COMMITTEE ON PROTECTION OF MIGRANT WORKERS AND THEIR FAMILIES CONSIDERS REPORT OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
12 September 2012
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today completed its consideration of the second periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
Presenting the report, Saliha Duderija, Assistant Minister of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that as a member of the United Nations, the country regularly fulfilled its obligations for the implementation of international instruments - conventions, covenants and other protocols - it had signed and ratified, which included the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers. The report took into account questions about legal assistance provided to persons illegally residing in the country, victims of war, disappeared persons, victims of human trafficking and immigration centres. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the only European country to have signed and ratified the Convention and tackled its implementation with a sense of responsibility.
Committee Experts asked questions about statistics relating to ethnic and migrant worker groups in the country, the exact number and function of immigration centers, human trafficking, the situation of the Bosnian diaspora and the role of civil society in the country. Agreements between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Union on migrant workers were also raised, as was the issue of mono-ethnic and ethnocentric schools, and healthcare provisions for migrant workers.
Azad Taghizade, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in concluding remarks, said the impact of the war on the country’s immigration policy had been noted. It was clear that many improvements had taken place since the initial report and that appropriate decisions were being taken, especially in the direction of harmonization within the country, and problems such as segregation in education were being tackled.
Speaking in concluding remarks, Saliha Duderija, expressed her gratitude to the Committee for the constructive and pleasant dialogue and said that the Government was aware of the gravity of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina but, despite the difficulties facing migrant workers in the country, with hard work it would be possible to improve the human rights situation of all persons, not only of migrant workers.
Abdelhamid El Jamri, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for presenting the country’s second periodic report and for their full and candid replies. The third report would be examined pursuant to the new method which the Committee was being introduced and involved a simpler procedure.
The Delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina included representatives from the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees, the Ministry of Security, and the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. when it will meet with States parties.
Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The second periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina can be read via the following link: CMW/C/BIH/2.
Presentation of the Report
SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that as a member of the United Nations, the country regularly fulfilled its obligations for the implementation of international instruments - conventions, covenants and other protocols - it had signed and ratified, which included the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Family. Bosnia and Herzegovina had presented its initial report to the Committee on 23 and 24 April 2009. The observations and recommendations made by the Committee on that occasion helped to prepare the second periodic report. A methodical approach had been taken in preparing the report and conscious efforts had been made to engage and involve experts and other stakeholders. A large working group had been established that included representatives of all levels of government. In addition, contributions by trade unions, migrant groups and non-governmental organizations had been taken on board.
The report took account questions about legal assistance provided to persons illegally residing in the country, victims of war, disappeared persons, victims of human trafficking and persons placed in immigration centres. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the only European country to have signed and ratified the Convention, said Ms. Duderija. Bosnia and Herzegovina continued to tackle the implementation of the Convention with a sense of responsibility and the delegation would provide honest answers to any questions the Committee had. Bosnia and Herzegovina was keen to continue to ensure the full and effective protection of migrant workers residing in the country in accordance with the Convention, and looked forward to the observations and recommendations of the Committee.
Questions from the Experts
AZAD TAGHIZADE, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, praised the quality of the report but said that not all of the Committee’s previously-asked questions had been fully answered in it. The Rapporteur queried the figures relating to population and migrant worker groups in and outside the country and asked why there appeared to be a major divergence in the figures. He stressed that it was important to have a clear idea about whether Bosnia and Herzegovina was a labour-sending or a labour-receiving country. He also wanted to know what was being done to protect and uphold the rights of Bosnian migrant workers. He noted that the demographics lacked precision, as the figures for the total population ranged from 3.5 million to 4.5 million. Mr. Taghizade asked whether that was due to migration, noting that 1.2 million people left the country during the war, even if a relatively large number of them eventually returned.
What was being done to ensure coherence and understanding of migrants in the implementation of the Convention and to what extent were the rights of migrant workers were being respected at the local level? He noted the precarious situation of Bosnians abroad, who were in a vulnerable position and were frequently penalized as foreigners living abroad. What civil and political rights did Bosnian citizens living abroad enjoy? Mr. Taghizade also asked about the admissions policy for the detention centre Lukavica, as he was worried that children were housed there.
An Expert congratulated the Delegation on the quality of the work they had carried out in compiling their report and said that he was pleased to see that Bosnia and Herzegovina had given voting rights to Bosnian citizens living abroad. He noted, however, that turnout at the last elections was very low and asked what could be done to help increase the number of Bosnians voting in the next elections, which were scheduled for 2014. Were there any special programmes facilitating the return of Bosnians from abroad? Had Bosnia and Herzegovina provided any incentives to encourage the return of Bosnians to their country of origin?
