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Bosnian Council Recommends Migrant Relocations Over Local Protests


Many of the migrants have been sleeping rough for a week since the Lipa camp burned to the ground.
Many of the migrants have been sleeping rough for a week since the Lipa camp burned to the ground.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's governing executive on December 31 recommended that authorities transfer around 900 migrants from a burned-out refugee camp in northwestern Bosnia to be overwintered in a nearby reception center in Bihac amid local protests over their transfer to another location.

The migrants -- from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East -- have been in limbo without shelter in freezing temperatures as the dispute plays out this week.

Many have been sleeping rough at the site of a camp at Lipa that was destroyed in a fire on December 23, the same day it was due to be temporarily closed.

The decision by Bosnia's Council of Ministers suggests the refugees and migrants will be sent to the Bira facility -- in Bihac, near the border with Croatia -- which had been closed since October.

It came as EU officials appeared to be losing patience with the drawn-out humanitarian crisis in nonmember Bosnia.

The European Commission on December 31 called on Bosnia's national and local authorities to work together to give shelter to the asylum seekers and migrants.


In Brussels, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the quickest and most practical solution was reopening the Bira center.

Many of the migrants had been forced to disembark from buses on December 30 on which they had spent the previous night as residents near a former barracks at Bradina, near Konjic, protested plans for their arrival.

Peter Van der Auweraert, the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) coordinator for the Western Balkans, had tweeted grim video of the migrants at Lipa with “close to no shelter for the night” after “last minute political negotiations failed to produce a viable outcome.”

Even before the fire, the much-criticized tent camp at Lipa lacked basic facilities such as running water and heating to house people in winter.

Bosnian authorities have failed to fulfill pledges to upgrade facilities to brace them for the cold weather, including by providing utilities and road access.

In a joint statement, humanitarian groups on December 30 called on Bosnian authorities to address the "dire humanitarian conditions and uncertainty” of the stranded migrants.

“Forcing people once again to stay out in the open in these conditions cannot be an acceptable solution. The lack of immediate action by responsible authorities risks grave consequences to human safety and lives,” the groups, including the IOM and the UN refugee agency, said.

About 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers are stuck in Bosnia, hoping to cross into EU member Croatia in order to reach wealthier countries in the bloc.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service and Balkan Insight
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