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European official urges closure of Bosnian migrant camp

BIHAC – A top European human rights official on Tuesday demanded the immediate closure of a makeshift tent camp in northwestern Bosnia where hundreds of migrants remain stranded despite snow and freezing weather.

“It should be closed as we speak,” Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said while visiting the Vucjak camp near the town of Bihac. “This is not a place for human beings.”

The Vucjak camp has almost no facilities. International aid organizations have repeatedly warned it is unfit for migrants because it is located on a former landfill and close to a mine field from the 1992-95 war.

Already poor conditions in Vucjak have worsened further after snow fell on Monday. Several hundred migrants who were staying in the camp on Tuesday refused food and water to protest the situation.

Fazil Rahman, from Afghanistan, said migrants “don’t want the food,” they just want to be allowed to cross into neighboring Croatia and move on toward Western Europe where they hope to start new lives.

“They don’t want it for lunch, they didn’t want it in the morning, they don’t want it at nighttime,” Rahman said. “People are asking just one question: to cross the border.”

Migrants come into Bosnia from neighboring Serbia or Montenegro. Most of them have flocked to the northwestern corner of the Balkan country which borders European Union member state Croatia.

Bosnian authorities have struggled to accommodate thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Government officials have said that a new facility for migrants near Sarajevo won’t be ready for another 20 days.

In Vucjak, some tents have collapsed under the weight of wet snow and migrants are struggling to clear the snow from those still standing. Some people left their shoes outside the tents, trying to keep the insides dry and clean amid the muddy, garbage-strewn camp.

Mijatovic, who is Bosnian, said: “I am really ashamed that something like this exists in my country.”

“The solution is to really close it (the camp) and to make it possible for these people to survive the winter,” she said.