Humanitarian organizations said hundreds of migrants slept in the open or in abandoned buildings in freezing temperatures this month as mountains in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina were covered by snow.
Some of those in a devastated migrant camp had to shower in the snow due to a lack of hot facilities or stand barefoot to get food. Many suffer from scabies and a high fever.
The mayor of the town of Bihac, 15 miles north of the camp, refused to reopen a housing facility for migrants funded by the European Union, which had been operating for nearly two years until it closed in the fall. Now, aid organizations and the military are scrambling to provide humanitarian relief as temperatures dip below 15 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
“It is an unlivable place. “We’re not even talking about meeting basic humanitarian standards here,” said Nicola Bay, the country director of the Danish Refugee Council, which provided winter clothing and medical assistance to the migrants.
The bitter cold is just the latest misery in a saga that unfolded over the years, which took a dark turn last month when humanitarian organizations were forced to dismantle the Leba camp after it was deemed unsafe. As the migrants evacuated, a fire destroyed most of the tents there, forcing them to take refuge in the destroyed camp structure or in the abandoned buildings and icy wooded areas surrounding it.
More than 1,700 people are sleeping outside under harsh conditions European Union He said this month.
On New Year’s Eve, the Bosnian authorities He pledged to transport the stranded migrants To the nearby housing facility in Bihac “very quickly”. But two weeks into 2021, that facility remains closed, and a Bosnian government minister admitted it will likely remain so.
Bosnia has faced growing criticism from the European Union and others for failing to provide migrants with basic humanitarian aid as required by international law.
“Hundreds of people, including children, sleep in the open in very cold temperatures in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Janez Linarkic, European Commissioner for Crisis Management, He said Advance in this month. “This humanitarian catastrophe could be avoided if the authorities create sufficient winter shelter capacity in the country, including by making use of the existing facilities available.”
Since Bosnia became a route for thousands of people hoping to reach Europe in 2018, the European Union has provided 89 million euros, or more than $ 108 million, to the country’s authorities or organizations operating there as part of a larger strategy to curb the flow of migrants. On its external borders. (Bosnia is not part of the European Union, but it borders Croatia, and it is.)
However, the coronavirus pandemic has brought migrants to a halt along the so-called Western Balkan route almost completely, and more than 8,000 migrants have been stranded in Bosnia, according to the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency. While 6,000 of them are in housing centers, nearly 2,000 remain in precarious conditions across the country.
Last year, 17,000 migrants were registered transiting through Bosnia, down from 29,000 in 2019. But human rights organizations say the crisis has worsened this winter due to the authorities ’failure to absorb them.
Immigrants in northwest Bosnia faced increasing hostility from the local population.
In October, regional authorities, who had complained for years of bearing the brunt of the European Union’s migration problems, expelled more than 400 migrants from the now closed housing facility in Bihac, and have kept it closed ever since. More than 80 minors were taken to other shelters, but more than 300 men were left homeless.
Most of them moved to the Leba camp, which was set up in April as a temporary response to the Covid-19 pandemic to hold up to 1,600 people. The camp has never been isolated or equipped with stoves, and the organizations say they informed the authorities that it could only be a temporary solution.
Then, last month, it was dismantled and destroyed by fire.
Across a dirt road from the former Leba camp, Bosnian military forces have set up about 20 heated tents this week, half of them with holes cut by the icy winds, according to Mr. Bay of the Danish Refugee Council. However, hundreds of migrants were housed in tents managed by the Red Cross.
About 1,500 other migrants remained in the rubble of the former camp, which burned down last month, or in deserted buildings without electricity and running water nearby.
“On the one hand, the central government tried to reopen the site in Bihac, which aims to accommodate migrants, and on the other hand, local authorities and residents refused to allow them to enter,” said Peter van der Auerat, from the western Balkans. Coordinator of the International Organization for Migration. “Migrants are stuck in the middle of this.”
The Bosnian Minister of Security, Selmo Cikotik, admitted that the situation was intolerable and that the migrants were victims of the political chaos in Bosnia.
Both the central government and local administrations, known as cantons, are responsible for enforcing human rights, according to Bosnia’s constitution. But the regulation of local land use rests with the provincial authorities, who also control the police forces.
Sikotik said in a telephone interview: “There are some elements of the political system in Bosnia, a lack of solidarity, and a lack of commitment to the European and global values that we proclaimed ourselves close to.” “We do not have an effective mechanism to reform the resistance of the authorities in the canton,” he added with regard to the Una Sana region, home to the camp of Leba and Bihac.
Mr Cikotic, who on Thursday met with European ambassadors and representatives of the European Union at Camp Liba, ruled out using force to open the housing facility in Bihac.
This angered humanitarian organizations.
“Every year, we face this winter crisis and an emergency response is put in place at the last minute,” said Mr. Bay of the Danish Refugee Council. He added, “But this year, we haven’t done that, and you see how fragile the situation is.”
They ask, “When do I go to a tent?” He said about immigrants. “They have no idea what is happening to them.”
On the Croatian side, at the police Try to close the road From Bosnia and humanitarian organizations have reported countless violations by law enforcement officers.
Some migrants have given up hope of reaching the European Union via Croatia, and are instead returning to Serbia, on the eastern border of Bosnia, in the hope that they will make their way into the European Union through the Bosnian Red Cross, Alexander Panek. Romania.
“Meanwhile, the camps in Sarajevo are full, and around the Leba camp, the weather forecast will not be in our favor,” said Mr. Banik. “We don’t know if we will be able to warm the tents enough.”