Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina raises alarm over plight of migrants in the country

As many as 3,000 migrants are struggling to survive in appalling and freezing conditions in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina and are in desperate need of adequate shelter, warm clothes, nutritious food and medical assistance.

Even though the temperature often plunges below zero, a number of migrants from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Syria have been sleeping in old buildings, abandoned vehicles, in woods or on the street.

“This isn’t just a question of providing food, clothes, hygiene and shelter, it’s a matter of dignity and human rights. Dogs and cattle are being treated better than these migrants at the moment,” says Dijana Muzička, project manager at Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Photo by Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina

Physical and mental difficulties are widespread due to the poor conditions and the enormous difficulties the migrants face, such as human rights abuses and violence as they try to journey further north into Europe. Muzička says that pushbacks at the border leave the migrants feeling very frightened and vulnerable.

Physical ailments include hypothermia because of the cold, and scabies and skin infections because of the lack of sanitation, as well as many chest infections. Mental conditions range from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to anxiety and insomnia.

“More durable and dignified conditions are only possible if the migrants are given appropriate accommodation,” says Muzička. “It’s estimated that Bosnia and Herzegovina hosts around 8000 migrants at the moment. Providing adequate accommodation is not easy.”

There are various camps in the area, but some lack running water, electricity and heating. The local authorities prefer camps to be away from the centre of the city of Bihać. Furthermore, a devastating fire ripped through one of them, the Lipa camp, by leaving 1500 migrants stranded without a place to live. Quite a few of them stayed in the burnt out camp with no amenities. Many of the migrants have now been placed temporarily in heated military tents.

The camp will be restored, but it will take some time before it can be functional. “I’m pleased that preparations are being made to provide better conditions for Lipa camp. What I’m not happy about is the fact that this will take a time to do – anything from 3 to 5 months,” she says.

Photo by Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Caritas has helped over 60,000 migrants in Bosnia since 2018,” says Muzička. “We intend to double our efforts and we will support the migrants from Lipa. Caritas is already planning to support efforts with food and non-food and hygiene items for the people from Lipa camp.”

Caritas has also been providing a laundry service for the migrants to ensure they have clean, dry clothes and bedding.

The coronavirus is also a big concern regarding the migrants due to people living close together and in places with poor hygiene.

Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina warns that the situation is also very stressful for the local population, one-fifth of whom live in poverty. Caritas provides families with food, fire wood and vouchers for a heating allowance to help them cope with the harsh winter.

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