Bosnia migrant camp closure leaves 1,400 in cold

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Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Residents at the emergency camp in the city of Bihac set fire to tents as they left

Hundreds of migrants have been left without shelter amid harsh winter conditions after a camp was closed and then set on fire in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Aid agencies pulled out of the Lipa camp, in the north-western city of Bihac, saying it was unsustainable without water and electricity.

Residents forced to leave the facility, set up to provide shelter during the Covid-19 pandemic, looted equipment and set fire to tents, police said.

No injuries were reported.

On Wednesday morning, the residents of the Lipa facility were given food and sleeping bags as they left the camp.

Some later set up makeshift camps in a nearby forest, while others reportedly moved to derelict buildings.

But a number of migrants returned to the camp and set fire to several tents, officials said.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The fire was said to have damaged "pretty much all infrastructure" at the camp

Firefighters were called to the scene and the blaze was quickly brought under control.

The UN's International Office for Migration (IOM) said the temporary Lipa camp was set up because of "overcrowding and unsuitable conditions elsewhere".

"For several reasons, mostly political, it never got connected to the main water or electricity supply," the IOM said in a statement on Wednesday.

The fires started just minutes after the camp was closed, the statement said, adding that the closure had left about 1,400 migrants, including women and children, "stranded" - bringing the number of those in need of humanitarian aid in the area to almost 3,000.

The IOM's Western Balkans co-ordinator, Peter van der Auweraert, said the blaze had destroyed or damaged "pretty much all infrastructure", adding that it had been a "terrible day" that had piled "disaster upon disaster".

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"What concerns us is that many have said they will go to Sarajevo or [the border town of] Velika Kladuza," said Mr van der Auweraert. "We already know that there is zero additional capacity at any of the shelters."

The Lipa camp was formed in response to border closures when the coronavirus pandemic broke out earlier this year, leaving people stranded in the region. Conditions there deteriorated after negotiations to install amenities were met with local opposition.

Thousands of people have entered the country from places like Afghanistan and Syria, hoping to make their way across the border to Croatia, which is a member of the European Union. However, many have been forced to remain there.

More on the migrant crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina:

Media caption,
Inside Bosnia’s ‘nightmare’ camp for migrants trying to enter the EU