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NGOs Call For Long-Term Solutions, Meaningful EU Support To End Humanitarian Crisis In Bosnia

A migrant stands next to a fence during snowfall at the Lipa camp outside Bihac on January 8.
A migrant stands next to a fence during snowfall at the Lipa camp outside Bihac on January 8.

Four human rights organizations are calling for immediate humanitarian support for nearly 2,500 refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers who remain without basic shelter in dire winter conditions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as "durable solutions" to meet the needs of people transiting through the country.

In a statement on January 12, Amnesty International, Jesuit Refugee Service Europe, Medecins du Monde Belgique, and Refugee Rights Europe said that Bosnian authorities had failed to provide adequate accommodation to migrants and asylum seekers, while the European Union has spent tens of millions of euros in assistance to the Balkan country focusing on "short-term" solutions.

In northwestern Bosnia, the groups said some 900 people have been sleeping under open sky in the improvised camp Lipa, braving snow and sub-zero temperatures for more than three weeks.

Migrants Still Out In The Cold After Bosnian Camp Fire
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The tent camp was erected last year as temporary accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic and was closed down on December 23.

A fire that broke out during the evacuation of residents destroyed much of the camp, leaving behind a "ramshackle and uninhabitable wasteland."

"Yet, due to the inability of the politicians at all levels of government in the country to reach an agreement, all attempts to relocate the Lipa residents to winter-ready centers elsewhere in [Bosnia] have failed," according to the statement.

Twenty heated tents were installed in the camp over the past weekend, but more than 350 people remain in makeshift shelters, it said, adding that the campsite does not have access to running water, adequate sanitation, or heating.

Many of those in the camp are from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The closure of the camp has increased to nearly 2,500 the number of people "sleeping rough" in Bosnia, where many men, families with children, and unaccompanied children "continue to seek refuge in parks, abandoned houses, defunct factories, and forests close to the border with Croatia," the statement said.

EU agencies have provided over 88 million euros ($107 million) in assistance to Bosnia over the past three years to address immediate needs of refugees, asylum seekers, or migrants, and strengthen its migration management capacity.

Despite this, Bosnia "has failed to identify suitable facilities for the accommodation of migrants and asylum-seekers, assume full responsibility for the management of existing facilities or to provide minimal guaranteed support to those stranded in the country," Amnesty International said in a separate statement.

"The EU now has to work with the authorities in Bosnia...on finding systemic, long-term solutions to meet the needs of people on its territory and ensure that this situation does not reoccur yet again next winter," said Eve Geddie, director of the London-based human rights watchdog's European Institutions Office.

According to Amnesty International, "the EU's responsibility is clear -- the current humanitarian crisis is also a consequence of the EU's policy of fortifying its borders that has left thousands of people stranded on its periphery or in the neighboring countries."

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