December 10, 2019 / 2:19 PM / a month ago

Bosnia moves migrants from freezing forest camp

VUCJAK, Bosnia (Reuters) - Bosnian authorities, bowing to international pressure, begun moving migrants on Tuesday from a freezing makeshift camp in a forest to more appropriate shelter.

Migrants disembark from a bus in Usivak, near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Around 600 migrants have been battling to survive the harsh Bosnian winter in the Vucjak camp, a former landfill area near the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihac and just 8km (5 miles) from the Croatian border.

Aid agencies have long urged authorities to close the camp, which lacks running water and electricity. The forest is strewn with landmines left over from the wars of the 1990s.

Following a visit last week by a senior European human rights envoy who urged authorities to close the camp immediately, Bosnia decided to move the migrants from Vucjak to facilities near the capital Sarajevo.

Under heavy police protection, seven buses took migrants and refugees to their new location. Access to the camp was restricted for media and allowed only to Red Cross officials.

Nermina Cemalovic, the Bihac region’s health and labor minister, said no incidents occurred and that the Vucjak camp will be completely dismantled on Tuesday.

“We expect that all migrants from Vucjak will be moved today and the camp finally closed, but activities are still going on,” Bihac police spokesman Ale Siljdedic said.

However, some people who made long journeys from Asia and the Middle East to reach the European Union have said they do not want to be rehoused further away from the Croatian border.

A Reuters photographer saw a few dozen migrants leaving the camp on their own in the early hours of Tuesday.

Bosnia is struggling to deal with an upsurge in migrant numbers since Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia closed their borders against undocumented immigration. The migrants hope to get to wealthy western Europe and find work.

More than 50,000 migrants have entered Bosnia since 2018 and many make it to Western Europe. There are still about 8,000 in Bosnia, most in the Bihac area, and they are hoping to get into the EU.

Many sleep in the streets and abandoned houses in the cities of Sarajevo and Tuzla, helped by volunteers, because Bosnia’s temporary migrant camps are so cramped.

Additional reporting and writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Ed Osmond

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