Migrants wait in line to receive supplies from the Red Cross at the Vucjak refugee camp outside Bihac, northwestern Bosnia, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. The European Union's top migration official is warning Bosnian authorities of a likely humanitarian crisis this winter due to appalling conditions in overcrowded migrant camps in the country. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Migrants huddle in the cold in makeshift camp in Bosnia

November 14, 2019 - 12:06 pm

BIHAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Heavy, gray clouds hung low above a makeshift migrant camp on Bosnia’s border with Croatia, heralding more rain and misery for hundreds of people stuck in the remote tent field as they try to get to Western Europe.

Rain this autumn has turned the Vucjak camp into a pool of mud. Garbage is everywhere, and migrants tread carefully between the crammed, cold tents or cuddle in their sleeping bags, close to each other.

“Here, it is not possible to live. You can see that,” said Yemshir, from Pakistan. “We need a good place, for life, sleeping, for eating, for drinking.”

Local authorities set up the camp earlier this year at a covered-up landfill not far from a minefield left over from the Balkan country’s 1990s ethnic war. Known as “the jungle” among migrants, the tent settlement has been deemed unfit by leading international organizations, but local authorities have said they cannot close it down before a new location is found.

On Thursday, the European Union’s top migration official joined the calls for the closure of the camp, which is close to Bosnia’s northwestern town of Bihac.

Migrants who spoke to The Associated Press about the conditions would give only their first or last names out of fear of deportation or retaliation.

“It’s like animal life here,” Amir, also from Pakistan, said.

An estimated 50,000 migrants have crossed Bosnia since last year, bound for the EU. Impoverished Bosnia has been struggling to cope with the pressure.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned Thursday that adequate accommodations must be provided for about 8,000 migrants in the country “to prevent a major humanitarian crisis in the coming winter.”

The EU has given Bosnia over 36 million euros ($40 million) in aid, but conditions at Vucjak are so bad that “no EU financial support can, or will be, provided for it,” Avramopoulos said.

Further fueling tensions, authorities in northwestern Bosnia were threatening to institute a curfew in two other large local migrant camps to press the central government to relocate people to other areas.

Those camps, hosting some 2,000 people, near the towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa are run by the International Organization for Migration. Local authorities said that starting Friday they will not let any more people into the camps, while only those heading toward the Croatian border will be allowed to leave.

At the Vucjak camp, migrants said they won’t give up, despite the misery. Huddling around a campfire, some lifted their feet above the flame to absorb the heat. Anwar, also from Pakistan, kept his hands close to the warmth.

“It’s very cold,” he said as he smiled.

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