Thousands of migrants trapped near the Bosnian border with Croatia are ill-equipped to survive freezing temperatures and some might not make it through winter, the Red Cross said yesterday. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC) warned that more than 5,000 migrants trapped in Bosnia-Herzegovina desperately needed help with winter setting in.
"We are concerned that, without concerted action, migrants will suffer a completely preventable humanitarian disaster," said the IFRC's regional director for Europe, Simon Missiri, in a statement, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP). "The clock is ticking," he stressed.
Hundreds of migrants, trapped by the terrain and closed border crossings, stay in makeshift camps with no heating or facilities, revealing desperate humanitarian conditions, especially in the northwestern towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa, near the Croatian border.
"Despite the best efforts of aid agencies to provide food and shelter for migrants, living conditions remain poor and the risk of hypothermia is increasing as cold weather sets in," Missiri said. "Without humanitarian assistance, it is difficult to see how many people will make it through to spring." They also hand out warm clothes, sleeping bags and blankets to the migrants, most of whom arrived without any winter gear, the IFRC said, appealing for more funds to increase the distribution.
With only two official asylum and refugee centers, the small country of 3.5 million people, which aspires to be an EU member, is hard-pressed to cope with the migrants. The Balkan region has been the focus of migration-policy debates. Three years ago, the Balkan route was one of the main corridors for the more than 1 million migrants who reached Western Europe. Even though the route has all but been shut down since early 2016 through coordinated border closure measures, thousands of migrants still manage to pass through.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants who streamed northwards through the Balkans to EU territory in 2015 largely bypassed Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the ex-Yugoslav republic now finds itself struggling to accommodate more than 5,000 people intent on making their way via neighboring Croatia to affluent EU countries further north. More than 23,000 people have entered the country this year hoping to move into the EU. To curb migrants entering the impoverished country en route to EU territory, Bosnia-Herzegovina's security minister, in June, called for legislative changes to enable border deployments of the army while accusing the EU of failing to manage the crisis.