Migrant lives 'at risk' after Bosnia camp burns down

Migrant lives 'at risk' after Bosnia camp burns down
3 min read
30 December, 2020
Plans to relocate the migrants have been held up after official disagreements and protests from locals.
Hundreds are stranded in sub-zero conditions [Peter Van der Auweraert/Twitter]
Hundreds of migrants' and asylum seekers' lives are at "immediate risk", UN agencies have warned after much of a Bosnian refugee camp was destroyed in a fire.

The closure of the Lipa emergency camp has left at least 900 migrants stranded in freezing winter temperatures with no shelter.

Another 2,000 are living in makeshift shelters and abandoned buildings, the aid agencies said.

The camp, located near the Bosnian-Croatian border, had already been criticised by humanitarian groups and activists for "squalid" conditions that failed to meet the needs of refugees and migrants living there.

Last week, the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced its withdrawal from the camp in order to pressure the government to close it and resettle the refugees in safer conditions which are better equipped for harsh winter weather.

But a fire over the weekend destroyed most of the camp's facilities, leaving hundreds stranded in sub-zero temperatures and snowy conditions.

"With no heating at the site, frostbite, hypothermia and other severe health problems are already being reported by those stranded at the location. Despite the efforts of humanitarian actors to provide emergency assistance, their lives are at immediate risk," the IOM and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on Saturday. 

Evacuation plans in question

The Bosnian government has reportedly forwarded plans to evacuate the refugees and migrants from the area near the northwestern town of Bihac, resettling them in a former military site.

Migrants boarded buses set to leave the border area on Tuesday but it remains unclear whether the resettlement plan will go ahead, Deutsche Welle reported.

There is resistance to the plan from "all levels" of the Bosnian state apparatus, Security Minister Selmo Cikotic told local media on Tuesday.

Later on Tuesday, Finance Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda denied any decision to resettle the migrants had been made.

Nearly a thousand migrants were forced to sleep on buses overnight, said Peter Van der Auweraert, the representative in Bosnia for the UN's refugee agency.

Van der Auweraert shared footage on Twitter of the migrants and refugees cramped inside buses with no possibility for social distancing.

The reported plan to resettle the migrants in Bradina, southwest of the capital Sarajevo, have been met with protests from locals.

A previous proposal to move them to a closed facility in Bihac was also met with protests, according to Al Jazeera.

Around 9,000 migrants are stuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the United Nations, having been unable to pass through the border to Croatia. Most of them are housed in the border province of Krajina.

The Balkan nation has been a common route for asylum seekers trying to reach western Europe. Croatian authorities have been accused of illegally and violently pushing back migrants.

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