Migrants in Bosnia-Herzegovina are at the mercy of an unscrupulous underground economy

Matthew Algeo May 11, 2021
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Members from an Afghani migrant family approach Croatia's border from the Bosnian side in an attempt to cross into the EU by foot. The family crossed into Croatia only to be pushed back to Bosnia by Croatian police a few hours later. Damir Sagoli/Getty Images

Migrants in Bosnia-Herzegovina are at the mercy of an unscrupulous underground economy

Matthew Algeo May 11, 2021
Heard on:
Members from an Afghani migrant family approach Croatia's border from the Bosnian side in an attempt to cross into the EU by foot. The family crossed into Croatia only to be pushed back to Bosnia by Croatian police a few hours later. Damir Sagoli/Getty Images
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Migrants who are in Bosnia-Herzegovina illegally cannot work and depend on money from home for basic necessities, and getting that cash isn’t easy. Obaidullah Daulatzai came to Bosnia from Afghanistan and hopes to make it to Germany. Like most migrants, his family sends him money using a service like PayPal or Western Union.

“They have a person in Afghanistan, they give him money, cash he send me here,” Daulatzai said. “And somewhere in Sarajevo, somebody help us.”

A migrant from Afghanistan washes his clothes at the abandoned industrial complex in Bihać, Friday, April 16, 2021.
A migrant from Afghanistan washes his clothes at the abandoned industrial complex in Bihać, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Matthew Algeo)

Somebody helps him because only legal residents can withdraw cash from banks in Bosnia; migrants need to find a Bosnian willing to withdraw the money for them. “We give 10% to him,” Daulatzai explained. “He send me €100. He take 10%, he give me €90.”

And 10%, actually, is a pretty good rate. Other migrants say this unofficial “tax” on money transfers can be as high as 20%.

The migrants call an attempt to cross the border into Croatia, a member of the European Union, “going on the game.” One migrant — who asked us not to use his name because he is in the country illegally — said he’s “gone on the game” more than 20 times. The Croatian police have pushed him back to Bosnia each time.

“You have to have some money to try for ‘the games,’” he said. “Each time, it’s the same story. While Croatia police catch you, they will take it and do not give it back.”

That adds up — each attempt costs a migrant about €100 for food, clothing, and other gear.

Right now, about 200 migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan are camped out in a sprawling abandoned factory in Bihać, a small city in western Bosnia-Herzegovina close to the Croatian border. They pass the time playing cricket with an old tennis ball and an improvised bat, waiting until they can afford to “go on the game” one more time.

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