Bosnia warned squalid migrant camp could face ‘humanitarian emergency’
City of Bihac sends migrants to ‘deplorable’ former rubbish dump near minefields
Migrants outside the camp. ‘As the authorities are aware, the Vucjak site is located close to landmine-infested areas and there is a high risk of fire and explosions due to possible underground pockets of methane gas,” the UN said. File photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images
More than 45,000 migrants have entered Bosnia in the last two years, and while most have managed to cross into Croatia en route to western Europe, several thousand are in and around the city of Bihac in northwestern Bosnia.
In the second such operation in recent months, Bosnian police this week marched more than 1,000 people from Bihac to the Vucjak camp – which is located on a former rubbish dump – after local officials ordered the city to be cleared of migrants sleeping rough.
“As the authorities are aware, the Vucjak site is located close to landmine-infested areas and there is a high risk of fire and explosions due to possible underground pockets of methane gas. Vucjak lacks electricity, running water and medical care,” the UN country team in Bosnia said in a statement.
They described as “especially alarming” a warning from Bihac’s mayor that the city and Bosnian Red Cross would soon stop all assistance to people at Vucjak, most of whom are young men from the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“This decision, if implemented, together with continued relocation efforts, risks a possible humanitarian emergency at the Vucjak site,” the UN said.
With winter approaching, the UN said it was “absolutely vital to ensure that migrants are appropriately housed in the shortest possible time. This includes the immediate relocation of all migrants currently located at the Vucjak site.”
Bihac officials complain that they are not receiving enough support from the state authorities in Sarajevo to deal with migrants who started arriving in large numbers last year, when the so-called Balkan route into Europe shifted in response to tightening border controls elsewhere in the region.
Bosnia is still without a government one year after parliamentary elections, and has struggled since its 1992-5 war with a dysfunctional political system and fractious relations between its Bosniak Muslim, Serb and Croat communities.
Officials at all levels are reluctant to take any action that could be seen as encouraging migrants to come to Bosnia, or as an acceptance of the fact that they are likely to keep crossing the country for years to come.
The European Union has made millions of euro available to help Bosnia accommodate the migrants, but does not want to support a site like Vucjak which is considered unfit for human habitation.
“I am following with great concern the developments in the city of Bihac,” Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said on Thursday.
“The living conditions in this [Vucjak] camp... are already deplorable,” she added. “With winter coming, the situation cannot but worsen.”