Migrants in Sarajevo, Bosnia | Credit: EPA/FEHIM DEMIR
Migrants in Sarajevo, Bosnia | Credit: EPA/FEHIM DEMIR

The humanitarian organization is warning that lives could be at risk this winter if authorities and NGOs don't help: "It could be paid with lives if preparations are not organised in time.”

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is warning that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a crisis is looming if the pace of coordinated humanitarian response does not pick up before temperatures begin to drop. More than 4,000 migrants and refugees are currently living in informal camps along Bosnia's border with Croatia, amidst countless hardships and risks. 

A new situation for Bosnia 

"This is a new situation for Bosnia, which before this year had not seen significant numbers of people transiting through the country as part of the so-called Balkan route," MSF said in a statement. "Although the stream of people arriving in the country has been rising for months, basic humanitarian conditions in the two largest points of congregation along the border remain alarmingly inadequate."

According to MSF, around 3,000 people are living in and around a deteriorating concrete structure with pools of mud on the floor at the edge of the city of Bihać, near the border Bosnia shares with EU-country Croatia. Just outside the nearby town of Velika Kladuša, some 1,000 more people are living in tents and improvised shelters, with trenches dug around shelters to alleviate flooding from storms. 

"Adults, families and unaccompanied children make up the crowd at both spots. They come from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq to flee conflict and poverty in their countries of origin," MSF said. 

"The poor humanitarian conditions in Bosnia-Herzegovina's transient border settlements are made all the worse by the sluggish and inadequate response," said Juan Matias Gil, MSF's head of mission for Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Not only do they not have access to medical services; they also lack basic assistance such as food, shelter, clothes and hygiene services," Gil said. 

Winter is coming 

Since June, MSF has been working on the ground at both of these sites. It operates a small mobile clinic in cooperation with local medical authorities. MSF said that with winter approaching, there was no time to lose, arguing that "it could be paid with lives if preparations are not organised in time." In Serbia - Bosnia's neighbor country - and along its borders "a collective institutional failure to prepare for winter conditions has left thousands literally in the cold for multiple winters in a row," MSF said.

With more and more countries closing their borders, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have found themselves stranded in the Balkans. MSF says that in past winters, it has treated people for hypothermia, frostbite, and respiratory illnesses due to people burning plastics and other materials found for warmth. 

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