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The BBC's Jon Sopel in Sarajevo
"Their real destination - western Europe"
 real 56k

Friday, 9 February, 2001, 11:35 GMT
Sarajevo: Gateway to Europe
Asylum seekers
For asylum seekers, Sarajevo is an easy crossing point
By Andrew Bomford in Sarajevo

At Sarajevo airport, you can see why they call this place the springboard to western Europe.

A Turkish airlines flight touched down from Istanbul and the passengers trooped down the steps and into the concourse building. Most of them were young men.

On the average flight, 90% of the passengers are not here as genuine tourists

Ian Johnston, a British police officer
They were not carrying any luggage. They looked very nervous. They said they were here as tourists.

At passport control, officers from the United Nations state border service picked out some of the men for interviews.

As tourists, they needed no visas, but if there were reasonable grounds to believe they were not genuine, they could be sent straight back on the same plane.

In a side room, a 21-year-old man was being questioned.

Outside the room, seven more men lined up waiting to be questioned. All of them said they were tourists, then laughed nervously.

French police searching immigrants found in a lorry
Immigrants often travel across Europe in lorries
Ian Johnston, a British police officer working with the state border service, said it was impossible to check everyone.

"If we had the resources here, you could interview virtually 90% of the passengers and you would probably return 100% of the ones you interviewed," he said.

"On the average flight, 90% of the passengers are not here as genuine tourists and if the facilities were here to interview them correctly, the chances are they would not be able to enter the country."

The numbers speak for themselves. Last year, 50,000 migrants entered Bosnia through the two main airports - 28,000 are now unaccounted for and assumed to be in western Europe, having made the long journey via the Croatian border. The route is so well known, it is almost laughable.

There are 400 crossing points out of Bosnia - only four of them manned.

Cash problem

Outside the airport, taxis lined up to take the migrants into town. En route, my taxi driver explained the routine.

"I pick up. I drive. I finish. How they going on other place, I don't know," he said. "But everybody knows that they pass border. They disappear.

"They come here and tomorrow they are not in Bosnia."

At the United Nations mission in Sarajevo, there was no doubt what single factor would help stop this human cargo.

"Money, just sheer cash," said Geoffrey Beaumont, who is in charge of setting up the state border service.

So far, it is operating at four border points. It is under-strength, under-manned, but more than anything, under-funded.

"I do strongly believe that the state of border service is the only organisation that can actually combat this situation effectively," said Mr Beaumont.

"And if it doesn't, if Europe doesn't, I'm sorry but immigration officers, when there is nobody on the green border closing it, are not going to achieve very much in my view."

And back at the airport, another plane was landing.

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See also:

06 Feb 01 | Europe
Asylum seekers: Europe's dilemma
08 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Straw presses for EU asylum reform
08 Feb 01 | UK Politics
EU seeks common asylum policy
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