This time last year, Lipa Camp burnt down. The camp in the vicinity of Bihać in northern Bosnia was really just a collection of tents on a mountain top. The shocking news, which was shared by the mainstream, was added to by friends of mine who I had met in the previous summer who were sharing photos and updates of the chaos. The former residents camped in the snow before being held on buses, only to be returned to the ruins of the camp. The ‘new’ Lipa Camp has now been officially opened. The desolate site now houses unaccompanied minors and families as well as single men.
Before they had heard the news about Lipa Camp, the local residents of Steinfurt had already started helping. Stephanie and I returned to Bihać in February after coordinating half a truck of donations to be taken from northern Germany to Bosnia in our wake. Stef’s firm Uselab were extremely helpful and local Rotary Clubs had been particularly generous. Stef was happy to return to speak at the clubs in recent months about how we had put their donations to good use.
When we got back to Bosnia in February, we found a much less chaotic place. Winter meant that there were fewer people that needed help. As the weather warmed up, we were soon working harder to provide as many people as possible with food to cook, clothes and sleeping equipment.
We also met up with some friends from the summer. Friends from Afghanistan and Iran who were hoping to claim asylum in a safe Western European country. It was at once nice to see them again, but hard to see them in the same situation as before. The inequality bites the hardest. I am allowed to stay in whatever accommodation I like, shop where I want and wander across the border at my leisure. All of these things are denied to other people, simply because of the colour of their skin and of their passport.
In a break from the day-to-day routine of answering messages, organising distributions, sorting the warehouse and collecting border violence reports, we took a break. I was eager to visit Sarajevo again - I’d been there for about 24 hours - but covid restrictions shut the city down just at the wrong moment. Instead we went to Banja Luka.
It was Ramadan when we left Bosnia and returned to Germany. I wrote something about fasting alongside my friends.
It took a little while to adjust to life after two months in Bosnia. Yet, I kept in touch with a lot of people. I now have friends from all over the place, living in various Western European countries. It’s great that they are no longer trapped at the border with the EU, but there are new challenges that face them. I’ve changed everyone’s names for the sake of privacy.
Abdullah is in a similar position. He’s from Sudan and I was delighted that Adventure Uncovered published this article that I wrote about him, despite it being very hard to have the interview.
I’m sometimes asked why people don’t claim asylum sooner in their journeys. This is especially true of people who risk crossing the Channel to reach the UK. You’ve got to have a good reason to risk your life. Family connections and language skills are often reasons, but my friend Zac’s story shows how difficult it is to claim asylum in Bosnia.
Waiting is a common theme for everyone in the asylum process. A family that we met in Bosnia, who are from Afghanistan, found their way to a camp quite near Steinfurt, but due to the Dublin agreement - which originally aimed to share the burden of refugees between all EU member nations - they face deportation to Croatia. Fatima, 15 years old and with a fiery temper and a quick wit, has health problems. More moving isn’t going to help her. They came here to be near an older brother who has been in Germany a while, who can help and support them while they find their feet. They need to wait until the Dublin ‘runs out’, hoping that they don’t get a knock on the door in the meantime.
And I’ve got more political. I am appalled by UK politics. I’m shocked by EU policy. I wrote this letter to Priti Patel which was shared by the solidarity group Are You Syrious. I’m a volunteer editor with AYS now, we share news relating to refugees and people-on-the-move including EU policy. COP26 got me thinking about how everything is connected and allowed me to share my love of carrots.
As Christmas approached, I shared some gift ideas (evouchers still available!).
December 2021 also marks a year since the publication of the Black Book of Pushbacks. This time last year I spent hours re-reading the tormenting stories to proof-read the texts before it was presented to the European Parliament. Despite the overwhelming evidence, pushbacks continue.
Looking ahead, January 2022 in the Balkans will be cold. Stef and I are returning to Bihac in January to continue working with No Name Kitchen. We’ll be there for two months, helping with food, clothing, health and reporting border violence. But actually we’re mostly going to hang out. To make new friends, drink tea and chat with people from different parts of the world about whatever comes up. We’ll get to see the beautiful Bosnian countryside, eat delicious, accidentally vegan baked goods, catch up with old friends and adventure across Europe once again. It won’t be easy, but it’s going to be great.
Please consider donating to the work of No Name Kitchen.
As a grassroots organisation, I can assure you that the maximum possible amount of money is spent on the field - not on fancy offices as is the case with some larger organisations. Scrupulously fair, the donations are shared between the bases in Serbia, Greece, Ceuta and two in Bosnia based on the needs at that moment.
As people on the ground with the most immediate knowledge of what is happening, we can respond to changing situations and work in a way that we feel is the most effective and with the help of the people we are supporting, I’m utterly convinced of the impact we have. The victory of providing one person with new glasses in an atmosphere where getting an appointment at the optician is a challenge, is shared by the whole team.
I'm always happy to answer any questions about asylum processes, how you can help, why I keep going back and anything else. Just comment below or use the Contact Form.
Wish us luck!