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Fire Breaks Out At Bosnian Migrant Camp

Fire breaks out in the Lipa migrant camp near Bihac on December 23,with many former residents left with nowhere to go.
Fire breaks out in the Lipa migrant camp near Bihac on December 23,with many former residents left with nowhere to go.

A massive fire has broken out at a temporary migrant camp in northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina that has been the target of criticism by rights watchdogs because it lacks basic amenities.

Officials said on December 23 that former residents started the blaze at the Lipa tent camp near the Croatian border that once accommodated 1,200 migrants.

No injuries were immediately reported.

The Lipa camp was to be closed on December 23 and moved to another location.

However, officials said the move had to be postponed since the camp was almost entirely destroyed in the fire.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) several times extended the closure of the Lipa camp, located between Bosanski Petrovac and Bihac.

Bosnia has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants hoping to reach neighboring European Union member Croatia and then head toward other Western EU members.

The bulk of the migrants are stuck in Bosnia's northwestern Krajina region.

"As far as we know now, a group of former residents put three tents and containers on fire after most of the migrants had left the camp," said the IOM's chief of mission in Bosnia, Peter Van Der Auweraert.

"Luckily, no casualties to our knowledge at this point but disaster nevertheless," Van Der Auweraert said on Twitter.

He later told reporters the fire was under control, but that most of the camp was either destroyed or damaged. He said most camp residents were still around the area because "there's no alternative accommodation available" in Bosnia for them.

The Lipa camp was set up as a temporary shelter during the summer to cope with the coronavirus pandemic after Bosnian authorities closed another camp on the outskirts of Bihac.

The European Union has warned Bosnia that thousands of migrants face a freezing winter without shelter, and it urged the country's bickering politicians to set aside their differences and take action.

Thousands of people have been sleeping outdoors in makeshift tent camps or abandoned houses with no facilities in the area, which saw the first snow earlier this month.

With reporting by AP and dpa