The European Union has announced additional funding to help vulnerable migrants in Bosnia. At the same time, it warned that lives are at risk and urged the government to rebuild the Lipa camp, which burned down on December 23.
On Sunday, the European Union allocated an additional €3.5 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to provide better housing for the hundreds of migrants currently left without shelter in harsh, wintry weather.
More than 1,700 people in the canton of Una Sana lack proper shelter, European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and Civil Protection Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said on Sunday in Brussels.
Some 800 of them are living outdoors in the cold, including children. Borrell called the situation in Una Sana "completely unacceptable" and said that humane conditions should be guaranteed at all times.
The announcement comes after a meeting on Saturday (January 2) between EU officials and ambassadors and Bosnia's minister of security, during which the EU ambassadors pointed out that the EU already provides "significant support" of around €85.5 million to BiH to meet its "humanitarian responsibilities" and assist the 8,500 migrants and refugees in the country.
Pro Asyl accuses of EU of total failure
Borrell said the EU's humanitarian aid would provide people with the most basic necessities, and that longer-term solutions were urgently needed. The EU's foreign policy chief also urged the Bosnian authorities not to leave people in the cold and without access to sanitary facilities in the middle of a global pandemic.
Migrant aid organization Pro Asyl meanwhile accused the EU of having completely failed the migrants in BiH. The German NGO called for the opening of the nearby border to Croatia, an EU member state many of the thousands of migrants stuck in BiH seek to cross into.
Erik Marquardt, member of European Parliament for the German Green party, called the EU's demand to treat migrants in a humane way a "double standard."
While the demand was the right thing to do, Marquardt wrote on Twitter, migrants who try to flee the "life-threatening conditions in Bosnia are abused and repulsed by EU member Croatia."
The politician alluded to alleged pushbacks by Croatian authorities, which, together with enhanced border controls, have caused an estimated 2,000 migrants and refugees to be stuck in northwestern Bosnia. Many of them live in abandoned buildings and forest camps.
The migrants who used to stay at the Lipa camp on the border with Croatia haven't fared much better. Ever since the camp was evacuated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the migrants have been sleeping rough.
Some people set fire to tents and containers during the eviction in late December, which police believe was started by migrants to protest the IOM's withdrawal. The IOM had complained that Bosnian authorities failed to make the camp -- opened in April but without power or running water -- fit to house people during the winter.
On December 30, around 900 migrants and refugees from the Lipa camp were supposed to be transferred to a former army barracks some 320 kilometers away. However, protests by the town's residents and disagreement among local authorities prevented the move, which led to the migrants and refugees being stuck on buses for 24 hours and then being returned to the Lipa camp.
Bosnia and Herzegovina-- a candidate for EU membership -- is a transit country on the so-called Balkan route for many migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East hoping to make it to western Europe through the Balkans.
With dpa, AFP