Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined a growing chorus of calls demanding that Bosnia-Herzegovina immediately provides “adequate, winterized” accommodation for hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers stranded in freezing temperatures in the country's northwest.
The authorities have done “little” to address an unfolding humanitarian emergency after a fire destroyed a temporary camp in December, with hundreds now living in tents that "do not meet basic humane housing conditions," the New York-based rights watchdog said in a statement on January 21.
Bosnia has been under growing international pressure to address the future of stranded migrants and asylum seekers since the Lipa temporary emergency camp was destroyed on December 23, leaving an estimated 1,200 people stranded outdoors, the statement said.
HRW said that within days of the fire, about 350 people were transported to a camp in Sarajevo at their own expense, while the remaining 850 were "stranded at the destroyed camp site or forced to seek shelter in the nearby forest."
Authorities have set up 30 tents near the site, each with the capacity for about 30 people. But the Danish Refugee Council told HRW that not all of the tents are suitable for winter conditions, with some generator-powered heaters failing during the night.
In addition to the 850 people at the Lipa site, another 900 migrants and asylum seekers are elsewhere in the Una Santa canton, forced to sleep in the open or squat in abandoned buildings, the statement said.
Reopening the Bira camp in nearby Bihac, which was closed in September due to pressure from local residents, "appears the most viable option" to ensure that people previously in Lipa can be housed during the winter in buildings with heating, electricity, toilets, and showers, according to HRW.
The group called on EU institutions to pressure Bosnian authorities at "state, entity, cantonal, and local levels" to adequately address the ongoing crisis and ensure that the 28,5 million euros ($34.6 million) of EU funding allocated to Bosnia in December and January for managing migration and providing humanitarian assistance are properly used.
The European Commission should also seek "meaningful long-term solutions” to the situation…instead of allocating largely short-term and emergency funding, and tie its support to the Bosnian authorities to clear progress in terms of suitable reception conditions and fair and effective access to asylum."
Since early 2018, the EU has provided 88 million euros ($106.8 million) to the Balkan country for migration management, including 13.8 million euros ($16.8) for humanitarian assistance.
Many of the migrants in northwestern Bosnia are seeking to enter European Union-member Croatia, which HRW said has "responded with violent police pushbacks that breach EU, human rights, and refugee law and exacerbate the degrading conditions for migrants."
The watchdog urged the European Commission to "trigger legal action against Zagreb for the continued patterns of violent pushbacks at its border" with Bosnia.