The living conditions of hundreds of homeless migrants in Bosnia, bordering the European Union, are “completely unacceptable”, EU envoy Johann Sattler said Saturday.
The migrants have been left homeless in freezing and rainy conditions since their camp near the northwestern town of Bihac burned down last month.
“The situation is completely unacceptable,” said Sattler, the EU’s Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Lives and basic human rights of many hundreds of people are seriously jeopardised,” he added after a meeting with Bosnia’s Security Minister Selmo Cikotic.
Fire engulfed the Lipa migrant centre in northwestern Bosnia on December 23. There were no casualties from the blaze but much of the infrastructure of the site was destroyed.
The incident deepened the crisis over where to house thousands of migrants, as Bosnian authorities failed to find new accommodation for the newly homeless.
Police believe the blaze on December 23 was started deliberately by migrants living there to protest the withdrawal of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which had been running the camp.
The IOM had left complaining that the accommodation was not fit to house people during the cold winter months.
Opened in April, the Lipa camp had never been hooked up with electricity or running water.
Sattler met Bosnian minister Cikotic on Saturday along with the German, Italian and Austrian ambassadors, according to a statement released by the EU delegation in Sarajevo.
The aim of the meeting was “to discuss urgent solutions for the extremely concerning migration situation,” the statement said.
Bosnia lies on the so-called Balkans route used since 2018 by tens of thousands of migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and in Africa.
The country currently hosts some 8,500 migrants.
The European Commission, which finances the running of several migrant camps in Bosnia, has called for another centre in Bihac to be reopened, but local and regional officials oppose the idea.
That migrant centre, in an abandoned factory, was closed in October under pressure from local residents.
In the very decentralised country, the federal government has also suggested the centre, which could house 2,000 people, be reopened. However it is not in a position to order local authorities to do so.
The UN’s human rights office had already warned against “unacceptable suffering” of the migrants from the Lipa camp, calling for an urgent solution of the issue.
In an attempt to ease the migrant crisis, the Bosnian government has deployed the army to set up tents on the site of the burned-down reception centre, but the migrants appear unwilling to use them as they too are unheated and without water.
In a sign of the growing protest, the migrants refused the meal distributed on Friday and Saturday by the Red Cross and a local charity, a Red Cross official told FTV public television.