What measures had been taken to provide for children of migrant workers in an irregular situation, and also for Roma children? The abuse of migrant domestic workers was common in Europe, an Expert said, especially of women in an irregular situation who were subject to abuse: what was being done in Bosnia and Herzegovina in that respect? Could the delegation provide additional information on the agreement on migrant workers between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the European Union, which was mentioned in the report?
Another Expert raised the issue of statistics which appeared to be incompatible with the report and asked for clarification. He also asked why there were difficulties in the repatriation of persons with mental problems. What procedures led to the cancellation of residence permits for foreigners, and did the people who were deported from Bosnia and Herzegovina have access to legal remedies? An Expert asked for more information on welcome centres, such as how many there were in the country. Turning to trafficking in persons, he requested statistical information on legal cases of trafficking that had been through the courts.
Response by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation said that Bosnia and Herzegovina had not conducted a census in the country since 2001, therefore there were no precise figures regarding different population groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The structure of the country was complex and decentralized, which was a direct result of the Dayton Agreement.
Preparations were underway for a new census which was expected to take place next year. The Bosnian diaspora was relatively large with an estimated figure of between 500,000 and 700,000 persons.
The right of Bosnians living abroad to vote in elections had been upheld and Bosnian nationals were able to vote by post. Bosnia and Herzegovina was also working to introduce a number of technological innovations that would enable greater participation in elections but budgetary concerns were an issue and slowed down the process. Regarding the large number of Ministries in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Head of Delegation stressed that that was due to the Dayton Agreement, as a result of which the organization of the country, including information collection and information sharing, remained a complex issue but had improved significantly in recent years. Bosnia and Herzegovina had a mechanism in place to ensure that all the laws adopted in the country had to go through the procedure of harmonization with international standards and regular checks were carried out to ensure that Bosnian laws conformed to international standards.
Concerning persons suffering from learning difficulties, a large number of such persons had left Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war but were then accepted back in the country. It took several years for Bosnia and Herzegovina to locate the necessary information regarding those individuals. In the end, the Government decided to expedite the repatriation of persons with learning difficulties, a large number of who lived in Hungary.
Voting rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina had never been at risk and no complaints had been received concerning violations of the right to vote. The system of registration of permanent residence was rather complex and individuals were expected to report any change of residence. Problems had been reported regarding the registration of names but the majority of those had been resolved. Bosnia and Herzegovina co-operated with the Roma Association in order to deal effectively with the problems facing Roma people living in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the countries with the highest emigration rates in Europe, second only to Albania. It was devastating to Bosnia and Herzegovina that a large number of highly educated persons had left or were still leaving the country to live and work abroad. In addition to that, the birth rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina had decreased and a number of people had left the country during and immediately after the war.
In addition to the general elections held in the country every four years there were also local elections, all of which had had a satisfactory turnout in recent years. Reports showing a decrease in the number of persons voting were explained by the fact that many Bosnians who had emigrated had given up the Bosnian citizenship and had up taken the citizenship of the country where they lived.
Concerning the birth registration of family members of migrant workers, there were six ‘rule books’ which defined the protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families in an irregular situation. There were also specific rules about the right to health insurance, the right to work and the right to education of persons with recognized international protection. Data bases for those persons were created and resources had been committed to those initiatives to ensure that the rights of migrant workers were fully exercised.
Since 1999 the rights of migrant workers and the rights of foreign nationals had been exercised across Bosnia and Herzegovina without failure. In the past few years the law about aliens and asylum had been amended and new laws had been adopted in that and other related areas. There was also a straightforward procedure in place for seasonal workers to acquire work permits. As for the repatriation of persons with learning difficulties or special needs, a clear procedure that was followed. The first and most important step was for detailed information to be provided about the specific needs of the person concerned, and then a decision would be made about whether a request from the sending country would be accommodated and how that would happen. The procedure was somewhat lengthy but everything was done for the benefit of the person concerned.
The law about the permanent deportation or temporary expulsion of persons from Bosnia and Herzegovina had been harmonized with European Union laws. The persons concerned also had the right to appeal the decision made by the relevant authorities. Since 2008, an annual migration profile for Bosnia and Herzegovina was created, which included information on deportations, and published on the official website of the Ministry of Security.
Any foreign national who underwent enforced deportation from Bosnia and Herzegovina had the right to appeal. The appeal procedure followed was in accordance with the relevant Human Rights laws and European Union legislation.
There was only one main welcome centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina but it was divided into various sections. However, there were also two smaller facilities where women, men and children could be accommodated separately. In future, Bosnia and Herzegovina was hoping to build more welcome centres near its border areas but for the time being there was no need for any additional centres. All individuals in welcome centres had the opportunity to be heard in their native language.
Illegal migration and human trafficking, or smuggling, were taken seriously, and Bosnia and Herzegovina had put several measures in place to prevent them. Anybody found to be involved in such activities was deported from the country.
