Atleast 10,000 migrants from Asia, Middle East and North Africa have been displaced and left to sleep in the cold after their camp in northwestern Bosnia was razed amid a dispute among Bosnian politicians over where to house them.
It was learnt that dozens of men spent the night at a damaged metal container near the site of the fire, where only a ghostly steel construction remained, even as smoke was still rising from some burned patches of ground.
Other migrants, hoping to reach wealthier countries in the European Union (EU) and could not withstand the weather, erect nylon tents and slept fully dressed on the frozen ground.
Aside from them, most walked through the woods towards the town of Bihac, near the Croatian border, yesterday, avoiding areas marked with warnings about landmines remaining from the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
As gathered, the fire destroyed the camp in Lipa housing about 1,200 people. Police and UN officials have said the blaze was probably started by migrants unhappy at the temporary closure of the camp, scheduled for the same day, and uncertainty about where they would be relocated in Bosnia.
One of the migrant, Bylal from Pakistan narrated that he could not sleep and that he hoped the government would provide them with a new shelter.
The Lipa camp, which was opened last spring as a temporary shelter for the summer months 25 km away from Bihac, was set to be shut on Wednesday for winter refurbishing. But Bosnia’s authorities failed to find alternative accommodation for residents.
The central government wanted the migrants to temporarily return to the Bira camp in Bihac, which was shut down in October, but local authorities disagreed saying that other parts of Bosnia should also share the burden of the migrant crisis.
“Please open the Bira camp so everybody goes there, it’s very good there,” said Yasin, also from Pakistan. “Here it’s cold, we can’t stay here, we don’t have food, we are hungry.”
The European Union, which had supported Bosnia with 60 million euros to manage the migrant crisis and pledged 25 million euros more, has repeatedly asked the authorities to find an alternative to the unsuitable Lipa camp, warning of an unfolding humanitarian crisis.
“We urge … the authorities to rise above political considerations and temporarily reopen the centre Bira in Bihac,” the EU said in a statement on Wednesday.