Refugees freezing at burnt-out camp in Bosnia after heavy snowfall
Hundreds of refugees, including women and children, have been left without shelter in freezing conditions Bosnia-Herzegovina, days after a fire destroyed their already squalid camp.
More than a thousand refugees, trying to reach Western Europe, were stranded in burnt-out tents in the Lipa camp in northwest Bosnia on Saturday as heavy snow fell and winter temperatures suddenly dropped.
Earlier this week, a fire destroyed four large tents at the camp, and left refugees with no facilities or heat.
Bosnian authorities have so far failed to find new accommodations for the refugees.
People in the camp wrapped themselves in blankets and set small fires to protect themselves in the freezing winter, the Associated Press reported.
They put down cardboard on the floor and set up improvised barriers for privacy inside the only standing tent at the camp, the news agency said.
The deteriorating condition has prompted aid agencies to call on authorities to “act with the utmost urgency” or they will “put lives at risk.”
“Snow has fallen, sub-zero temperatures, no heating, nothing,” the International Organization for Migration’s chief of mission in Bosnia, Peter Van Der Auweraert, tweeted.
“This is not how anyone should live. We need political bravery and action now,” he added.
A number of aid organizations issued a joint statement on Saturday, calling on authorities to find an alternative solution immediately.
“The structures still existing at the location are unsafe and at risk of collapsing, as snowfalls continue,” said the statement.
Refugees gathered in the camp on Saturday to receive food and water provided by Bosnia’s Red Cross, amid police presence.
According to the UN’s refugee agency, Bosnian authorities are restricting access to people, who are stuck in makeshift shelters.
The statement also urged “authorities to provide minimum protection for those stranded outside reception centers in deteriorating winter conditions.”
“This includes those stranded at the Lipa location but also the estimated 2,000 others, forced to try and survive in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps,” it added.
Refugees often use routes over a mountainous area along Bosnia’s border with Croatia to reach Western Europe.
The European Union has provided Bosnia with 60 million euros in emergency funding to aid the refugee flow.
Bosnia, however, has recently been evacuating reception centers and pushing people out of urban areas, while other areas in the ethnically-divided nation have refused to accept them.
Refugees also complain of violence and pushbacks by the Croatian police.
Human rights groups have documented violations by authorities over the years, including severe beatings and sexual assault of refugees and asylum seekers.