Locals in the northwestern town of Bihac “must not take matters into their own hands” but should be replaced by police officers who would prevent the transfer of migrants from the Lipa camp, which was shut down on Wednesday, to the downtown Bira centre, Mayor Suhret Fazlic said.
The migrants staying at the Lipa camp had no access to electricity, running water, or sewage. The camp also provided no adequate protection against winter weather conditions.
That is why Bosnia's government, formally the Council of Ministers, approved on Monday an initiative to officially establish the temporary migrant camp ‘Lipa’, which would consist of adapted shipping containers able to house 1,500 migrants in the Bihac area.
However, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the works in the camp cannot be conducted while the migrants are still there.
The BiH Security Ministry then asked authorities in the northwestern Una-Sana Canton (USK) to reopen the Bira migrant reception centre in Bihac which was shut down in late September due to pressure from the local population.
As migrants were leaving Lipa on Wednesday, a fire broke out in the camp and destroyed most of the tents. According to the IOM, a group of migrants set it after most others already left.
Some 1,200 migrants from the camp are now left without shelter.
However, USK authorities said they will not allow the transfer of the migrants to Bira, while locals in Bihac are patrolling the entrance to the centre saying they will block any attempts to accommodate migrants there.
“Migrants must not enter Bira because that is the decision of the City Council, the USK Assembly and because the owner of Bira does not have a contract on accommodation of migrants,” Fazlic declared, adding that the citizens currently patrolling the entrance of the former factory “must be replaced with police.”
“The police must stand in front of Bira and ensure that the decision is implemented. Citizens must not take matters into their own hands, there may be problems and, in the end, it could damage the citizens. We demand that the police are efficient and prevent any entry into Bira and guarantee security to the citizens of Bihac,” he said.
Regardless of any decisions authorities at any level of government in Bosnia make, migrants will continue coming to USK because that is where they want to cross over into the EU, he pointed out.
“Throughout the past six months, no one has talked to me, no one has been looking for solutions,” he said, arguing that this was because state authorities are “either dissatisfied about the closure of Bira or because they were waiting for me to lose the elections.”
“But we urgently have to go to Sarajevo and meet with the Ministry of Security, EU representative in BiH and international organizations and seek solutions, not act as we understood was ordered and be held accountable for the consequences. We cannot be held accountable for the Ministry of Security and the Council of Ministers not doing their job properly,” Fazlic stressed.
The IOM has left camp Lipa after waiting for it to be equipped for the winter since March, which was not possible due to lack of funds, he said. Now when winter has arrived, the funds were secured, but they want the migrants to be accommodated in Bira, he added.
“Once they deceived me like this and said that migrants will remain in Bira for two months, but they stayed for two years. Bira must not be used – not because we hate migrants, but because we have to protect our citizens,” Fazlic argued.
“We are prepared to seek solutions to avoid migrants dying in the streets,” he concluded.