In cases where there an employment agency which wished to bring a foreign national worker to Bosnia and Herzegovina, it had to apply to the competent authorities to request a work permit.
Regarding Bosnians moving abroad to work, international employment agreements were fully respected. Bilateral agreements were in place with a number of countries, including former Yugoslavian States, which had clearly defined procedures.
In a series of follow-up questions, the delegation was asked again about the operation of the welcome centre. What oversights were there on how detention and custody of migrants took place? Were their rights guaranteed and, if so, to what extent? Reports about the presence of the children of migrants in that centre were a cause for major concern. The issue of the laws on the prevention of discrimination adopted at the central level was also enquired about. How were those laws implemented at the local level?
Experts also asked questions about the procedural safeguards in the detention of migrant workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were an issue of concern. Of particular concern were the mono-ethnic and ethno-centric schools which operated in the country and the impact that those had on young persons, including the children of migrant workers. How fluid and amicable were relations between members of the various ethnic communities in the country?
The workers who left Bosnia and Herzegovina were also referred to, with one Expert asking in particular whether there was a consular team in place in host countries receiving Bosnian workers to follow up on cases of workers moving outside Bosnia and Herzegovina. Concerning the contracts of workers, were there any mechanisms in place to ensure that the clauses of those contracts and the rights of workers were fully respected by employers?
With regard to birth registration, what was the procedure that was followed in the case of the children of migrant workers in an irregular situation and were those children issued identity cards? How many qualified voters were there for the entire nation? How did absentee voters register as such so they could vote?
Concerning Bosnians living in European Union Member States, a question was asked about the right of migrants to appeal deportation in the European Union country where they resided before, rather than after, being deported.
Another Expert asked where any training, especially language training, was offered to migrant workers, either to Bosnian workers moving abroad or foreign workers arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Response by the Delegation
In response to a question about the complaints of Bosnian citizens living in European Union countries, a delegate said that those residing in the European Union illegally were not allowed to appeal deportation decisions before being deported. Having bilateral agreements with States where Bosnian nationals lived and worked was the best way of protecting the rights of migrant workers. It was also necessary for Bosnia and Herzegovina to prevent Bosnian citizens from entering European Union States illegally. A centre had been set up in Bosnia and Herzegovina to assist migrant workers who had been sent back to the country.
Voting rights were exercised by citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the age of 18. A form of identification was necessary for an individual to be placed on the vote register. There was the possibility to vote in absentia via post. The low turnout of Bosnian voters living outside Bosnia and Herzegovina was due to the lack of interest of migrant workers living abroad. In any case, there were no legal or other obstacles preventing Bosnians residing abroad from exercising their voting rights. Concerning birth registration, the procedure followed was straightforward and assistance was provided by the competent authorities at the local level.
A law on the prohibition of discrimination was passed in 2009. That law gave the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina the right to file a complaint if they felt they were being discriminated against. The burden of proof was on the institution appealed against, according to a new European standard which had been accepted by Bosnia and Herzegovina. That law enabled parties to ask for damages in cases where discrimination had taken place. Associations of citizens were also allowed to file complaints for individual or collective claims on the grounds of discrimination. The right to work of migrant workers was covered by that law. It was encouraging that more and more courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina implemented the law. The protection of the rights of children, especially Roma children, had received special attention in recent years, even though in certain cases it was difficult to establish the nationality status of Roma people who might have married Roma from other countries in the region.
Regarding the immigration centre where foreign nationals were temporarily lodged, that centre belonged to the Service of Foreign Affairs which was attached to the Ministry of Security. The centre had been visited and inspected by various organizations and committees, both from Bosnia and Herzegovina and from abroad. The purpose of those visits was to ensure the smooth running of the centre in compliance with international standards. Relevant reports were published on the official site of the Ministry. Mothers with children were placed in separate premises within the immigration centre, and the principle that children should not be separated from their mother was always respected. The total duration of stay was up to 18 months but exceptions also applied, although those were only rarely used.
The delegation reported that a new law for seasonal workers was in the process of being passed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That law would give the Government a fuller picture of the situation of seasonal migrant workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina and would also provide more accurate figures. Illegal entry of individuals into the country was regarded as a minor offence in Bosnia and Herzegovina and was treated as a misdemeanour unless there was evidence that group border crossings had been organized, in which case it was considered a criminal offence. In cases of illegal group crossing of Bosnian borders merely the organizers of those group crossings were prosecuted, while the persons crossing the border were treated as illegal immigrants and were deported.
Foreign nationals had the right to appeal deportation. In cases where an expulsion had been decided, that decision could not be executed until the appeal of the concerned persons had been heard, the appeals procedure had been completed and the expulsion decision had been made final. An agreement would be reached with the country of origin of the person concerned to decide when and how the deportation would take place. When it came to Bosnians living in the European Union, the delegation was not aware of any complaints regarding the violation of rights of Bosnian workers in European Union countries.
