As at Christmas, hundreds of refugees in Bosnia’s burned-down scandal camp Lipa also spent the turn of the year in freezing temperatures under the open sky. Their transfer to a heated emergency reception center is no longer in sight.
Overtired and with blankets over their shoulders, the remaining 900 residents of the camp, which is 25 kilometers southeast of the city of Bihac, lined up in front of the Red Cross food distribution on New Year’s morning. The governments in Austria and Italy have pledged 1.5 million euros in emergency aid.
But although members of the army began setting up new tents in the destroyed camp on Friday, the move to a heated emergency reception center is just as unpredictable as the general end of Bosnia’s refugee grief.
The Lipa drama is an avoidable catastrophe with an announcement: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) had pointed out in vain for months that the provisional warehouse, which opened in April, was by no means winter-proof without heating, electricity or water. The authorities at the national, regional and municipal level then diligently shifted responsibility to one another, but the camp was not expanded.
They were already in buses – and had to leave them again
On the day of its planned closure, the camp, which was presumably set on fire by angry inmates, went up in flames shortly before Christmas. Since then, around 900 people have bivouacked in makeshift shacks under the open sky in freezing temperatures – and in Bosnia’s dysfunctional state maze they have become the plaything of inhumane and unsuccessful maneuvers.
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Attempts to temporarily accommodate them in the Bira camp in the urban area of Bihac, which was vacated a few months ago, or in barracks in other parts of the country, failed due to resistance from local dignitaries: 500 refugees waited 24 hours at the end of the year in buses that were ready for departure before they had to leave them again .
The municipalities in the state of the federation are blocking the opening of new emergency reception centers with reference to resistance in the population. The state of the Republika Srpska, which makes up 49 percent of Bosnian territory, has generally refused to set up refugee camps for years. On the grounds that it was, after all, the Bosniak Muslims who had “brought” the migrants into the country. The toothless central government in Sarajevo is unable to assert itself against the regional party princes. The EU is warning – and has been looking on inactive for years.
The EU fears suction effects from new reception camps
Since 2017, Bosnia’s northwestern tip has become the focal point and bottleneck of the Balkan route due to its proximity to the Schengen border. It is true that the EU politicians are now outdoing each other with noble appeals to find shelter for the people stranded in Lipa. But just like the tolerance of the illegal and brutal push-backs of transit migrants by Croatia’s border police, the very cautious EU commitment to their inhumane accommodation in the canton near the border seems to have been an unspoken part of Brussels’ strategy of discouragement for years. The EU is generally skeptical about the establishment of reception camps near its external borders because of the feared pull effect.
But humanitarian appeals cannot solve the dilemma of the migration policy of the divided EU member states, which fluctuates between deterrence and compassion. Whether in Moria in Greece or in Lipa: Humanitarian catastrophes on the by no means so distant external borders of the EU seem inevitable in the future in view of the contradicting policies of the target countries, which are primarily oriented towards relieving their own asylum statistics.