Balkan winter poses threat to migrants in Bosnian forest camp


As the bitter Balkan winter approaches, hundreds of migrants from the Middle East and Asia living in a freezing camp in the forests of Bosnia are short of food and bedding and at growing risk, aid workers say.

Bosnia has faced an upsurge in migrant numbers since Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia closed their borders against undocumented immigration.

In June, authorities in the northwest Bosnian town of Bihac moved migrants who were sleeping rough there to an tent settlement at Vucjak, a former landfill site 8 km (5 miles) from the Croatian border.

Aid agencies have urged the authorities to close Vucjak and find better accommodation for the migrants as the weather gets colder.

“Otherwise it’s very clear what’s going to happen. If people stay there for the winter, people will die … in a couple of days or in a few weeks’ time because the temperatures are going down very rapidly,” said Peter Van der Auweraert, the Western Balkans Coordinator for the International Organisation for Migration.

The site lacks running water and electricity. The nearby woods are littered with landmines left over from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

More than 40,000 migrants have entered Bosnia since 2018. Nearly one fifth are children. Many manage somehow to make it into Western Europe.

Bosnian authorities have not been able to decide on where to house the migrants that are stuck in their country. The government says it has offered alternative accommodation but regional authorities have not agreed.

On the top of the crisis at the Vucjak camp, officials in Bihac have threatened to close down the Bira migrant centre, which is located at an old factory in the town, in about two weeks.

Van der Auweraert said closing the Bira centre would be a “disastrous decision” that would add 1,300 people to the 2,000-2,500 who are currently not in safe accommodation in this corner of Bosnia.

“I do hope that reason will prevail in the end and that authorities will allow Bira to continue at least for the winter because we have no alternatives at the moment,” he said, blaming political leaders for poor handling of the crisis.

“We have about 7,000 migrants in the country, that should not to be a problem to deal with for a country of 3.5 million people,” Van der Auweraert told Reuters TV. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)