Nearly 1,000 migrants are facing a night with no shelter on Wednesday after their relocation from a fire-ravaged camp in Bosnia was cancelled amid protests by residents.
The Lipa migrant camp, in northwest Bosnia near the border with Croatia, burned down on December 23 as it was being evacuated. The facility was set up as a temporary measure over the summer to cope with COVID-19 and had no running water or electricity — conditions previously described as "seriously substandard" by the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner.
Some 900 of the 1,400 former residents of the camp were to be relocated to a former army barracks in the central part of the country on Tuesday but instead spent 24 hours in buses before they were instructed to disembark and return to the devastated camp.
Peter Van der Auweraert, the International Organisation for Migration's (IOM) said the situation "is desperate" with "close to no shelter for the night" for the 900 migrants.
Prior to the camp closure, a further 1,500 further migrants — including children — also lived in nearby squats and forests.
Bosnia has been under pressure from the European Union and NGOs to provide the camp's former residents with shelter, warning of a humanitarian disaster, as winter sets in.
Earlier this week, the IOM and other organisations on the ground including the Danish Refugee Council and Save the Children had warned that the lives of hundreds of migrants "are at immediate risk" because of heavy snowfalls and below-freezing temperatures.
"With no hearing at the site, frostbite, hypothermia and other severe health problems are already being reported by those stranded on location," they said in a joint statement.
"An alternative solution has to be found immediately," they added. "Failing to act with the utmost urgency will put lives at risk."
The troubled Balkan country, which went through a devastating war in the 1990s, was struggling before the pandemic to respond to an influx of thousands of people seeking to reach Western Europe by crossing from Bosnia to Croatia before moving on toward wealthy EU nations.