Huge fire breaks out at Lipa migrant camp near Bosnia's border with Croatia

Smoke rises from a fire at migrant camp Lipa, Wednesday, Dec 23, 2020, near Bihac in western Bosnia.
Smoke rises from a fire at migrant camp Lipa, Wednesday, Dec 23, 2020, near Bihac in western Bosnia. Copyright AP Photo/Hasan Arnautovic
Copyright AP Photo/Hasan Arnautovic
By Euronews with AP
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Around 1,200 people live in the Lipa camp, in Bihac.


A large fire broke out on Wednesday in a migrant camp in Bosnia where more than 1,200 people lived in what the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner described as "seriously substandard" conditions.

Photographs showed thick black smoke rising from the Lipa camp in Bihac, near the Croatian border.

The camp was set up as a temporary measure over the summer to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and was scheduled to close on Wednesday with people receiving essential items on their way out.

According to Peter Van der Auweraert, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)'s coordinator for the Western Balkans and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the fire was started when "a small group of former residents" set a tent alight.

"We were all very lucky and obviously very relieved that there are no casualties or injuries," he told Euronews. "But most of the infrastructure now is either destroyed or seriously damaged."

"I cannot speculate on their motive but it may well be the case that, of course, many people are angry that there are no alternatives for them despite best efforts over the last couple of weeks and days to try to identify alternative accommodation," he added.

The European Union, the Council of Europe (CoE) and NGOs have warned that the camp closure would make things worse for those relying on the facility.

Living conditions in the camp had been described early this month by Dunja Mijatovic, the CoE's human rights commissioner as "seriously substandard", due in part to a lack of electricity and running water. 

Mijatovic had urged local authorities to provide migrants with "adequate accommodation" as well as ensuring they receive food, water and access to health care "as a matter of urgency".

The Lipa camp housed 1,400 single males but a further 1,500 people, including women and children, are currently living in nearby squats and forest camps. The camp's closure is likely to see that number go up even with winter setting in.

The IOM's partner on the ground, the Danish Refugee Council, announced it would increase its deliveries of essential items to people sleeping outside to meet the expected hike in demand.

"Obviously that is not a clear solution. The only solution is that there needs to be enough accommodation in Bosnia and Herzegovina where these people can be housed in a proper way for the winter conditions," Van der Auweraert said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has only two remaining centres for single males.

"There is one in Sarajevo, it has a capacity of 2,400, we already have 3,000 there, it's overfull. We have another centre here in Una-Sana Canton, with a capacity of 700, we have 1,000 people there," the IOM's official said.

"Now more people are going to sleep outside. It's a bad thing for the migrants but it is also an issue for the well-being, the security and public health of the local population," he went on.

Other migrants are likely to try to make the crossing into the EU via Croatia, according to Van der Auweraert.

Bosnia has become a bottleneck for thousands of migrants hoping to reach the EU.

Migrants are coming to Bosnia with the aim of reaching neighbouring EU nation Croatia before moving on toward Western Europe.

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