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زوړ کور | Kandvala

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For years, Bihać in northwestern Bosnia has been the final stop for thousands of refugees. Here is one end of the so-called Balkan route and therefore a strictly guarded gateway to the European Union. Many refugees are stuck here indefinitely. Again and again, they take on what they call "The Game." In small groups, they try to cross the border. A dangerous "game." Many of those affected report that anyone who encounters Croatian border officials often is beaten, robbed and sent back. Everything starts all over again.
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The following multimedia reportage deals with flight and the situation of refugees in Bihać. Parts of the narratives of those affected are (sexualized) violence and trauma. For this multimedia reportage format we use audio and video in addition to text and photos. The mouse wheel or the arrow keys on the keyboard are used to move to the next page. The player can be controlled with the menu in the upper right corner.

We have tried to illuminate numerous aspects - an extensive story is the result. The following journey takes about 45 minutes. It is best to watch the story in landscape mode on your phone or on a large screen.
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The municipality of Bihać is located in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina and has about 61,000 inhabitants. Around 89 percent of the population are Bosniaks, just under six percent are Croatians and 1.6 percent are Serbians. Islam is the most widespread religion, accounting for about 90 percent of the population. In the former Yugoslavia, the city developed into an industrial region.
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The smell of burning wood is already noticeable long before you see "Dom Penzionera. Clouds of smoke drift out of the openings in the facade. Groups of people stand in front of and on top of the building. Some are packed with heavy backpacks. Others seem to be just arriving and are escorted into the building. "Dom Penzionera" or - as the people living here call it themselves - "Kandvala", is a ruined building from the former Yugoslavia. Once planned as a retirement home for workers loyal to the state, the skeleton of the building will serve as a roof over the heads of about 200 refugees at the beginning of 2021.Croatia followed Hungary and closed its borders in 2016; since then, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been the involuntary residence of many hoping for protection in Europe. In 2019, according to "Spiegel", there should have been up to 30,000 refugees in the country.One of them is "Danny"...
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RESIDENTS

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Danny is 18 years old. One year ago, he flees from the Afghan province of Nangarhar in the direction of Europe. He leaves behind siblings and his parents. One of his greatest wishes is to finish school so that he can get a good job later, he says himself.

In April 2021, he tries to cross the EU's external border for the 20th time. In vain.
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Danny shares his room in the ruined building with eight other people.

In "Kandvala", he sleeps on an old mattress. Sleeping bags, old sofas and garbage are piled up everywhere. Little light penetrates through the holes in the walls. The countless attempts to cross Europe's green border with Croatia have pushed other thoughts to the back of Danny's mind. Life here is a daily struggle.


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Danny, 18 years old

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Mostly young men live in the building, and the residents of "Kandvala" are never alone.
Drinking tea and cooking together determines their everyday life, and this is where they share their thoughts.

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LETTERS

The men stranded in Bihać come mainly from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Many of them are fleeing from the grievances in their country.

They all share similar stories; of uncertainty, loss and violence.


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Naseebullah, 19 years old

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Jahadullah, 18 years old

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Nooruddain, 23 years old

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Qudrat, 17 years old

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Hassan, 24 years old

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RESIDENTS PT.2

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Watch some TikToks

Many of the people on the move use social networks, such as the video platform "TikToK", to share what they have experienced during their flight. Videos can be found on the Internet of food being served in the camps, but also of attempts to cross the EU's external border. For many people on the move, this is a way to draw attention to their situation - from their own perspective. Hassan is no exception.


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In the midst of a pile of rubble, a spot has been shoveled free; a golden-blue carpet lies on the dirty mattress.

Danny, like many other refugees in "Kandvala", does not miss any of the five prayers a day.

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Elena is usually the only woman in the building. At this point, she lives with a woman in an apartment in Bihać and comes to the ruined building every day, to take care of the people living there. She - just like those she helps every day - is stuck at the gates of Europe herself.

She has been living in the Netherlands without papers since she was 18 years old. Until, after 22 years, she is reported to the police and deported back to Ukraine; the country she left two decades earlier.

While trying to re-enter the EU through Hungary, she is caught and subsequently ends up in Bihać.


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DAILY LIFE IN "KANDVALA"

Everyday life in "Kandvala" is determined by life-sustaining activities, such as getting food or boiling water from the river.
Drinking tea together, listening to each other and spending time together also plays a major role.
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There is no running water in the buildings itself.
To wash themselves, the men have to go to the nearby river "Una" when the outside temperature is sometimes no more than twelve degrees.
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Due to the poor conditions in the buildings, but also in the official camps, scabies is a constant companion. The people living here live closely together.
As a result the disease spreads rapidly and the costly treatments are slow to take effect.
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There is no electricity in the ruins, therefore - if it is possible - washing is done by hand.
In winter it gets so cold in the rooms, that even the water on the floor freezes.
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Cooking over an open fire is the only option. Old antennas are used as cooking grids, and water from the nearby river is boiled to keep the pots reasonably/somewhat clean.
Due to the fire as the only source of heat, the walls are covered with soot.


