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Bosnia Puts Off Closing Makeshift Migrant Camp 'Until Further Notice'

A migrant walks at the Vucjak refugee camp outside Bihac on December 3.
A migrant walks at the Vucjak refugee camp outside Bihac on December 3.

Bosnian authorities have indefinitely postponed the scheduled closing of a makeshift migrant tent camp in the northwest of the country.

The closing of the Vucjak camp had been scheduled for December 9, following harsh international criticism of the improper conditions hundreds of people are being housed in. The camp is hosting some 600 migrants, according to the Red Cross.

Rade Kovac, the director of the Bosnian Service for Foreigners' Affairs, visited the camp on December 9 and said that the authorities had postponed closing the camp until further notice.

Aid groups have repeatedly warned that the Vucjak camp is located on a former landfill and close to a mine field from Bosnia's 1992-95 war, and has no running water or toilets. Living conditions worsened further after snow started falling last week.

Kovac said the migrants will eventually be moved to one of the reception centers in the Sarajevo Canton. He gave no reason for the postponement, but media reports said the decision was prompted by a lack of proper accommodation at the reception centers.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's security minister, Dragan Mektic, last week announced that the occupants of the camp on the border with Croatia would be relocated to other camps outside the region.

"It was agreed that migrants would be moved early next week from this locality to other reception centers...and that this makeshift camp would be closed," Mektic said in a statement on December 6.

The decision to close the camp came after Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, visited Vucjak last week and warned that deaths would be imminent if the camp were not closed at once. "If we don't close the camp today, tomorrow people will start dying here," she told reporters while visiting the snow-covered camp.

On December 6, Mijatovic told a news conference in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, that it was now urgent to relocate the migrants and provide them with "decent accommodation."

"Many people lack adequate clothing and footwear,'' she said. "It is inhumane and unacceptable to keep people in such conditions.''

However, some migrants said that despite snow and freezing weather, they will refuse to be moved farther away from the border. Most of the migrants flocked to the northwestern part of Bosnia because they want to continue their journey to Western Europe's more prosperous countries by crossing the border into European Union member Croatia.

On December 7, migrants at Vucjak resumed accepting food distributed by the Bihac branch of the Red Cross, after refusing it for several days in protest at the announced relocation of the camp.

Bosnian authorities have struggled to accommodate thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Migrants enter Bosnia from neighboring Serbia or Montenegro.

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