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Mass immigrants remain stranded in Bosnia as the cold gets in

Hundreds of migrants slept in open or abandoned buildings in freezing temperatures this month as snow covered mountains in northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the organization. Humanitarian

Some in the destroyed refugee camps had to wash themselves in the snow because they lacked heating facilities or walked barefoot to get food. Many people have scabies and high fever.

The mayor of Bihac, 15 miles north of the camp, has refused to open EU-funded immigrant residences, running nearly two years until closing in the fall. Aid organizations and the military are now struggling to provide humanitarian relief as temperatures drop below 1

5 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

“It’s an unlikely place to be. We’re not even talking about adhering to basic humanitarian standards here, ”said Nicola Bay, director of the Danish Refugee Council, which provides warm clothing and medical assistance to immigrants.

The extreme cold is just the latest misery in a saga that has occurred in recent years, and it happened last month when humanitarian organizations had to dismantle the Lipa camp after it was considered unsafe. As the fire evacuees destroyed most of the tents there, they had to take refuge, either in the remains of destroyed camps or in abandoned buildings and surrounding icy woodlands.

The EU said this month that more than 1,700 people slept outside in the harsh environment.

On New Year’s Eve, Bosnian authorities vowed to move stranded immigrants to a nearby shelter in Bihak “very fast”, but in two weeks in 2021 the facility remained closed and Bosnian government ministers said. Agree that it is likely to remain so.

Bosnia has faced criticism from the European Union and other countries for failing to provide basic humanitarian assistance to immigrants as required by international law.

“Hundreds of people, including children, are sleeping outside in freezing temperatures in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said earlier this month. “This humanitarian disaster can be avoided. Yes, if authorities create adequate wintering capacity in the country, including use of existing facilities. ”

Since Bosnia became a route for thousands of people hoping to travel to Europe in 2018, the EU has given 89 million euros, or more than $ 108 million, to the agencies or organizations of the countries working there as a part. Of a bigger strategy to reduce the inflow volume of Immigrants outside borders (Bosnia is not part of the European Union But has a border with Croatia, which is)

But the coronavirus epidemic has brought near a complete stop of migrants along the Western Balkans, and more than 8,000 migrants have been stranded in Bosnia, according to the International Organization for Migration, an agency of the International Organization for Migration. United Nations While 6,000 of them are in housing centers, nearly 2,000 remain in precarious conditions across the country.

Last year, 17,000 immigrants passed through Bosnia were recorded, down from 29,000 in 2019, but human rights organizations say the crisis this winter has worsened due to the authorities’ failure to accommodate them.

Immigrants in northwest Bosnia have to face growing aversion from the local population.

In October, the regional authorities, which had been complaining for years about the EU migration issue, expelled more than 400 immigrants from the now-shuttered residences in Bihak, and they did not. It was closed since then. More than 80 minors have been moved to other aid centers. But with more than 300 men, no shelter was left.

Most of them moved to Lipa Camp, which was established in April in response to a temporary COVID-19 outbreak to accommodate a population of up to 1,600.The camps were never insulated or equipped with heating stoves and organizations. Said they told the authorities it might only be a temporary solution.

Then last month it was demolished and destroyed by fire.

Across a dirt road from the original Lipa camp, Bosnian militaries have set up about 20 heated tents this week, half of which are pits with cool breezes blowing over Mr Bay from the Danish Refugee Council. Still, hundreds of immigrants are cared for in tents managed by the Red Cross.

About 1,500 other refugees have been to stay in the rubble of the former camp that burned last month or in an abandoned building with no electricity and water nearby.

“On the one hand, the central government tried to reopen the area in Bihac, which was meant to accommodate immigrants, and on the other hand, local officials and the population refused to let them enter,” said Peter Van der Auweraert of the Western Balkans. International Organization for Migration Coordinator “Immigrants are caught in the meantime.”

Bosnia’s Security Minister Selmo Cikotic acknowledged the situation was unsustainable and that immigrants were victims of Bosnia’s political turmoil.

Both the federal government and the local authorities, known as the state, are responsible for the enforcement of Bosnia’s constitutional human rights. But local land use controls fall with the regional authorities, which also control police forces.

“There are some elements of Bosnia’s political system, lack of solidarity, a lack of adherence to European and universal values ​​that we declare ourselves close to,” said Zikotic in a telephone interview. “There can be resistance from government agencies,” he added about the Una-Sana area, home to the Lipa and Bihac camps.

Mr Zikotik, who met with European diplomats and EU representatives at Lipa camp on Thursday, issued a ban on the use of force to open a residential building in Bihak.

That angered humanitarian organizations.

“Every year we have a crisis this winter and there are last-minute emergency preparations,” said Bay of the Danish Refugee Council. “But this year we can’t and you can see how fragile the situation is. “He added.

“They asked, ‘When can I get to the tent?’ He said of the immigrants,” they don’t know what happened to them. “

On the Croatian side, police tried to seal a route from Bosnia and humanitarian organizations have reported countless abuses by law enforcement officials.

Aleksandar Panic, the disaster preparedness coordinator of the Bosnia Red Cross, said some migrants had abandoned hopes of reaching the EU via Croatia and instead returned to Serbia at the eastern border of Bosnia. Will arrive The European Union through Romania

“At the same time the Sarajevo camp was full and around the Lipa camp, the weather forecast was not our preference,” said Panik. “We don’t know if we can warm the tent enough.”

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