Regarding the role of the civil society in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the delegation said that the development of civil society had started in 1991. Since then, several conferences on immigration had been organized in Sarajevo, examining in particular how the global financial crisis had affected migrant workers. A significant amount of funds was allocated to the work of non-governmental organizations whose role in protecting migrant workers’ rights was seen as important. There were about 12,500 non-governmental organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. About half of those were registered but not active, but 60 per cent of active non-governmental organizations operated at the local level. The delegation agreed that trade unions and employers needed to become more involved. In Bosnia and Herzegovina’s third periodic report, economic and social councils would also be consulted because those were important actors who could help identify the issues facing migrant worker groups.
Responding to the question about the existence of a consular team which could help Bosnian migrant workers abroad, specific examples were given of consular assistance which had been offered to Bosnian citizens in Slovenia and Serbia. Concerning the training of staff dealing with migrant workers, the Ministry for Security organized training sessions in which it involved a number of actors.
Foreign language training for prospective Bosnian migrant workers was organized by employment bureaus, which also provided appropriate counselling. Training was also provided through the Bosnian migration centres. That included language training but also training in terms of practical matters, such as preparing a curriculum vitae. It was estimated that several thousands of Bosnians had secured jobs thanks to the training they had received.
The delegation reported that the high level of unemployment in Bosnia and Herzegovina was being combated through the country’s employment policy and through concerted efforts to protect its own labour market. Nevertheless, it was a common phenomenon for young qualified Bosnians to look for jobs abroad.
Questions from Experts
Did migrant workers have access to medical care in Bosnia and Herzegovina and what laws regulated access to medical care? Were migrant workers allowed to stand for public office, or be elected at a national and local level?
How did Bosnia and Herzegovina co-ordinate its migration policy across different Departments and local institutions? Could the delegation provide more information on the mono-ethnic schools in the country?
The criminalization of illegal entry into the country was referred to and clarification was requested. Was it true that sometimes migrants who were victims of human trafficking and who had been exploited were penalized?
An Expert asked for more information on trade unions which had not been registered owing to political reasons. He also asked how Bosnia and Herzegovina collaborated with private recruitment agencies, both within and outside the country.
Response by the Delegation
Any person was entitled to emergency medical care without having to provide any form of identification, a delegate confirmed. On a related note, regular migrant workers had identification cards but irregular migrant workers without identification cards were also allowed to access emergency medical care in medical centers.
All citizens who were registered as a resident in Bosnia and Herzegovina had the rights to stand for office and to vote. It was a requirement that citizens wishing to stand for office or vote had to be registered as residents in the country.
Only the perpetrators or organizers of human trafficking were criminally liable, a delegate clarified. Persons who entered the country illegally were not treated as criminal offenders. Victims of human trafficking who co-operated with Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities in identifying those responsible for their being trafficked could be given the status of ‘protected witness’ and would not be sent back to their country of origin, but instead to third countries.
Regarding the registration of trade unions at State level, the process was still pending and there were several issues that still needed to be resolved before further progress could be made. The process was not complete but an association of employers in the country had been recognized by the International Labour Organization. The registration of trade unions was a political question and tackling it depended primarily on political will inside the country.
Segregation in school education, which still existed in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was a result of the war. However, a delegate stressed, segregation in education did not affect the rights of migrant worker children. A lot was being done to eliminate segregation in education and Bosnia and Herzegovina was working towards resolving that issue.
AZAD TAGHIZADE, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thanked the delegation for their open and complete answers to the questions posed. The delegation had given a full picture of the changes that had taken place in the country’s immigration policy in recent years. The impact of the war on the country’s immigration policy had been noted by the Committee, which understood that the structure of the executive and legislative authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina reflected its recent past and also the Dayton Agreement and its provisions. Nevertheless, it was clear that many improvements had taken place since the initial report and that appropriate decisions were being taken, especially in the direction of harmonization within the country. Problems such as segregation in education were being tackled. Further efforts needed to be made to reinforce monitoring and implementation of the Convention.
SALIHA DUDERIJA, Assistant Minister of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed her gratitude to the Committee for the constructive and pleasant dialogue. She stressed that the delegation had given frank answers to the Committee Experts’ questions and that it was seeking the best possible solutions to existing problems. The delegation was aware of the gravity of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina but, despite the difficulties facing migrant workers in the country, with hard work it would be possible to improve the human rights situation of all persons, not only of migrant workers.
ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for presenting the country’s second periodic report and for their full and candid replies to questions. The third report would be examined pursuant to the new method which the Committee was being introduced and involved a simpler procedure.
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