Migrants wait in lines for food handouts during a snowfall at the Lipa camp. Kemal Softic/AP Photo

Migrants left facing extreme weather after camp burns down

Hundreds of migrants started moving into heated tents on Friday after being left stranded in freezing temperatures when the migrant camp in Lipa was closed then mostly destroyed by a fire last month. 


The Lipa camp was originally built as temporary shelter for migrants in Bosnia—many of whom are seeking passage to the European Union.


“This camp was built earlier this year in response to over-crowding and unsuitable conditions elsewhere,” said Peter Van der Auweraert, International Organization for Migration’s Chief of Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “For several reasons, mostly political, it never got connected to the main water or electricity supply, and was never winterized. And now, with this fire, it never will be.”


On December 23, the destruction of the camp left 1400 people without shelter in the harsh winter climate. 


“Snow has fallen, sub-zero temperatures, no heating, nothing,” Van der Auweraert wrote in a tweet. “This is not how anyone should live. We need political bravery and action now.”


“What concerns us is that many have said they will go to Sarajevo or Velika Kladuza [further north], but we already know that there is zero additional capacity at any of the shelters for single males,” Van der Auweraert said. “This is likely to drive people to move closer to the border.”  


On Dec. 30, hundreds of migrants loaded busses heading towards former army barracks in Bradina. However, due to protests by residents, 24 hours later, migrants were returned to the campsite.


Approximately 500 people remained at the old site in makeshift shelters.


“The situation is completely unacceptable,” said EU Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Johann Sattler. “Lives and basic human rights of many hundreds of people are seriously jeopardized. Bosnia and Herzegovina is party to international human rights instruments and needs to live up to its obligations, as an aspiring EU member.”  


“The structures still existing at the location are unsafe and at risk of collapsing, as snowfalls continue,” the Danish Refugee Council stated. “With no heating at the site, frostbite, hypothermia and other severe health problems are already being reported by those stranded at the location.” 

Migrants were forced to create shelter with whatever was available: some put cardboard on the ground and set up small privacy barriers, while others put their feet above an open fire to warm up.


“We are living like animals. Even animals are living better than us!” said a man from Pakistan, Kasim, as reported by Al Jazeera. “If they [do] not help us, we will die, so please help us.”

Only 20 new heated tents were built by Bosnian armed forces, but not enough to give shelter to all remaining migrants in the foul weather. The goal was to house 850 migrants in the new tents by Jan. 9.

“Many days go and I didn’t take a shower, and we don’t have electricity,” Mohammad Afsal said, as reported by France 24. “Please stand with us and help us. We are in a very, very bad condition!”