Hundreds of migrants back at fire-gutted camp in Bosnia after relocation pushback


Uncertainty persists for hundreds of migrants whose relocation from a fire-damaged tent camp in Bosnia was cancelled amid protests by residents, reflecting confusion in the Balkan country’s handling of the crisis.

The migrants were supposed to move on Tuesday from the much-criticized Lipa camp in northwest Bosnia to a former army barracks in the central part of the country. Instead, they spent some 24 hours in buses before they were instructed Wednesday afternoon to disembark and return to the now-empty camp.

The migrants lit fires to warm up while waiting to see what would happen next. One, who would not give his name, said that upon returning, they found a dangerous situation without a tent to protect them from the cold.

The International Organization for Migration’s chief of mission in Bosnia, Peter Van der Auweraert, tweeted a video from the remains of the camp. He said the migrants had “close to no shelter for the night” and that “last-minute political negotiations failed to produce a viable outcome.”

On Thursday, Van der Auweraert provided an update on conditions at the camp, tweeting that teams from the International Organization for Migration and the Red Cross were providing humanitarian assistance, including winter clothes, winterized sleeping bags and food.

“Reduces suffering but not a solution,” he wrote.

In another tweet, he said, “Necessary but only real solution = access to proper shelter.”

Some 1,000 migrants were stranded at the camp in snowy, windy weather after it was demolished in a fire last week. The tent camp, located near the border with Croatia, lacked basic facilities, such as running water and heating.

European Union officials and aid groups warned of a humanitarian disaster and increased pressure on Bosnia to move the migrants away from the camp.

Authorities disagree on response

The troubled Balkan country, which went through a devastating war in the 1990s, was struggling before the pandemic to respond to an influx of thousands of people seeking to reach Western Europe by crossing from Bosnia to Croatia.

Migrants walk back to the Lipa camp outside Bihac, Bosnia, on Wednesday, after hundreds failed to be relocated from the burnt-out tent camp in the northwest of the country. (Kemal Softic/The Associated Press)

Bickering among Bosnia’s ethnically divided authorities has prevented an organized response, leaving some 3,000 migrants sleeping rough or in makeshift tents.

The head mufti of the Islamic Community of Bosnia, Husein Kavazovic, called Wednesday for better treatment of the migrants, describing the situation as “shameful” for the country and the rest of Europe.

“We do not treat people in need in such a way,” he said in a statement.

Migrants warm up around a fire at the Lipa camp after it was closed on Wednesday. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Most migrants are staying in the northwest corner of Bosnia, where they hope to cross into EU member Croatia before moving on toward wealthy EU nations.

To get to Croatia, migrants use mountainous illegal routes and often encounter pushbacks and alleged violence at the hands of Croatian police.



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