Many refugees and refugees staying at a camp in northwestern Bosnia have complained of respiratory and skin infections after spending days in makeshift tents and containers amid freezing weather and snowstorms, aid workers warned.
Most of the hundreds of refugees stuck at the Lipa facility near Bosnia’s border with Croatia have been accommodated in heated military tents following days of uncertainty after a fire gutted most of the camp on 23 December.
Bosnia has faced sharp criticism for leaving around 1,000 people without shelter after the blaze.
The authorities first said they would move the refugees to another location, but they ended up setting up military tents at the site instead.
The Amnesty International rights group said in a statement:
Accommodation is available to house most of the people currently sleeping rough in bitterly cold temperatures in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What is lacking is the political will to make that happen.
The group added that the current crisis is also:
a consequence of the EU’s policy of fortifying its borders that has left thousands of people stranded on its periphery or in the neighbouring countries.
The Lipa site has also lacked basic facilities such as electricity or running water and refugees lit fires for days to protect themselves from the biting cold. Many refugees at the camp said they have not showered in a long time, while some have washed outside despite the cold.
Risk of coronavirus
On 11 January, doctors were screening refugees’ health at the Lipa camp and handing out medicines. It was not immediately clear whether any of the refugees might have coronavirus (Covid-19), said Verica Racevic, from the Danish Refugee Council humanitarian group. She also said:
Some are under the system of febrile status, which means they have a temperature.
It’s not really easy to differentiate in those circumstances whether this is Covid-19 or this is any other kind of respiratory infection.
Impoverished and ethnically divided Bosnia has faced the influx of thousands of people who are trying to reach western Europe through the Balkans.
Aid groups estimate that hundreds of people have been sleeping rough in abandoned houses or improvised forest camps. Refugees at Lipa appeared to be pleased to finally have some shelter, warm food, and medical help.
Holding an umbrella in the snow, Suleiman Shahid from Pakistan said the new tents are warm and “suitable for living”.
From Bosnia, refugees first aim to reach neighbouring European Union member state Croatia over illegal mountainous routes before moving on towards wealthier nations in the 27-nation bloc.
They have complained of pushbacks and violence at the hands of Croatia’s police.
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