SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A group of ethnic Chechens fleeing Russia arrived in Bosnia this week, hoping to use the Balkan country as a launchpad to reach the European Union and avoid getting sent to fight in Ukraine.
The group of some 50 people, predominantly from Russia’s Chechnya region, congregated near Bosnia’s northwestern border with EU-member Croatia, the Bosnian Security Ministry said Wednesday.
“They want to reach the European Union because, in their own words, they are fleeing military draft” in Russia, the ministry said in a statement.
Russians can enter Bosnia without a visa and are permitted to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. But to enter Croatia, which is set to join Europe’s visa-free travel zone, the Schengen Area, on Jan. 1, they must hold a valid visa.
The ethnic Chechens gathered near the Maljevac border crossing, in the northwest Bosnia’s Krajina region include families with children. Many of the people waiting said they hoped to be allowed into Croatia. However, Croatian border guards mostly appeared to be turning them back.
One of the young men in the group, who identified himself only by his first name, Hadis, said he was traveling with his children and wanted to enter Croatia because the situation in Chechnya, amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, was a “big problem.” Hadis said his family first stopped in Istanbul after departing Russia and then traveled on to Bosnia.
According to Bosnian media, the Chechens arrived in Bosnia from Turkey and Serbia, the only two countries in Europe with direct flights from Russia during the war.
The Security Ministry said it would “continue to monitor the situation on the ground and gather detailed information from law enforcement agencies … to propose appropriate measures to maintain a secure situation.”
Bosnia became a bottleneck for Europe-bound migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa in 2015, when other nations in the Balkans and central Europe closed off previously established migration paths in the region.
The Krajina region, which lies partly along a highly porous segment of Bosnia’s border with Croatia, has struggled for years to accommodate transient migrants and refugees, at times leaving thousands of people to sleep outside without access to food, heat or medical care.