EU warns Bosnia of 'alarming' migrant state, urges action

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Monday warned Bosnia that thousands of migrants face a winter without shelter, and it urged the country’s bickering political authorities to set aside their differences and take action.

“The migration situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is alarming,” the EU commissioners responsible for foreign policy, migration and enlargement said in a joint statement.

Bosnia has been widely criticized in recent years for mishandling the arrival of thousands of people, many fleeing war and poverty. The politically unstable and impoverished Balkan country is still recovering from its own war in the 1990s.

Thousands of people have been sleeping rough in makeshift tent camps or abandoned houses with no facilities. The EU is concerned that the closure of one camp in the northwest town of Bihac will make things worse, even though living conditions there are deplorable.

“Over 3,300 refugees and migrants will find themselves without access to basic shelter and services in the country with the imminent closure of the facility in Lipa,” the commissioners said.

The Lipa camp was only set up as a temporary measure to cope with the impact of the coronavirus over the summer.

“We urge the authorities, once again, to rise above political considerations and reopen the center in Bira and open the facility in Ciljuge near Tuzla,” the commissioners said. The urged the authorities “to cooperate and act with the utmost urgency to address the needs of all refugees and migrants without shelter and save lives.”

They said the EU has made funding available to Bosnia to address the needs.

Divided into two feuding entities, Bosnia lacks a unified policy on migrants. The Serb-run part of the country has refused to accept any, and the overburdened northwestern region has complained it has been abandoned despite help from international organizations.

Migrants come to Bosnia with the aim of reaching neighboring EU nation Croatia before moving on toward Western Europe. To cross to Croatia from Bosnia, migrants often use hidden mountain routes in the northwest, with entire families walking for miles and sleeping rough along the way.

The season’s first snow earlier this month triggered alarm about the upcoming winter as migrants in make-shift camps appealed for help in freezing temperatures. Many have also alleged pushbacks and violence at the hands of Croatia’s police.