Refugee camp Lipa cleared: “Where are we being taken?”

Hundreds of refugees from the burned-out Lipa reception center had to endure the winter cold in Bosnia. Andrea Beer was there when they could finally leave the camp.

By Andrea Beer, ARD studio Vienna, currently. Bihac

Several buses are parked at a small intersection in the middle of the countryside near Camp Lipa, around 25 kilometers from Bihac. Hundreds of refugees and migrants are waiting here, they carry their belongings with them in large, colorful plastic bags. When they are supposed to put them in the trunk and get in, there is a certain unease. The groups try to stay together because the destination of the trip is unclear, as one of them says: “I don’t even know where we’re going. They’ll take us to another place. But nobody told us where.”

No water, no electricity, no doctor

No, says this young man from the Islamabad area in Pakistan. It is significantly warmer in the north-west of Bosnia and Herzegovina than in the last few days. But despite the sunshine, he wraps himself in a gray-green plaid wool blanket. Like many of the people waiting here, he looks tired and drained. He was housed at Camp Lipa for six months, he says. But the last few days would have been particularly exhausting. Due to a dispute with the local authorities and the central government in Sarajevo, the International Organization for Migration IOM briefly withdrew from Camp Lipa. Nobody jumped in, and 1200 people were left with it. No water, no electricity, no doctor.

Food was also only allowed to be distributed once a day. On Tuesday morning, the Austrian non-governmental organization SOS Balkanroute provided 1200 servings. Petar Rosantica from Vienna helped organize. He has heard that the people should be taken away, and of course he thinks that is a good thing: “Fortunately. I hope it’s a better place,” he says.

Three young men have just got their portion, they too seem exhausted. Mohammed speaks English best, they say, he should speak for them. “They have given us a lot less in the last few days than they do today,” he says, showing a plastic bag with white bread.

The destination is only known in the afternoon

Several refugee organizations are present, and IOM staff can also be seen this morning. The Bosnian police are checking and suddenly there is movement. The camp is to be evacuated, it is surprising for everyone. And let them go, along a dirt road. Somehow some of them seem happy that they are going somewhere and that they don’t have to spend another night in this devastating place in the abandoned, burned-down camp. “Where are we being taken?” Many ask. A bus takes us to Italy, says one, no to Germany. They laugh.

Even while they are boarding, they do not know where they are being taken. And the destination is only known in the afternoon. The refugees and migrants from Camp Lipa near Bihac come to Bradina, around 30 kilometers south of Sarajevo. There they are housed in a building belonging to the Bosnian army. It should be a temporary solution until Camp Lipa is rebuilt, according to the Ministry of Security.

Thousands are still homeless

So the people from Camp Lipa are now near Sarajevo. But the topic remains in the region. More than 2000 refugees and migrants are still homeless in the area. They live in the forest or in vacant buildings. The existing refugee camps in overcrowded.

According to Petar Rosandic, it is not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina that refugee policy must fundamentally change: “The fundamental thing now is to create humane conditions, humane camps. As refugee workers, we know that camps are not a solution in the long term.” No good dynamics developed in camps. That is why there is a need for an EU asylum center in Bosnia and Herzegovina, “where people get answers as to whether or not they have an asylum application approved. But they finally need answers.”

B5 reported on this topic on December 29, 2020 at 8:34 p.m.

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