Hundreds of refugees, including women and children, are facing freezing conditions in Bosnia-Herzegovina without shelter after a fire destroyed their already miserable camp.
More than a thousand refugees trying to reach Western Europe were stranded helplessly in burned-out tents at the Lipa camp in northwestern Bosnia on Saturday as heavy snow fell and winter temperatures suddenly plummeted.
Earlier this week, a fire destroyed four large tents in the camp, leaving refugees without facilities or heat. Bosnian authorities have yet to find new housing for the refugees.
People in the camp wrapped themselves in blankets and built small fires to protect themselves in the freezing winter, the Associated Press reported.
They laid cardboard on the ground and erected improvised barriers for privacy in the camp’s only standing tent, the news agency reported.
The deteriorating condition has prompted aid agencies to call on authorities to “act with extreme urgency” or they will “put lives at risk.”
“Snow has fallen, sub-zero temperatures, no heating, nothing,” tweeted the International Organization for Migration’s head of mission in Bosnia, Peter Van Der Auweraert. “No one should live like this. We need political courage and action now,” he added.
A number of aid organizations issued a joint statement Saturday calling on authorities to find an alternative solution without delay. “The structures still in place at the site are unsafe and may collapse if snow continues to fall,” the statement said.
On Saturday, refugees gathered at the camp to receive food and water from the Bosnian Red Cross with police present. Bosnian authorities are refusing access to people stuck in shelters, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
The statement also called on authorities to provide minimum protection for those stranded outside reception centers in deteriorating winter conditions.
“This includes those stuck at Lipa camp, but also the estimated 2,000 others forced to survive in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps,” it added.
Refugees often use routes across 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 funds to help with the refugee flow. However, Bosnia has recently evacuated reception centers and expelled people from urban areas, while other areas in the ethnically divided nation have refused to accept them.
Refugees also complain of violence by Croatian police. Human rights groups have documented violations by authorities over the years, including severe beatings and sexual assaults on refugees and asylum seekers.
by Xavier Cuesta – European Correspondent – GN