Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic expressed great concern about the developments in the city of Bihac in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the authorities are continuing to relocate migrants in the already overpopulated improvised camp in Vucjak.
“The living conditions in this camp, which is close to land-minded areas, are already deplorable, without running water or electricity, and poor sanitary conditions. With winter coming, the situation cannot but worsen,” Mijatovic said.
She urged the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to relocate as a matter of urgency all the migrants currently in Vucjak to facilities with adequate standards in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Republika Srpska in order to avert a humanitarian and public health crisis.
Also, on the same day, the UN reiterates its grave concern over the on-going relocation of migrants, including asylum seekers, to the Vucjak site. Significant safety and health risks at Vucjak remain; and the location falls well short of international humanitarian standards. It is thus unsuitable for the purpose of accommodating people. These inadequacies were already highlighted in the UNCT Joint Statement dated 14 June 2019, which followed the decision of the Municipal Council of Bihac to relocate migrants, including asylum seekers, staying outside reception centers to the Vucjak site.
The 1 October 2019 end-of-visit statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Felipe González Morales notes that the location of the site “is absolutely inappropriate and inadequate for accommodating human beings”. He urged the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to stop the forcible escorting of migrants to this site and to urgently identify an alternate location. The UN in BiH aligns itself with the UN Special Rapporteur’s end of visit statement and calls upon the authorities to close the site immediately and provide humane and safe alternatives.
As the authorities are aware, the Vucjak site is located close to landmine infested areas and there is a high risk of fire and explosions due to possible underground pockets of methane gas. Vucjak lacks electricity, running water and medical care; it has very few sanitation facilities. The declaration of the Mayor of Bihac that the Municipality and local Red Cross will cease all assistance to the migrants forcibly relocated to the Vucjak site is especially alarming, as assistance was already insufficient before the latest group of migrants was transferred there. This decision, if implemented, together with continued relocation efforts, risks a possible humanitarian emergency at the Vucjak site.
In light of the aforementioned concerns and with the imminent arrival of winter, the UN calls on BiH’s authorities to redouble their efforts to identify – at the earliest opportunity – alternate, safe and secure accommodation in line with national and international laws and obligations; humanitarian principles and practices; and with the full guarantee of rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. This is also critical in order to reduce the pressure on local communities in the Una-Sana Canton posed by the growing number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
As conveyed to the authorities, the UN in BiH and its partners stand ready to immediately activate their available resources in order to support the establishment of new accommodation sites that meet humanitarian standards and/or the expansion of the capacity of existing sites. It is absolutely vital to ensure that migrants are appropriately housed in the shortest possible time. This includes the immediate relocation of all migrants currently located at the Vucjak site.