GENEVA – Conditions continue to deteriorate for thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers stranded in Bosnia as politicians fail to reach a solution to alleviate their plight, the International Organization for Migration warned.
About 6,000 migrants are housed in official accommodation centers in Bosnia while nearly 3,000 other migrants, including women and children, are sleeping outdoors in Una Sana Canton, on the border with Croatia.
The IOM said about half of those people are squatting under sub-standard conditions in abandoned buildings. Another 1,400, mainly single men, who had been living in the Lipa Emergency Tent Camp were forced to leave after the camp burned down.
They have been living outdoors in bitterly cold temperatures and frequent rainy conditions for the past two weeks. IOM Bosnia Chief of Mission Peter Van der Auweraert said the situation is not sustainable. Speaking on a video link from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, he said there is space in two official centers that could shelter all the people currently sleeping outside.
“What has been impossible is to get a consensus between the central government, which are, at least normally, in charge of dealing with this issue and the local authorities where these two centers are located to allow migrants access to these centers,” he said. “There is international funding available. There is international assistance available. What has been the difficulty is to get a political consensus as to where these migrants could be accommodated.”
Auweraert said most of the migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Algeria and Morocco, and most use Bosnia as a transit route through Croatia and Slovenia to get to the European Union.
Their presence has generated hostility and anti-migrant sentiments among some local authorities and populations, he added.
“I think there is some issues in terms of the media here in Bosnia-Herzegovina highlighting mostly negative stories among migrants,” Auweraert said. “But I also think we need to be very careful not to overplay the anti-migrant or refugee sentiments in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Clearly there is a minority of people that is very vocal on social media … but there is a consensus, I believe, amongst the majority of people that while they are here, they should be treated humanely.”
The IOM official said urgent action is needed to end the political impasse and alleviate the suffering of the migrants. While their physical health is degrading, he also noted signs that the situation is taking a serious toll on their mental health.