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Urgent action needed on Bosnia migrant camps, says human rights chief

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Improvised tents at a makeshift camp in a forest outside Velika Kladusa, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Improvised tents at a makeshift camp in a forest outside Velika Kladusa, Bosnia and Herzegovina.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Joan Giralt

A senior European human rights envoy has called for urgent action to improve the conditions for thousands of migrants and refugees in Bosnia ahead of the Balkan winter.

In a letter to Bosnian officials, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, warned that a humanitarian crisis was imminent in the northwest of the country.

"The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina must ensure as a matter of urgency that basic needs such as adequate accommodation and access to health care, food, water, and clothing are met,'' Mijatovic wrote to Bosnia's head of government, Zoran Tegeltija, and security minister, Selmo Cikotic.

The envoy cited reports of "seriously substandard" living conditions in the Lipa camp in Bihac, including lack of electricity and running water and reports of overcrowding.

The calls also came after the European Union's mission to Bosnia warned that current weather conditions are putting the lives of more than 3,000 refugees at risk.

"The humanitarian crisis is becoming a reality because of the lack of action," a statement said. "Solutions exist and the EU is ready to support Bosnia and Herzegovina in the necessary actions."

Bosnia has faced criticism for years for its handling of the influx of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty and has failed to find a coherent response to the crisis.

The Serb-run part of the country has refused to accept any migrants, and the overburdened northwestern region has complained it has been left on its own despite help from international organisations. Some migrants have also reported alleged pushbacks and violence at the hands of Croatia's police.

The EU in its statement urged Bosnia's authorities to relocate migrants to EU-funded facilities for the winter and open new ones.