Thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in bitter Balkan winter
By Stefan J. Bos
Snow brings even more misery for thousands of desperate refugees and others escaping difficulties. Some of them walk in sandals in the bitter Balkan winter, trying to find shelter. But it isn't easy. About 2,500 people are suffering in unheated tents or sleeping rough near the northern town of Bihac. Local authorities have refused to reopen a nearby reception center.
Many are now stuck for days in a burnt-out camp lacking necessary facilities. At the Lipa campsite, they try to warm up around fires. Authorities and the army scramble to finish setting up some 20 military tents meant to accommodate them.
Several migrants don't even wear socks or winter jackets as they wait to receive food parcels from aid groups. Mohammad Jasar, from much warmer Pakistan, is barely coping with the winter weather. "It's too cold," said Mohammad Jasar, from Pakistan. "We have too much trouble here in (the) Lipa camp."
Nearby another man from Pakistan, Mohammad Afsal, tries to keep warm near a fire. He cries for help from the international community. "I mean, many days I could not take a shower. We don't have electricity. Our request to the European Union and the people of Bihac, our neighbors, is: 'Please stand with us. And help us'. We are in a very, very bad condition," he explained.
Many refugees are from South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Last week, Bosnia's armed forces put up the new tents, but they were still not ready for use when the weather worsened over the weekend.
Lacking basic facilities
It has left the migrants staying in make-shift tents, containers, or under make-shift nylon covers put up in a wet and muddy field.
Some of the migrants have refused to use the tents in Lipa because they lack heating and sanitation. Several went on hunger strike, angry at the lack of amenities. They have now received some Red Cross food parcels.
But the United Nations International Organization for Migration says Bosnia should ensure proper reception centers.
For now, that seems wishfull thinking. Many refugees hope to reach more welcoming nations in the European Union. But border police in neighboring EU member state Croatia push them back, sometimes violently.
Increasingly hopes for a better life remain a distant dream for these people.