GENEVA - Humanitarian agencies are urging Bosnian authorities to resolve their differences and provide immediate protection for hundreds of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers who are living without shelter in wintertime temperatures.
About 900 people have been stranded for more than a week near the former Lipa Emergency Tent Camp in northern Bosnia. They have been living in dire conditions, trying to withstand freezing temperatures, since a huge fire destroyed the camp where they resided.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told VOA that plans to transport the former camp residents to an appropriate temporary facility fell through. That, she said, is because residents of the area where they were going protested the move.
“The deadlock continues," Shamdasani said. "These people remain outdoors without adequate shelter in freezing conditions. So we are calling on the authorities to ensure that these people are protected, that they receive adequate shelter and living conditions in line with the human rights obligations of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Humanitarian organizations fear the ongoing impasse and the hostile rhetoric could heighten local xenophobia.
Shamdasani described the former tent camp dwellers as a mixed group of people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. She said some were recognized refugees, others were irregular migrants and some were seeking asylum.
"But the bottom line is that these are human beings who, whether they plan to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whether they were transiting through Bosnia and Herzegovina trying to access other parts of Europe, they are currently on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Shamdasani said. "So the government has a responsibility to ensure that they receive adequate shelter and that their human rights are protected.”
Aid organizations say prompt action is needed to end the impasse between authorities and local populations, and to ease the suffering of hundreds of people who already have suffered far too much.