Snow falls as migrants still wait for shelter in Bosnia

Bihac (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (AFP) –


Snow fell Friday as hundreds of migrants stuck in Bosnia waited for shelter after their camp burnt down more than two weeks ago.

An AFP photographer said temperatures were freezing and snow covered the area where the Lipa camp had stood.

More than 1,300 migrants, mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, had lived at the camp near the border with EU-member Croatia and which burned down on December 23 after the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) withdrew from the site.

Hundreds of migrants have been sleeping rough in a nearby forest as they wait to be housed in approximately 20 tents that have been set up by the Bosnian army.

"There is no water, no electricity, no showers," said Assad Ali, a Pakistani migrant in his thirties.

"It has been snowing, raining and people don't have medicine. All that is a big problem. We have just a bit of food," he told AFP.

The heated tents which can hold around 900 people should be ready for use "in the coming days", said Bihac Mayor Suhret Fazlic.

A local Red Cross official said its volunteers have been distributing food to the migrants.

Bosnian police there believe the blaze was started by some of the migrants to protest the conditions and the withdrawal of the IOM, which had been running the camp.

The IOM had pulled out as the organisation believed the camp made up of tents and which did not have running water was not properly equipped for winter.

It wants the authorities to reopen a reception centre in an abandoned factory that was closed in October following pressure by residents.

Authorities have promised to build infrastructure at the Lipa camp, but say it will be unlikely to begin until April.

Meanwhile, they refuse to reopen the reception centre.

The European Union, which has provided Bosnia with around 85.5 million euros to assist with migration since 2018, recently labelled the migrant situation in the country "alarming" and has called on local authorities to act.

In a recent local television interview the Bihac mayor accused the IOM of provoking the Lipa camp crisis and local officials believe the EU is not doing enough to help a poor country like Bosnia deal with migrants problem.

In recent years a growing number of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa have tried to reach the European Union via the Balkans.

The EU's border agency Frontex said Friday that last year the number of illegal migrants travelling what is known as the Western Balkan route jumped by over 75 percent to around 27,000.