The head of the Catholic Church's Caritas charity in Bosnia–Herzegovina has urged help for refugees stranded in drastic winter conditions in the Balkan country, and accused the European Union of ignoring their plight and seeking to “wash its hands like Pilate”.
“Most people in Bosnia-Herzegovina are hospitable to refugees – only a quarter–century has passed since war ravaged our country, so we know what it's like to be homeless, hungry and afraid”, said Fr Tomo Knezevic, the organisation's Sarajevo–based director.
“Besides this general hospitality, however, there's also tension especially in the cities, where migrants are living in parks or ruins, making residents uncomfortable. There is some criminal behaviour, while populist politicians exploit the anxieties to incite a mood against them”.
The priest told Germany's Catholic news agency, KNA, at least 10,000 mostly Muslim refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia were currently stuck in his country, often sheltering barefoot in unheated tents made of plastic sheets in conditions of “misery and disgrace”. He added that some had failed on 20 or more attempts to cross the EU border into Croatia, while many were now “wet, cold, hungry and dirty” and had despaired of reaching their goal.
Catholic Church leaders from Germany, Austria and Italy have repeatedly appealed for better support for refugees and asylum–seekers attempting to enter the EU via the Balkans, where frontier crossings were closed and fortified two years ago.
In his KNA interview, Fr Knezevic said Europe had proved “a complete disappointment” for many fleeing war and hardship, adding that Bosnia-Herzegovina was itself still “badly damaged” and poverty-stricken after a bloody 1992–5 war.
“The EU, especially Germany, sent out a clear welcome signal to refugees, encouraging them to come. Yet today people are locked out and sometimes pushed back by force, their fate used as a deterrent,” the Caritas director said.
“Most of Europe's Caritas associations are silent, unfortunately including the German one, and our telephones are silent, although we urgently need more solidarity to be able to continue our work. The EU must not innocently wash its hands on the refugee issue like Pilate – Christians are not allowed to do this”.