A rapid fire destroyed a migrant camp in Bosnia that was heavily criticized by human rights groups as inadequate due to a lack of resources.
The fire broke out in the Lipa camp, near the border with Croatia, on the same day that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) declared the facility to be closed, saying that the Bosnian authorities had ignored their calls to provide basic services.
Thick black smoke can be seen rising as residents, mainly from the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, fled in panic. A UN official said the fire is believed to have been started by migrants dissatisfied with the camp’s temporary closure.
“As far as we know now, a group of former residents set fire to three tents and containers after most migrants left the camp,” said IOM’s Peter Van der Auweraert. He said that, to his knowledge, there were no victims.
The IOM urged the Bosnian authorities to prepare the camp for the winter and to offer an alternative shelter option while the work is being carried out.
Hundreds of migrants, including children, are now homeless because temperatures in Bosnia are expected to reach -4ºC.
Bosnia has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants hoping to reach the EU. The majority are concentrated in the Bosanska Krajina region, in the northwest of the country, as other regions of the ethnically divided nation refuse to accept them. From there, they try to cross the border with Croatia to the EU and face resistance.
Bosnian authorities ordered the transfer of thousands of migrants to the remote temporary camp in March, at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
A few weeks ago, when temperatures dropped to -6ºC, more than 1,400 people still lived in the camp. The shower and the bathroom froze and people were forced to use the surrounding forest for their needs.
The EU warned Bosnia that thousands of migrants are facing an icy winter without shelter and urged the country’s political authorities to put aside their differences and act.
But others believe that behind the incident in Lipa a deep political split is developing between the UN and the EU, and the Bosnian authorities.
Attempts to reopen another camp, Bira, in the Bihać region, met with opposition after it was closed in late September by authorities in the canton of Una-Sana.
“What is happening in Bihać is a political crisis that has been brewing for almost two years,” said Paola Lucchesi, a former Bihać-based journalist and president of the NGO Centar za Odrzivi Razvoj “Una”.
“In the past two months, an impasse between cantonal and municipal authorities and the IOM, which acts as an operational partner for the EU commission, has reached the point of a major constitutional crisis in the country,” he added.