Migrants stranded in freezing temperatures in Bosnia face bleak new year

Red Cross warns of humanitarian crisis as town refuses to take in hundreds from camp destroyed by fire

Red Cross warns of humanitarian disaster as migrants stranded in Bosnia

Red Cross warns of humanitarian disaster as migrants stranded in Bosnia
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Humanitarian agencies are warning of a disaster after the destruction of a migrant camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina forced hundreds of migrants to camp in the freezing cold.

The migrants spent another night in harsh open-air conditions on Thursday and face a bleak new year as local authorities are deadlocked over where to relocate them, more than a week after their camp burnt down.

They were supposed to be transferred from Camp Lipa in Bihac, in the west of the country, to an old military site in Bradina, about 320 kilometres away in central Bosnia.

“Local authorities had to do two things – connect it to the electric grid and connect to the water,” said Peter van der Auweraert, chief of mission in Bosnia of the International Organisation for Migration.

"That never happened despite months of pleas to do this, so we could turn it into a permanent location."

Protests from the town’s residents and local authorities over where they should go meant the migrants spent the past 24 hours on buses.

They were eventually ordered off the vehicles and walked through mud back to the burnt-out camp.

Bundled up in hats, scarves and winter jackets, they carried their few possessions with them in bags, witnesses said.

“They commanded us to go to Lipa. We don’t know what to do and how to make a life there,” a young migrant from Afghanistan told Reuters.

Aleksander Panic, Red Cross head of emergency operations for Bosnia-Herzegovina, told The National about 700 migrants were in limbo on Thursday.

Mr Panic said others had tried to cross back into Serbia and Greece to escape the harsh conditions.

"The situation is very bad. Winters in Bosnia are very harsh, especially that region," he said.

"Lipa is known to be a very windy place. A humanitarian disaster is just ahead of us."

A migrant warms up around a fire at camp "Lipa" after it was closed, in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina December 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man warms up around a fire in Bosnia as authorities in the country debate where to move migrants from Camp Lipa, which burnt down. Reuters 

The lack of an agreement among local authorities about where the migrants should go complicates their lives.

They had been trying to cross the border with Croatia and carry on to wealthier countries in the EU.

On Tuesday, Security Minister Selmo Cikotic said the migrants would be moved to the military barracks but Finance Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda said no agreement had been reached.

"I think that each county should carry part of the burden of the migrant crisis," Interior Minister Nermin Kljajic told Bosnian news website Klix.

Camp Lipa opened last spring as a temporary shelter for the summer and was due to close on Wednesday for winter refurbishment.

The shelter, which housed about 1,200 people, was destroyed by fire on December 23.

It was criticised by UN officials for lacking basic amenities, such as running water and heating.

Bosnia’s central government wanted the migrants to temporarily return to the Bira camp in Bihac, 25 kilometres away, which was closed in October.

But local authorities disagreed, saying other parts of the Balkan country should share the burden of housing the 10,000 migrants.

The EU supported member state Bosnia with €60 million ($73.6m) to manage the crisis and pledged €25m more.

It has repeatedly asked the authorities to find an alternative to Camp Lipa, warning them of an unfolding humanitarian crisis.