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10th Apr 2021

EU: Bosnia 'sacrificing' homeless migrants

  • Some 2,000 people are facing harsh winter conditions in Bosnia (Photo: Hannu-Pekka Laiho / International Red Cross)

The plight of around 2,000 people stuck in harsh Bosnian winter conditions are being used as internal political pawns, says the European Commission.

"People's lives cannot be sacrificed for internal political power struggles," European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano told reporters on Monday (4 January).

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Stano scolded Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying that the country needs to start acting like an "aspiring EU country" and get the people into immediate accommodation.

The migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are squatting in abandoned buildings and in forest camps in and around the area of the Una Sana canton near the Croat border.

Some are now being given winter jackets and blankets - but remain exposed outdoors.

Rough estimates suggest some 70,000 people have arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina since early 2018. The vast majority have since left for the European Union, leaving behind up to 8,500.

Of those around 6,000 are currently in EU-funded housing in centres located in Sarajevo and the Una Sana canton.

"The irony of all of this, if you want, is that you have 6,000 people in functioning centres, that is fine, but we actually have two other centres that could accommodate the rest and they are operational," said Peter Van der Auweraert from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The commission announced an additional €3.5m of humanitarian aid, none of which goes to the state, to help those on the ground. It means the EU has doled out close to €14m to Bosnia and Herzegovina in humanitarian aid since 2018.

Van der Auweraert, who is chief IOM coordinator for the region, says the issue is not about the lack of funding.

He pointed out those made homeless could have a bed within 24 hours, noting some 600 could be immediately placed in a former military barracks.

But local and federal political fighting, along with decentralised state governance structures, appears to be behind the latest humanitarian incident.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's ministry of security is legally-bound to provide migrants with accommodation.

A lack of consensus at the state level on how to deal with the people has confounded authorities for years.

The existing five migrant housing centres in the country, were all set up under emergency conditions.

And local grievances in the Una Sana canton have also increased given that, aside from Sarajevo, no other canton has a migrant centre.

Federal authorities on 31 December decided to temporarily relocate migrants to Bradina, another site, after a camp known as Lipa was burned down.

The army has since put up tents in Lipa but these are placed directly on the ground without flooring and without any bedding.

The federal decision triggered Bradina protests, with local authorities then refusing to open a new centre, leaving some 900 Lipa migrants stuck on buses.

The saga has been further complicated by November local elections where nationalist parties lost out.

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