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Bosnia: Hundreds evicted from UN-run migrant camp

Aditya Sharma
October 1, 2020

Bosnian police emptied a migrant camp, evicting hundreds of residents in the latest crackdown on such facilities. They have been moved to a remote camp ill-equipped for winter conditions.

A migrant rests in a tent improvised from plastic sheets at a makeshift camp in a forest outside Velika Kladusa, Bosnia
Image: Kemal Softic/AP Photo/picture-alliance

Bosnian authorities on Wednesday evicted hundreds of people from a United Nations-run migrant camp in the country's northwestern Krajina region, the Associated Press and UN officials reported.

A migrant camp in the town of Bihac was emptied and shut down, with groups of mostly young men bused to a remote camp ill-equipped for winter conditions and already full to capacity.

"Authorities in [the] Una Sana Canton forcibly moved all 350 residents from migrant accommodation center Bira to Lipa, which was already fully occupied," wrote Peter Van Der Auweraert of the UN migration agency International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Twitter.

He also posted a video of the migrants outside the remote camp in the village of Lipa, adding that some of them had started walking back to Bihac, a city near the Croatian border.

"All will sleep outside tonight, sadly, inhumanely and unnecessary," the UN official said. "This is how the start of a humanitarian crisis looks like."

The camp near the village of Lipa, some 20 kilometers from Bihac, was set up in April and may be forced to close soon, Auweraert told the Associated Press. "The camp is only for summer weather conditions," he said.

Read moreBosnia's Vucjak camp: Migrants, a garbage dump — and a road to nowhere

Sheltering in poor conditions

Bosnian officials defended the move, saying that they believed adequate care could be provided for the migrants.

"We are ready to provide technical assistance, we believe that there is enough space on Lipa and that an adequate camp can be built for two to three thousand migrants," Nermin Kljajic, a local government official was quoted as saying by Bosnian broadcaster BHRT. 

"I think that these people can be provided with adequate conditions for their stay in the winter," he said.

Local authorities had long tried to close the Bira centre, one of the seven facilities run by the IOM in the country. They also plan to close a second camp with 700 residents in the coming days, but it is still unclear where they will be taken.

Read more: Refugees in Bosnia: Waiting for winter at the EU gates 

Migrants turned away by authorities have been forced to take shelter in forests near the Croatian border
Migrants turned away by authorities have been forced to take shelter in forests near the Croatian borderImage: Kemal Softic/AP/dpa/picture-alliance

The five migrant centers in the Krajina region account for over half the reception capacity in Bosnia. Even before the latest crackdown, an estimated 2,500 people were sleeping in outdoors.

Many of migrants who have been turned away by authorities refusing to host large groups at reception centers are sheltering in forests near the Croatian border. They have been living in squalid conditions in a makeshift tent camp made of cardboard and tree branches.

Bosnia has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants hoping to reach the European Union. Most of them are concentrated in  Sarajevo and Krajina as other regions in the ethnically divided country refuse to accept them.

The EU has provided Bosnia with €60 million ($70.3 million) to aid the country in managing the influx of migrants crossing its territory. Most of the fund is for IOM-run migrant camps.