Fire breaks out in Bosnia migrant camp, deepening housing crisis

Police say huge fire believed to have been started by disgruntled migrants, evacuated hours earlier.

Humanitarian organisations warned the camp was unsuitable for winter, urging authorities to provide adequate housing for its 1,300 residents [AFP]

A huge fire has broken out at a temporary migrant camp in northwest Bosnia and Herzegovina. The camp has been strongly criticised by rights groups as being unsuitable due to its lack of resources.

Police said they believe Wednesday’s 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 village of Lipa was destroyed, police spokesperson Ale Siljdedic told the AFP news agency.

Bosnia has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants hoping to reach neighbouring European Union member Croatia and then head towards richer EU nations.

Most are stuck in Bosnia’s northwestern Krajina region as other areas in the ethnically divided nation have refused to accept them.

The Lipa camp was to be closed on Wednesday and moved to another location, but officials said since its tents and other facilities were almost entirely destroyed in the fire it cannot immediately be moved to another spot.

“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,” said the International Organization for Migration’s chief of mission in Bosnia, Peter Van der Auweraert.

He later told reporters the fire was under control, but most of the camp was either destroyed or damaged. He said most camp residents were still around the area because “there’s no alternative accommodation available” in Bosnia for them.

He said some migrants planned to head to Croatia as “quickly as they could”, some were aiming to travel to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo while others intended to stay in the Bihac area through the winter in squatter’s camps.

‘Alarming’ situation

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

“This camp was set up in April and it was intended to be a temporary site for migrants and refugees,” said Al Jazeera’s Aida Hadzimusic Bihac, reporting from the site of the blaze. “It was supposed to shut down a few months ago.”

“The government has only a few days ago decided to set up an official camp here but months are now needed before it [can be] prepared.”

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 EU warned this week the 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies