SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Thousands of migrants and refugees, stranded in Bosnia on their way to Western Europe, are sleeping rough in parks and abandoned buildings and some have died, the Red Cross said on Thursday.
Bosnia, spared the migrant wave in 2015, has seen an influx of migrants trying to reach wealthier European nations via neighbouring Croatia, an EU member. Some report being beaten back by border guards when they try to cross into Croatia.
About 25,000 people from Asia and North Africa entered Bosnia from Serbia and Montenegro last year, and about 6,000 have arrived in the impoverished Balkan country this year, according to Bosnia’s security agencies.
Only around 3,500 have been accommodated in transit centres, leaving thousands sleeping rough.
“People are sleeping in parks, in car parks, on the footpath, and in dangerous buildings,” Indira Kulenovic, operations manager for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said in a statement.
“The situation is dire.”
She said three migrants sheltering in a derelict building a few weeks ago burned to death when a candle they were using caused a fire. Another migrant fell from the top floor of a building he was sheltering in, and another set himself on fire and killed himself last week in desperation.
Red Cross volunteers help to prepare meals for 3,000 people a day in five migrant centres across Bosnia, while mobile teams provide people on the move with food, water, clothes, blankets, psycho-social support and first aid.
The migrants also face the hazard of landmines left from Bosnia’s war in the 1990s. Bosnia is one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in Europe.
Most of the migrants are concentrated in the western towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa where authorities say resources are overstretched. They have requested that the three transit centres there be closed and residents moved elsewhere.
Ethnically-divided Bosnia has not formed a government seven months after a general election. State institutions in charge of migration and asylum issues are operating in a care-taking capacity.
“Our teams are doing what they can but they are stretched to the limit and the situation has reached a critical point. This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Rajko Lazic, the secretary- general of Bosnia’s Red Cross Society.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Ros Russell)