, with the aim to attract readers. The media are featuring one-sided sensationalist statements without looking at the problem, without interviewing refugees, volunteers who work there, without visiting centres, without asking specific questions to the BiH institutions about their work with migrants and refugees, the number of requested and approved asylum cases, the way of receiving these requests, ensuring accommodation, food, clothes, health and social protection they have the right to in our country, according to BiH laws and international standards.
According to volunteers’ statements, the BiH institutions are not complying with their duties, they are actually working on preventing and complicating the filing of the asylum requests, and there are also practices of illegal migrants push backs from the BH borders, that the media have not been reporting on.
In the previous three days, there were four media features that continue the sequence of xenophobic and racist media reporting, and one-sided portrayal of refugees and migrants as “risk factor” for the BiH citizens. So, on 6 May Dnevni avaz published an article named “Dramatic in the Centre of Sarajevo: Migrants beating and robbing” in which the freedom of speech is being used for the purpose of going public with discriminatory, profiling and stereotypical statements. The subtitles of this text “Murky business” and “There is drugs” point to citizens of Sarajevo having reasons to panic, having in mind the refugees are posing a threat to the overall security in Sarajevo, and are based on biased citizens’ statements, which gives higher value to their statements, than to the statements of the Canton Sarajevo Ministry of Interior who confirm that, even though they are patrolling the park where the migrants and refugees are settled, there have not been any serious criminal offenses or violations of public order and peace. The text describes the theft that the migrants allegedly committed in front of the Dnevni avaz reporters but does not provide explanation why the theft was not reported to the police of the Stari Grad Municipality, and the text is followed by photographs of a person (of white skin color) surrounded by migrants and refugees (of darker skin color), which gives an illusion endangered foreigners and citizens, and insists on racist stereotypes and profiling of persons who seek protection in BiH. This trend, that is quite present in the western media, will obviously not bypass BH media, and the very text does not mention if the photos represent the alleged theft or if it is an interaction of the volunteers with the persons they are helping every day. It is clear that this article was not written objectively, nor in compliance with the journalism ethics, however this is a text of incitement to hatred character that rises panic in Sarajevo, openly provokes intolerance, racism and hatred, and gives space to raging xenophobia and violence.
Al Jazeera Balkans in its text “More and more migrants in Sarajevo, help is requested from the BH institutions”, published on 8 May, also suggests that migrants and refugees pose a risk to BH citizens, and that they are false migrants, stating that “Among migrants there is the lowest number of those from the war-affected areas”, that among them there is “significant number of those who use different opiates and narcotics” and that “Among them there are people of various social statuses, and there are those who, according to information from the Institute for Emergency Medical Aid and according to indicators, suffer from serious infectious diseases”. In this text, like in the previous one, the sources of information are not stated, nor who in front of the Institute for Emergency Medical Aid gave this kind of statement, nor what the state and its institutions are doing in order to make sure all the people get the adequate medical care.
On the same day, in his statement for the Press Agency of Republika Srpska, the Minister of Security, Dragan Mektić, said that “They (migrants) want accommodation in the centre of Sarajevo, at the bus station, as well as at the bus station in Velika Kladuša. And we cannot put them near the border because Croatia is against it”, and that “BiH does not have a way of cutting the route and stopping the migrants who are coming to BiH, 50.000 of them currently on the route between Greece and BiH”. These statements are following the efforts of the heads of BiH institutions to present migrants and refugees in BiH as persons passing by, who refuse care that is offered by our institutions, and who themselves cause having to sleep in parks and depend on humanity and voluntary engagement of the Sarajevo citizens.
And to remind, the director of the Service for Foreigner Affairs, Slobodan Ujić, claimed in March this year, for klix.ba that “99 per cent of them (refugees and migrants) here are false asylum seekers who come here to rest for a few days and continue their path towards the EU countries”. In his interview for the Press Agency of Republika Srpska, also on 8 May, Mr Ujić confirmed that “BiH does not have accommodation capacities. The Immigrant Centre can accept hundred people, and the one in Tuzla 150, and in BiH currently there is far higher number of migrants”, which is completely in contradiction to the Minister Mektić’s statement.
On the occasion of 9 May that is marked as the Victory Day, the Coalition for Combating Hate Speech and Hate Crime warns that the sensationalist media features only contribute to creating hostile surrounding for refugees and migrants, and area appropriate grounds for developing violence motivated by xenophobia and racism.
The members of the Coalition appeal to officials, representatives of the institutions and the media to sustain from putting forward in public incorrect, discriminatory, profiling and stereotyping statements that do not contribute to understanding and solving the current situation of increased inflow of foreigners to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We note that people who are currently in our country, according to international conventions and BiH laws, have the right to protection, we remind officials and representatives of the institutions of the responsibility and obligation they have taken with their positions, and emphasise that the focus in solving and reacting to current situation should be on human tights and protection of these persons.
Having in mind that the media significantly affect the public opinion, it is important that the media reports be in accordance with the professional and ethical principles, to respect the principle of two sides of a story and not to lead to further marginalization of those who are in extremely unfavourable social position.
Members of the Coalition for Combating Hate Crime and Hate Speech:
Association for Democratic Initiatives
Youth Centre KVART
Civil Rights Defenders
Foundation Mediacentar Sarajevo
Foundation Truth, Justice, Reconciliation
Youth Initiative for Human Rights Bosnia and Herzegovina
Youth News Association in BiH (ONA)
Sarajevo Open Centre
Association BH Journalists
Press Council BiH