EU steps up aid for migrants in Bosnia

 EU steps up aid for migrants in Bosnia

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BRUSSELS • The European Union announced additional funding yesterday to help vulnerable migrants in Bosnia and urged the government there to rebuild a camp that burned down.

Brussels has denounced conditions for migrants in Bosnia, a candidate for EU membership, as “completely unacceptable” and warned that lives are at risk.

Fire engulfed the Lipa migrant centre in north-western Bosnia on Dec 23. There were no casualties but much of the infrastructure was destroyed.

The incident deepened a crisis over where to house thousands of migrants, as the Bosnian authorities have failed to find new accommodation for the newly homeless.

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Brussels was ready to add another €3.5 million (S$5.6 million) to its humanitarian support for Bosnia.

But he warned that 900 people were still exposed on the grounds of the destroyed camp, and that 800 more were without shelter in the region.

“The situation in Una Sana canton is unacceptable. Winter-proof accommodations are a pre-requisite for humane living conditions, which need to be ensured at all times,” he said.

“Local authorities need to make existing facilities available and provide a temporary solution until Lipa camp is rebuilt into a permanent facility.”

On Saturday, EU’s Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Johann Sattler said the living conditions were “completely unacceptable”.

“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.

Police believe the Dec 23 blaze was started deliberately by migrants staying there to protest against the withdrawal of the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which had been running the camp.

The IOM 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.

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 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 that the centre, which could house 2,000 people, be reopened.

However, it is not in a position to order the local authorities to do so.

In a bid to ease the migrant crisis, the Bosnian government has deployed the army to set up tents on the site of the burned-down centre. But the migrants appear unwilling to use them as they too are unheated and without water.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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