Refugee camp burned down as Bosnia struggles to house migrants

Last Updated 23 December 2020, 18:02 IST

A refugee camp in Bosnia criticised for its bleak conditions was destroyed in a fire Wednesday, police said, as the country faces a repeat crisis over where to shelter migrants during winter.

Police said they believe the blaze was lit by former residents of the camp, most of whom were thought to have evacuated the site in advance.

There were no casualties or injuries, but the infrastructure of the site near the northwestern village of Lipa was destroyed, police spokesperson Ale Siljdedic told AFP.

"Firefighters managed to put it out, but all the four large tents in which the migrants had slept burned down," Siljdedic said.

The fire comes as local authorities are in a deadlock over where to shelter more than 3,000 refugees and migrants in the northwest Bihac region, a base for those making attempts to enter neighbouring EU member Croatia.

Bosnian authorities have been repeatedly criticised for failing to provide enough protection for the tens of thousands of refugees who cross the country annually.

The Lipa camp was set up in April as a temporary solution and lacked electricity and heating.

Humanitarian organisations have been warning that the camp was unsuitable for winter, urging authorities to provide adequate housing for its 1,300 residents.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which ran the reception centre, recently announced its withdrawal due to the poor conditions.

"Disaster upon disaster", IOM's coordinator in Bosnia Peter van der Auweraert wrote on Twitter about the fire.

"As far as we know now a group of former residents put three tents and containers on fire after most of the migrants had left the camp," he wrote.

Police expect the 1,300 migrants who were staying in the camp to head towards the Bihac region, where some 2,000 others are already sleeping in abandoned buildings.

Local authorities there have refused the federal government's orders to reopen a reception centre in Bihac that they abruptly shut down in October, right before local elections, to appease local frustration with the migrant influx.

The European Union warned this week that migrant situation in Bosnia was "alarming", pointing to dire conditions in the Lipa camp.

Authorities must "act with the utmost urgency to address the needs of all refugees and migrants without shelter and save lives," EU officials said.

(Published 23 December 2020, 18:02 IST)

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