Fire engulfed the migrating camp in Lipa, Bosnia and Herzegovina on 23 December. Since then, almost a thousand migrants have lived in the middle of the rubbish without electricity, running water or heat, and when an icy winter closes. Local authorities blocked an attempted evacuation. on December 30th. After almost 30 hours filled with buses, the migrants finally returned to the camp but are still waiting for a solution.
A number of videos showing the fire that raged through the Lipa migration camp, which is located near the Croatian border in the town of Bihać, were published on social media on 23 December.
This video, which was published on TikTok on December 23, shows tents in Lipa going up in flames.
The fire started while an evacuation of the Lipa camp was taking place. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which runs the camp, closed it after making several fruitless appeals to local authorities about the poor camp conditions. The Lipa camp opened in April 2019 as a temporary response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Without running water or electricity, it was never intended to house migrants during the winter, the IOM and other organizations said in a joint statement published on December 30.
‘I have no more money, I have nothing, just a blanket to sleep on’
Faizan, 22, is originally from Kunduz, Afghanistan. He has been in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the past year and a half. He would like to join the European Union and live in France.
On the morning of December 23, the people at IOM came to tell us to gather our belongings and get ready to leave because the camp was about to close permanently. We gathered outside as they handed out bags of food. I was standing in line when I realized that the camp was on fire.
Our observer Faizan used his mobile phone to film Lipa Camp in flames. He sent us these pictures.
Since the fire, the camp’s residents have left to fend for themselves. Some tried to get to the nearby town of Bihać, but the police stopped them.
Almost a thousand people now live crammed into the only remaining tent or in the nearby forest, although the temperature at night often drops below freezing.
It’s really hard to live here. We have nowhere to sleep. We do not have electricity. Right now I’m sleeping in what was once the camp’s bathroom.
More than 1,000 people live here. We get food once a day. Sometimes they hand out blankets but we are just too many, so there is never enough. I have no more money, I have nothing, just a blanket to sleep on. I do not know what to do. We have no choice.
On December 30, a number of buses were chartered to evacuate the Lipa camp. Bosnian security minister Selmo Cikotić said the camp’s residents would be transported to an old military base in Bradina, about 500 km from Sarajevo. Finally, after a disagreement with local authorities, the buses left empty.
Faizan remembers the event:
One week later they told us to get on the buses because we were going to be moved to another place. We stayed in the bus next to the camp for more than 30 hours. The police were stationed both in front of and behind us. We could not get out except to use the toilet. We had to stay in the bus. Then the police came and asked us to go out. We asked why but they just repeated that we should get off the bus. So we went back to camp.
Faizan sent this video to our team showing that the buses are intended to evacuate the camp residents.
Peter Van der Auweraert, the IOM representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, took to Twitter to post photos taken on the buses where camp residents were forced to spend the night waiting to be evacuated.
The residents of the camp have been protesting for several days and are asking to be transferred to a camp with better conditions. Some went on hunger strike on January 1 and refused the food distributed by various groups on the ground.
Faizan participated in a protest on January 2:
I hope to get a better place to sleep. I also hope that they will open the border. I had already tried to cross three times before the fire but the Croatian police arrested us each time. They beat up refugees.
This video, shared by Faizan, shows residents of the Lipa camp protesting for better living conditions.
>> READ ABOUT THE OBSERVER: Croatian police accused of spray-painting the heads of immigrants in the latest episode of border violence
‘It was not a camp before the fire and it still is not’
The Council of Ministers, the executive branch of the Bosnian government, approved plans to build a new shelter for migrants in Lipa, with enough portable units to accommodate up to 1,500 people. However, the construction will take several more months.
On 2 January, Ambassadors from the European Union, Austria, Germany and Italy met with the Bosnian Minister of Security in an attempt to persuade the Bosnian authorities to act swiftly to deal with this situation. The next day, the European Commission announced that it would release 3.5 million euros to help refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina and asked the Bosnian authorities not to “leave people out in the cold.”
Military tents were installed in Lipa on January 2, pending the construction of the new camp. But some migrants refused to use them. Camp conditions are still difficult, says Mite Cikovski, IOM manager at the nearby Miral Camp:
The army only set up 30 tents, but there is still no heating, no running water and no plumbing. There is no camp doctor. Fifteen residents must be transferred to Miral Camp for medical care.
The Red Cross takes in food and IOM delivers blankets and clothes, but that is not enough.
Petar Rodansic, member of the SOS Balkan route, condemns what he says is a violation of human rights:
What is happening in Lipa is a disaster. It was not a camp before the fire and it still is not. It is a series of human rights violations. Not to mention the Croatian border police who illegally deter migrants and deprive them of their right to apply for asylum.
Alba Dominguez has been a volunteer in the migration aid organization No Name Kitchen for the past two months. She is angry about the restrictions that the government has imposed on organizations:
It is really difficult to help because we do not have the right to enter the camp. In this canton, only the major humanitarian organizations have the right to help migrants. We collaborated with the Red Cross to distribute food, but that is not enough.