Vucijak – One of the young Nepalese is wearing a white jumper with large script reading: “World tour”, around the world. The group advances through the woods in the north-west of Bosnia near a pass of the Croatian European border. “We all want to go to Italy” admits candidly the chubby leader with a ready smile, who is just a bit older than 18. It is of little importance whether or not they run away from a war and arrive in Turkey comfortably via plane to then infiltrate by land along the Balkan route. What matters is participation in the “game”, as it has come to be called in the slang of all the migrants following the passage to the Croatian border, then the Slovenian one before in the end arriving to Trieste, before proceeding to other European countries. They request political asylum, even if they have no grounds to do so.

“In the past two years we estimate that around 20 thousand have passed through. At this time in this area alone there are 5 thousand migrants” explains inspector Ale Siljdedic, spokesperson for the local police force for Bihac, located in the north-west corner of Bosnia, the closest to the Croation border with the European Union. It is a bottle-neck where on average around 100 migrants arrive each day, which pales in comparison to Lampedusa. Farhad, with short hair and a sad look on his face, left Bangladesh together with a dozen of his compatriots. “No documents, no money, but we will head onwards to Italy” he declares while looking up at a large map from the Red Cross, that indicates the land mines left over from the war of the former Yugoslavia.

The Bangladeshis have not found a place in the precarious tent city of 500 migrants in Vuciak, which means “Wolf’s lair”. It is a temporary camp in the middle of nowhere, far from the city of Bihac, that had become fed up by the “occupation” of Afghans, Packistanis and North Africans.

Under a marquee of the Turkish red half moon, Ahmad Zia is still devouring the mornings supply of freshly distributed rations. “I come from Afghanistan and I have been travelling for four years in order to reach Europe – tells the young Tajik boy who escaped from the Taliban – Yesterday was bad. The Slovenian police took me back to Bosnia. I will keep on trying until I arrive in Italy.”

Other migrants have tried ten times and one even twenty. A Packistani says: “I saw the lights of Trieste, but the Slovenians caught me. I will leave again in a few days.”

All of them are terrorised by Croatian policy, that has sealed the border with special officers, drones, thermal cameras as well as helicopters. “Only 10% succeed in passing on the first attempt. The others are beaten and sent back to Bosnia by the Croatians, who take away their shoes as a deterrent” explains an individual guarding the migrant camp. In addition to the beatings the Croatian police take the cellphones with maps and the marked GPS routes sent by those who have already managed to reach Trieste. The influx arrives via Turkey into Greece and then Macedonia and Serbia, where the migrants are willingly let pass through the unguarded border with Bosnia. In Tuzla (Bosnia) they storm the bus station to Sarajevo and then head north-west to the Bihac bottle-neck. “They want to go to Italy, but many continue on to France, Germany or the Scandenavian countries” explains Marine, on of the volunteers from Venice from the NGO Christian Associations of Italian Workers. With a long braid wearing a jacket with a thousand pockets, she is distributing tea to the migrants, and is convinced that “The Balkan route does not have the same effect as the boats in Lampedusa, but the rate of human trafficking is emence and sooner or later they all pass.”