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Critics of Bosnian Migrant Centre Win ‘Austrian Guantanamo’ Case

After being acquitted in July, Petar Rosandic and his SOS Balkanroute organisation have received a written verdict explaining why they won their court battle with the Austrian agency that built a detention unit for migrants in Bosnia – which they had likened to Guantanamo.

Petar Rosandic, president of SOS Balkanroute organisation, which provides aid to migrants and refugees, has received a written verdict from the Commercial Court in Vienna over the case of the Austrian International Centre for Migration Policy Development, ICMPD, which had sued him before the court. 

The ICMPD alleged that Rosandic has tarnished its reputation after he issued a press release titled “This is how the Austrian Guantanamo in Bosnia looks like” to Austrian media on April 5.

The European Union had granted the Vienna-based organisation a mandate to construct a detention unit in Lipa refugee camp in northwestern Bosnia, which was publicly announced in March 2022, well after construction had commenced. 

“The verdict explains in detail why ICMPD is guilty in this case, that they built the unit without a construction permit of the local authorities, nor could they prove that they have a legal basis to hold migrants there,” Rosandic told BIRN on Wednesday. 

The 18-page verdict seen by BIRN also notes the direct involvement of the European Commission and Austria, which financed the construction of Lipa camp with 1,1 million euros, while the detention unit was paid from European Union accession funds, at a cost of 500,000 euros. 

“This is a clear message to citizens in Bosnia as well, who are often politically passive, that we can’t just tolerate what the EU is doing here if that is wrong,” Rosandic added. 

Maria Windhager, the lawyer representing Rosandic, said the lawsuit filed by ICMPD can be classified as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP.

The entire project had faced criticism from multiple non-governmental organisations and human rights groups, both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and internationally. 

The verdict notes that the state border between Bosnia and Croatia – with regard to migrants – is a lawless area.

“They cited push backs and the violence refugees face, illegal deportations and general bad human rights conditions in this area,” Rosandic told BIRN.  

The court acquitted Rosandic and SOS Balkanroute back in July. But the written judgment provides a series of findings, and elaborates on why ICMPD’s lawsuit was dismissed.

The Commercial Court verdict comes at a time of sharp criticism of Italy and Albania over their deal to open an Italian-run migrant camp on Albanian territory.

Source : Balkan Insight