Aid organizations urge a solution as migrants stranded by the Croatian border face the cold with no facilities or heating.
Hundreds of migrants were stranded in a squalid tent camp and set on fire in Bosnia and Herzegovina as heavy snow fell across the country and winter temperatures suddenly plummeted.
Migrants from Lipa camp in northwestern Bosnia wrapped themselves up in blankets and sleeping bags on Saturday to protect themselves from biting winds in the area, which borders EU-member Croatia.
A fire earlier this week destroyed much of the camp near the town of Bihac which has already been severely criticized by international officials and aid groups as inadequate to accommodate refugees and migrants.
Despite the fire, Bosnian authorities failed to find new accommodation for migrants in Lipa, leaving nearly 1,000 people trapped in the cold, without facilities or heating, eating only meager food packages provided by groups humanitarian.
“The snow has fallen, temperatures below zero, no heating, nothing,” tweeted the head of mission of the International Organization for Migration in Bosnia, Peter Van Der Auweraert.
“This is not how anyone should live. We need political courage and action now. “
The humanitarian disaster in #BiH #Bihac continue: photos of the old camp “Lipa” now. Snow fell, temperatures below zero, no heating, nothing. This is not how anyone should live. We need political courage and action now. @UNmigration @UN_BiH pic.twitter.com/i1fHgqvWhJ
– Peter Van der Auweraert (@PeterAuweraert) December 26, 2020
A joint statement released on Saturday by several humanitarian organizations, including the Danish Refugee Council, the United Nations Refugee Agency and UN Migration, urged authorities to immediately find an alternative solution.
“The structures still existing on the site are dangerous and at risk of collapsing as the snowfall continues. In the absence of heating on the site, frostbite, hypothermia and other serious health problems are already being reported by those stranded there, ”the statement said.
“It is up to the authorities to provide minimum protection to people stranded outside reception centers in degraded winter conditions. This includes those stranded at the Lipa site, but also the approximately 2,000 others, forced to try to survive in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps.
“Failure to act with the greatest urgency will put lives in danger.”
‘We will die, so please help us’
Bosnia has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants hoping to reach Western Europe.
Most are stuck in the Krajina region in northwestern Bosnia, as other parts of the ethnically divided nation have refused to accept them.
The EU has warned Bosnia that thousands of migrants face a freezing winter without shelter and urged the country’s bickering politicians to put aside their differences and act.
On Saturday, migrants gathered at the camp to receive water and food provided by the Bosnian Red Cross as police sought to maintain order. Some migrants wore face shields to protect them from the coronavirus.
“We live like animals. Even animals live better than us! Said a Pakistani man who identified himself only by his first name, Kasim.
“If they don’t help us, we’ll die, so please help us.
Plans to temporarily relocate migrants to a closed facility in central Bihac sparked protests from residents.
Left unresolved, the migrants put cardboard on the ground and set up improvised barriers for privacy inside the only standing tent in Lipa camp.
Some people held their wet feet over the small fires that migrants lit outside to warm up, while others wrapped themselves tightly in blankets to warm up. Many migrants wore sneakers despite the snow.
To get to Croatia, migrants often take roads crossing a mountainous area along the border.
Human rights groups have documented violations committed by Croatian authorities over the years, including beatings and sexual assaults against migrants and refugees. Women and minors have not been spared from the violence.