Hundreds Of Migrants Lose Shelter In Bosnia, Leaving Them Stranded In Freezing Conditions

On December 23rd, the Lipa Emergency Tent Camp was destroyed in a fire. Almost all of the infrastructure was subsequently ruined or badly damaged. The camp was closed immediately prior to the outbreak of the disaster as it was deemed unsafe. Located in the northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lipa housed approximately 1400 migrants, primarily from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Lipa was initially opened in early 2020 in order to alleviate over-crowding and unsuitable conditions in other shelters. However, the camp was never “winterized,” and lacked the necessary thermal floor mats and shelter insulation. Despite the destruction, at least 500 people are currently stranded in the former camp, at risk of frostbite and hypothermia. The occupants were set to be moved to former army barracks in central Bosnia on December 29th, but instead spent 24 hours on buses before being instructed to return to the near-empty camp.

International organizations are calling for an immediate alternative solution to the housing crisis. According to a statement released by United Nations agencies, “it is up to the authorities to provide minimum protection for those stranded outside reception centres in deteriorating winter conditions.” The International Organization for Migration, the Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council already distributed critical supplies, which includes warm clothes, sleeping bags, food and hygiene kits. However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the IOM Chief of Mission in Bosnia, stated that “this is a nightmare scenario: these people should be inside in warm conditions.”

As previously stated, the camp population was supposed to be relocated to unused military barracks near the city of Bihac. However, the mayor of Bihac refused to support the transfer of the Lipa refugees. Subsequently, many migrants were forced to “sleep rough locally,” as there was zero additional capacity available for single males at any other shelters. According to the New York Times, the migrants left behind at Lipa slept in the open or in shipping containers, without electricity or water. In order to stay warm, migrants risked another disaster, lighting fires inside the remaining tents to cope with freezing conditions. Several barriers persist preventing the transfer of the Lipa population out of the dangerous conditions. Two local Bosnian towns and mayors are protesting potential transfers, unwilling to accommodate the migrants.

Bosnia is a prominent transit route for many refugees. Nations including Turkey, Greece and Hungary have restricted migration, and as a result, refugees are increasingly travelling through Bosnia in order to enter the European continent. Although Bosnia is not a member of the European Union, the bordering nation of Croatia is part of the E.U.. Thousands of migrants have subsequently passed through Bihac and surrounding towns, situated near the border. Notably, Lipa was also located near the Croatian border. However, migrants have reportedly experienced violence at the hands of the Croatian police, further complicating migration.

It is necessary to offer the Lipa population relief and monetary support. Migrants are currently living in poor, unsuitable housing, as a transfer out of the closed camp was ultimately rejected by locals. The freezing weather conditions could lead to health complications. Although international organizations are currently providing aid to the refugees, Bosnian reluctance to cooperate is likely to harm those most vulnerable. As a result, Bosnian support is additionally necessary.