Fire destroys migrant camp in Bosnia

A fast-moving fire has destroyed a migrant camp in Bosnia strongly criticised by rights groups as inadequate due to its lack of resources.

The blaze broke out at the Lipa camp, close to the border with Croatia, on the same day the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had declared the effective closure of the facility, saying Bosnian authorities had ignored its appeals to supply basic services.

Thick black smoke could be seen rising as residents, mainly from the Middle East, south Asia and north Africa, fled in panic. A UN official said the blaze was believed to have been started by migrants unhappy at the camp’s temporary closure.

“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 Peter Van der Auweraert of the IOM. He said to his knowledge there were no casualties.

The IOM has urged Bosnian authorities to make the camp fit for winter and offer an alternative shelter option while the work is being conducted.

Hundreds of migrants, including children, are now left without shelter as temperatures in Bosnia are expected to go as low as -4C.

Bosnia has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants hoping to reach the EU. Most are concentrated in the country’s north-western Bosanska Krajina region as other regions in the ethnically divided nation refuse to accept them. From there they attempt to cross the border with Croatia into the EU, and contend with pushbacks.

Bosnian authorities ordered the transfer of thousands of migrants to the remote temporary camp in March at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

A few weeks ago, when temperatures fell to -6C, more than 1,400 people were still living in the camp. The shower and toilet facilities had frozen and people were forced to use the surrounding woods to relieve themselves.

The EU has warned Bosnia that thousands of migrants face a freezing winter without shelter, and urged the country’s political authorities to set aside their differences and take action.

But others believe that behind the incident in Lipa a deep political rift is developing between the UN and the EU, and the Bosnian authorities.

Attempts to reopen another camp, Bira, in the Bihać region have run into opposition after it was closed at the end of September by the Una-Sana canton authorities.

“What is happening in Bihać is a political crisis that has been brewing for nearly two years,” said Paola Lucchesi, a former journalist based in Bihać and president of the NGO Centar za Odrzivi Razvoj “Una”.

“In the last two months, a standoff between the cantonal and municipal authorities and the IOM, that acts as an operational partner for the EU commission, has escalated to the point of a full-blown constitutional crisis within the country,” she added.

Source: Theguardian