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They take the sleep out of our eyes (Khaliq desterguna khubuna usi)

For Zeit Online and Profil, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2021

Written in Pashto dialect on a wall of an abandoned factory, the words reflects the exhaustion of the 200 migrants and refugees who temporarily live here. The factory is located in the northeastern Bosnian city of Bihac, close to the Croatian border. It is one of many transit points where people rest and come back to, after an alleged push back.

In the past three years Bosnia and Herzegovina became the new juncture for migrants and refugees travelling along clandestine roads across the Balkan, before continuing their perilous journey towards central Europe. While in 2017 only 750 people crossed into the country, this number climbed up to 68.000 in 2018. Most people come from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is only a transit country though. From here people attempt to cross Croatia and Slovenia into Italy. This part of the journey, a dozens days hike across a difficult terrain, with the constant lingering threat of deportation, is known as “The Game”. The name origins from the countless attempts people undergo this journey. It is the Croatian police who´s feared the most within this game. Funded partly by the European Union, the police reportedly beat, rob and sometimes torture or sexually abuse people before deporting them back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Returning home is for many not possible or not an option after coming so far. The only chance they see is “The Game”. As a result, people are trapped in limbo between Bosnia and their dream to reach Central Europe. “Wish you best of luck” is written on the wall of the abandoned factory in Bihac as well.