Bosnia must act to help hundreds of homeless migrants: EU

Brussels (AFP) –


The European Union's foreign policy chief on Tuesday called on Bosnia to assume responsibility for hundreds of Bosnian migrants left sleeping out in the cold after their camp burned down.

In a damning summary of the crisis there, the EU's High Representative Josep Borrell argued that, as a country seeking to join the European Union, Bosnia needed to assume its responsibilities.

More than a thousand migrants have been homeless since fire destroyed the Lipa camp in northwest Bosnia on December 23. Officials in Bosnia have so far failed to find them anywhere else to stay.

In recent days, EU officials have stepped up their condemnation of Bosnia's failure to help the homeless migrants.

Police there believe the blaze was started by some of the migrants to protest the withdrawal of the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM), which had been running the camp.

But even before the fire, wrote Borrell, conditions there were "totally inappropriate and dangerous".

The IOM had pulled out after Bosnian officials "ignored repeated appeals to provide basic and secure living conditions and humane treatment", Borrell noted, writing in a blog at the EU website.

"The closure of the Lipa centre left around 3,000 refugees and migrants without access to basic shelter and services in winter conditions," he added.

And yet a centre in the nearby city of Bihac, which had been refurbished with the help of 3.5 million euros ($4.3 million) of EU funding, "stands empty, due to the opposition of local authorities and population to open it," wrote Borrell.

- 'Cold and wet' -

"Some 900 persons have had to continue to sleep in Lipa in the open for a week now and some 800 people have gone off to sleep in abandoned buildings and the woods.

"The weather is cold and wet, and there is a strong probability of conditions worsening significantly in coming weeks," he wrote.

And yet, he added: "Despite repeated and high-level EU advocacy and important financial help to address the needs of migrants and refugees and to strengthen border and asylum management", Bosnian officials had failed to do so.

Since 2018, Brussels had already provided more than 88 million euros to help refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Bosnia, with another 3.5 million announced on Sunday, said Borrell.

"We have to ensure that migrants seeking asylum in the EU get decent treatment and humane living conditions during the entire application process.

"While we stand ready to assist our partner countries to achieve this goal, they must assume their responsibilities in that domain."

The situation in Bosnia only underlined the need for the EU to strengthen its common migration and asylum policy, he argued.

Bosnia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and in Africa.