The location authorities in the most affected part of Bosnia have chosen to relocate migrants to is unsuitable, as it “poses very significant health and safety risks,” the UN Country Team in Bosnia said in a press release on Friday.
Authorities in the northwestern Una Sana Canton (USK) have decided to begin relocating migrants who are stuck in that part of the country on their way to Western Europe, to a facility called ‘Vucjak’, which is at the border with Croatia.
As surrounding countries closed their borders, Bosnia became a major transit point for thousands of migrants attempting to cross into EU member, Croatia.
Local authorities have set up four migrant centres in the area, but those were not enough to accommodate the huge number of migrants and refugees that have arrived there, so authorities recently decided that the Vucjak facility could be used as well.
“The UN expresses serious concern with regard to this decision, as we firmly believe that this location is entirely inadequate for the purpose of accommodating people there,” the press release said.
“We call upon the authorities to immediately cease this relocation until a more suitable place is available,” it added, urging authorities to allow migrants and refugees already relocated to Vucjak to return.”
The international organisation warned that Vucjak is “very close to landmine infected areas” and that, since the site used to be a landfill, there is “a high fire and explosion hazard due to the possible presence of methane gas underground.”
Unless authorities find a way to eliminate those risks, “the site is unsuitable for human habitation,” it said.
It also added that there are no sanitary facilities available and that there is no access to running water or electricity on the site.
The UN said it is aware of the steadily increasing number of migrants and refugees who are staying in the USK and that this number exceeds the capacity of the four migrant centres which were set up there.
It also said it understands the concerns of the local population and authorities over the migrants and refugees residing outside of those centres, “especially those squatting in public spaces and empty houses, and the need for additional accommodation space.”
It, however, emphasised that “such measures need to be taken with full respect of migrant and refugee rights under international and national law, including humanitarian standards for accommodation sites.”
“The UN and its partners are actively engaged on the ground to support authorities in addressing the complex set of protection, security and humanitarian challenges this situation poses,” the organisation said.
The UN team is well aware that the USK “has borne most of the burden of this iteration of the ‘Balkan Route’,” and thus called upon authorities at all government levels to “take immediate action to aid Una Sana Canton in dealing with the current migrant and refugee situation, including through the establishment of additional migrant and refugee accommodation elsewhere in the country.”
“Under those standards, the UN will continue to support the country, seek donor support and work together with local authorities to best address the refugee and migrant situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the statement concluded.