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Providing people living outside of the camps with supplies is difficult. Only a few NGOs provide the people with the most basic necessities; those who do so nevertheless repeatedly run into problems with the authorities. Aid work is forbidden in Bosnia, especially in the canton of Una-Sana. Supporting refugees can lead up to a prison sentence.
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Laughter and muffled thuds can be heard again and again from the roof. A group of young Pakistanis are playing cricket, their national sport. They have built a bat out of an old wooden board, with which they hit a broken tennis ball through the air.

For a brief moment, the sport breaks through the monotonous daily routine. In front of the building, two much too large teams are playing volleyball, dozens of men are standing around outside. For a small moment, everything else doesn't matter.


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Back in the building, the first refugees pack their backpacks again. "Kandvala" is only a temporary place, even if Europe forces many to stay longer.

 
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The next destination for most is Trieste, the first major city after the Slovenian-Italian border. There are various ways to get there. Most of the time, the refugees make their way to Italy on foot, for the most part away from major roads and any civilization, in order to remain undetected. Others try to get into the trailers of trucks. Those who have money pay a smuggler.


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"GAME"

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Some of the refugees have pitched their tents on the outskirts of Bihać in order to attempt to cross the border into Europe from there.

One of them is Danny's best friend. To gather strength for the exhausting next hours, some of them cook curry and fried chicken on an open fire.


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BORDER VIOLENCE

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(Sexualized) violence against refugees, pushbacks, systematic disregard for human rights - there are many reports describing this as a common practice of the Croatian police at the border with Bosnia.

As those affected report, the border guards often wear masks so that their faces cannot be recognized.

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Volunteer medical forces on the scene describe the injuries as targeted and in no way random violence.
For example, arms and shoulders are broken so that backpacks can no longer be carried. Legs, on the other hand, are spared so that people can still walk back.










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Illegal returns to Bosnia and Herzegovina, so-called "pushbacks", do not only occur from neighboring countries. There were also several illegal pushbacks from Italy, Slovenia and Austria between January and April 2021.
Source: Danish Refugee Council




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Again and again there are deaths during the attempts to reach Europe.

People die from old landmines from the times of the civil war, exhaustion or the consequences of brutal attacks by Croatian border officials, as refugees repeatedly report.

Since the identity of many of the dead cannot be determined, green wooden plaques with the inscription "Unknown Face" are left behind at the end; they are erected by the Muslim community.


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EVICTION

On February 24, 2021, another eviction of "Kandvala" will take place, it is not the first of its kind. Again and again such operations take place. They are representative of a policy that is carried out on the backs of the weakest.


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On February 24, 2021, another eviction of "Kandvala" will take place, it is not the first of its kind. Again and again such operations take place. They are representative of a policy that is carried out on the backs of the weakest.

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The tent camp "Lipa" will be opened on April 21, 2020 as a men-only camp and is initially intended only as an emergency solution during the Covid 19 pandemic.

The camp is located on the Balkan route, at an altitude of 750 meters, and can only be reached via dirt roads.

The camp is not weatherproof, quite the opposite: Already at the beginning of October 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warns of a humanitarian crisis due to the upcoming winter.


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The affected men are not left with many options, except to live in abandoned houses or in the mostly overcrowded "Lipa" camp, which is located 25 kilometers from the border town of Bihać.

The camps near the border are not meant for them; women and minors live here.

Again and again those affected report about bad or even no food, they are not allowed to cook themselves. Many of them therefore decide in the end to live in a ruined building - without infrastructure and strict controls.  

Despite repeated police evacuations of the ruins, many return there again.


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EUROPEAN UNION

In view of the catastrophic situation on the Bosnian-Croatian border, the question arises as to what the EU is contributing to humanitarian aid on the ground. After all, the right to asylum is also enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.Most of the EU's money goes to IOM, the International Organization for Migration, whose mission, according to its own statement, is to manage refugee flows, help find practical solutions to migration problems, and provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in need.

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The European Commission has allocated an additional €3.5 million in humanitarian aid in January 2021 to help vulnerable refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In total, the EU has provided Bosnia and Herzegovina with about €89 million to address flight and migration since the beginning of 2018. 77 percent of the money has been used for food, hygiene items, tents, clothing and other utility costs, according to IOM. It also includes a security service in the camps, as well as the cost of medical care, fire protection and legal aid. About seven percent of the money goes directly to security services in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Specifically, this means new vehicles, thermal imaging cameras, drones and police equipment. Another 14 percent will be used to renovate and create a total of seven camps.


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CONCLUSION

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LATEST INFORMATION

The situation of refugees at Europe's borders is constantly changing, but never collectively for the better. Also in Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina, things have changed since the end of February 2021.

