EU has announced an additional €3.5 million in humanitarian aid to help vulnerable refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina. More than 1,700 refugees and migrants remain without appropriate shelter and support in Una Sana canton. After the closure of the reception centre in Lipa, which was not winter-proof and which also suffered a fire, 900 people are currently on the former campsite. In addition, a further 800 refugees and migrants are staying outdoors in harsh winter conditions, including children.
Thousands of migrants lose shelter, after camp destroyed in fire
The closure and subsequent fire at a migrant camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina has left thousands of migrants without shelter and protection. The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported the humanitarian disaster. The situation facing more than 900 migrants in Lipa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is dire. They are without adequate shelter in severe winter conditions.
The fire destroyed or badly damaged nearly all infrastructure at the Lipa Emergency Tent Camp. Only this housed about 1,400 migrants. This number is in addition to some 1,500 migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees – including women and children – stranded in squats and forest camps nearby. With the devastation, the overall number of people in dire need of assistance has swelled to almost 3,000, according to IOM. Situated in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the border with Croatia, the camp was built earlier this year in response to over-crowding and unsuitable conditions elsewhere.
The situation in Una Sana canton is unacceptable.
High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell, added: “Winter-proof accommodations are a pre-requisite for humane living conditions, which need to be ensured at all times. Local authorities need to make existing facilities available and provide a temporary solution until Lipa camp is rebuilt into a permanent facility. The EU’s humanitarian assistance will provide the people in distress with access to basic items as an immediate alleviation to their current plight. However, long-term solutions are urgently needed. We urge the authorities not to leave people out in the cold, without access to sanitary facilities in the midst of a global pandemic.”
European humanitarian aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina
The humanitarian funding announced will provide refugees and migrants with warm clothing, blankets, food, as well as healthcare, mental health and psychosocial support. It will also contribute to efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This funding comes on top of €4.5 million allocated in April 2020, bringing EU humanitarian assistance for refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina to €13.8 million since 2018.
Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, said: “Hundreds of people, including children, are sleeping outside in freezing temperatures in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This humanitarian disaster could be avoided, if the authorities created sufficient winterized shelter capacity in the country, including by making use of existing facilities available. The EU will provide additional emergency assistance including to those sleeping outside by distributing food, blankets, warm clothes and continue to support unaccompanied minors. However, humanitarian assistance would not be required in Bosnia and Herzegovina, if the country implemented appropriate migration management, as requested by the EU for many years.”
8000 refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Over 5,400 refugees and migrants receive accomodation in EU-funded temporary reception centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The current shelter available capacity in the country is not sufficient.
Despite continued EU engagement with the authorities, they have not agreed to open additional reception facilities and proceeded with the closure of the existing ones, such as the Temporary Reception Centre Bira in Bihać. People continue to sleep in abandoned buildings or makeshift tents, without access to safe and dignified shelter, water and sanitation, electricity and heating, and they only have limited access to food and safe drinking water. Without access to basic services, vulnerable refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina are exposed to serious protection and health risks, aggravated by the coronavirus. The much needed lifesaving help does not replace longer-term solutions to the current situation.
EU Migration management and Asylum system
The EU provides technical and financial support to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the overall migration management, including in relation to the asylum system and reception facilities, as well as strengthening border management. Since early 2018, the EU has provided more than €88 million either directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina or through implementing partner organisations to address the immediate needs of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants and to help Bosnia and Herzegovina strengthen its migration management capacities.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, located at a migration crossroad between Eastern and Western Europe, saw a sharp rise in refugee and migrant arrivals in 2019, going now beyond 69174 since the beginning of 2018. Restrictive coronavirus measures have brought movement along the Western Balkans route almost to a complete halt in 2020. According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM) around 8,000 refugees and migrants are currently in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A humanitarian crisis has become reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The current weather conditions threaten the lives of more than 1,700 persons sleeping outside in dire conditions, including many unaccompanied children and families. The European Union is being providing outreach assistance to those people in need and has urged the authorities to act with the utmost urgency to save lives, to identify suitable accommodation facilities and to respect refugees’ and migrants’ fundamental rights.
Overstretched migrants reception centres
The existing temporary reception centres are overstretched. More than 1,700 people including many unaccompanied children and families are forced to sleep in abandoned buildings or makeshift tents. They have no access to safe and dignified shelter, water, sanitation, electricity and heating. They only have limited access to food and safe drinking water. The worrisome sanitary conditions increase the exposure to communicable and infectious diseases as well as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The increase in arrivals of refugees and migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina in mid-2018 required international assistance to address the emerging humanitarian situation and provide basic assistance such as emergency shelter, water and sanitation, food, blankets, health and protection assistance.
However, the existing overstretched EU-funded temporary reception centres, the further restriction of movement of refugees and migrants imposed by the local authorities and the recent closure of two main temporary reception centres of Bira and Lipa, have exacerbated the humanitarian situation with around 1,700 refugees and migrants sleeping outside.
As an immediate priority, the EU had urged the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to relocate the refugees and migrants living in the Lipa facility, which was not winter-proof, to the EU-funded reception centre “Bira” in Bihać, which stands ready to host them. The decision of the local authorities not to materialize this request, resulted in a humanitarian disaster. In addition, the EU has also called on the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to fulfil their commitment to open an additional reception centre in Ciljuge near Tuzla in order to ensure shelter for all persons amidst the harsh winter conditions.
Healthcare for vulnerables in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Access to primary healthcare and life-saving secondary healthcare for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants – including COVID-19 testing and treatment – remains also a critical priority. Overcrowded reception centres or sleeping rough, poor living conditions, the permanent state of insecurity and violence are putting a heavy strain on the mental health of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
The coronavirus outbreak might worsen the already difficult humanitarian situation and have dramatic consequences both inside the overcrowded reception facilities and outside, as migrants and refugees do not have adequate access to water and sanitation. This puts them in a particularly vulnerable situation . They need access to health support.
Given the increased humanitarian needs, emergency humanitarian assistance remains of essence. EU humanitarian aid focus on covering the most urgent need including primary and secondary health care services. They will support to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health and psychological support, as well as protection response (identification and referrals). Also support to unaccompanied minors and life-saving assistance to those staying outside including warm clothing, sleeping bags and food. The EU’s mid-term assistance currently covers the provision of food, shelter, water and sanitation, clothing, education and strengthening the country’s migration management capacities.
EU cooperation with UN agencies
Since the beginning of the influx of refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU has been working closely with UN agencies, other humanitarian organisations and the Bosnian authorities to meet the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable refugees and migrants.
Since early 2018, the EU has provided €89 million directly to Bosnia and Herzegovina and through implementing partners to address the immediate needs and mid-term response to refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants and to help Bosnia and Herzegovina strengthen its migration management capacities. This support includes a total of €13.8 million in humanitarian aid to provide emergency assistance, implemented by international humanitarian organisations. This emergency response addresses the needs of refugees and migrants with a focus on the Una-Sana Canton, Tuzla and Sarajevo area.