EU denounces conditions for migrants in Bosnia

SARAJEVO (AFP) – The living conditions of hundreds of homeless migrants in Bosnia, bordering the European Union (EU), are “completely unacceptable”, EU’s Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Johann Sattler said on Saturday.

The migrants have been left homeless in freezing and rainy conditions since their camp near the northwestern town of Bihac burned down last month.

“The situation is completely unacceptable,” said Sattler.

“Lives and basic human rights of many hundreds of people are seriously jeopardised,” he added after a meeting with Bosnia’s Security Minister Selmo Cikotic.

Fire engulfed the Lipa migrant centre in northwestern Bosnia on December 23. There were no casualties from the blaze but much of the infrastructure of the site was destroyed.

The incident deepened the crisis over where to house thousands of migrants, as Bosnian authorities failed to find new accommodation for the newly homeless.

Police believe the blaze on December 23 was started deliberately by migrants living there to protest the withdrawal of the United Nations’ (UN) International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which had been running the camp.

The IOM had left complaining that the accommodation was not fit to house people during the cold winter months.

Opened in April, the Lipa camp had never been hooked up with electricity or running water.

Sattler met Bosnian Minister Cikotic on Saturday along with the German, Italian and Austrian ambassadors, according to a statement released by the EU delegation in Sarajevo. The aim of the meeting was “to discuss urgent solutions for the extremely concerning migration situation”, the statement said.

Bosnia lies on the so-called Balkans route used since 2018 by tens of thousands of migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and in Africa. The country currently hosts some 8,500 migrants.

The European Commission, which finances the running of several migrant camps in Bosnia, has called for another centre in Bihac to be re-opened, but local and regional officials oppose the idea.