After another eviction of the building "Kandvala", many of the residents are in tents on the outskirts of Bihać - afraid of the police.
With the beginning of the summer months, more refugees stop in Bihać on their way to Europe. Providing food and other essentials to all the people is becoming increasingly difficult for the last NGOs still working outside the official camps.
Also due to official pressure, many NGOs can no longer regularly supply the wild camps with food.

Elena continues to live in Bihac. In the meantime, she is the only woman living in "Kandvala". Her hope is to be physically fit enough by summer to make another attempt to get to Europe.

Hassan makes it to Slovenia after his sixth attempt, there he will now stay temporarily in one of the shelters, his friends are still in Bihac.

Danny made it to Italy in May after 13 days of walking, and shortly thereafter made it to Switzerland.
After some time in quarantine, he now lives in a refugee shelter and has applied for asylum.
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THE PROJECT

This project would not have been possible without the great support of many friends and colleagues.
Special thanks for the recording of the letters go to:

Josephine Hochbruck 
Dominik Eisele 
Piet Gampert 
Janis Hanenberg 
Marcus Westhoff 
Emilian Tersek 
Michael Pervan 
Jonathan Wiese 

For the editing: 
Michael Trammer 

For on-site translation: 
Hassan Walli 

For the animations: 
Jannis Große 


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Not only at the Bosnian-Croatian border are the conditions in which refugees have to live catastrophic.
Also in other countries the situation for the people is devastating.

To learn more about the situation at the EU external borders on Lesbos, Greece, check out this multimedia project.
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Sitara Thalia Ambrosio

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Sitara Thalia Ambrosio is a Photographer and Visual Storyteller. Her focus is international on overarching issues related to women, climate change, migration and human rights violations.

Contact: contact@sitaraambrosio.com

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Iván Furlan Cano

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Iván Furlan Cano works as a freelance photo and video journalist and focuses on social movements, climate justice and humanitarian crises in his work.

He is currently studying photojournalism and documentary photography at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hannover.



Contakt: kontakt@ivan.furlancano.com

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Awards





The multimedia "Kandvala" was awarded with the 1. place at the "Deutscher Multimediapreis 2021".

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Tik Tok

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Hassan leaves Turkey and arrives in Greece on September 9, 2020. He stays there for 15 days. When it rains, he tries to seek temporary shelter.

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He sleeps on the street. He buys food in the supermarket, during this time he rarely eats warm food. Hassan leaves Greece for Macedonia.

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The 24-year-old jumps onto a moving freight train and arrives in North-Macedonia on October 4, 2020. Hassan spends only half the distance on the train before being caught and forced to walk another eight days through northern Macedonia.  

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He often walks through the mountains hungry and thirsty. His supplies are usually not enough to reach the next town.

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Once in Serbia, Hassan spends five days in one of the larger refugee camps. From there he continues to walk to the Bosnian border.


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To get from Serbia to Bosnia, he has to cross a river by boat. A smuggler charges 60 euros for the crossing. After arriving, he spends a week in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo before boarding a bus to Bihać.

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Danny ....
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Wir sind von der früheren Grenze zu Bosnien nach Kroatien hineingegangen. Wir waren 12 Tage lang zu Fuß unterwegs, um nach Slowenien zu gelangen. Es waren nicht einmal vier Stunden vergangen als wir in Slowenien ankamen, bis die slowenische Polizei uns verhaftete und an die kroatische Polizei übergab. Und dann wurden wir der bosnischen Polizei übergeben. Die Polizei nahm alles mit, das Geld und die Telefone.
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Mein Name ist Vali Hassan, 24 Jahre alt, aus Pakistan. Ich begann meine Reise aus Pakistan in der Hoffnung, ein gutes, wohlhabendes Leben für meine Familie aufzubauen. Ich begann ein Jahr lang in der Türkei mit harter Arbeit. Ich habe gerade hart genug gearbeitet, um überleben zu können. Nach einem Jahr ging ich von der Türkei nach Griechenland, von dort nach Mazedonien, dann nach Serbien. Ich habe dreimal versucht, nach Kroatien zu gehen, wurde aber wieder nach Bosnien abgeschoben. Die Reise von Pakistan nach Bosnien war sehr schwierig.
Ich bin die meiste Zeit gelaufen, manchmal in den Wäldern, manchmal trocken in den Ebenen und in der Wüste, oft hungrig und durstig.
Ich hoffe auf ein gutes Leben und darauf, meiner Familie helfen zu können.
Ich lebe immer noch in einem alten, heruntergekommenen Gebäude ohne Strom, Wasser oder sonstige Annehmlichkeiten.
Nur manchmal hilft mir eine Organisation mit einigen Tassen, Teekannen, Löffeln usw., die mir helfen.
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This will allow us to cover some of the costs, give something back to colleagues for their help, and continue to try to make free and independent projects available to people for free.
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