Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina dying while seeking safety

Budapest/Geneva, 30 May 2019 - Thousands of people trapped in Bosnia and Herzegovina desperately need humanitarian assistance and some are dying while trying to find shelter, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Since the beginning of 2019 the country’s security agencies estimate around 6,000 people, including women and children, have entered Bosnia and Herzegovina, but current transit centres holding around 3,500 people are full and thousands are sleeping rough.

Indira Kulenovic, operations manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said: “People are sleeping in parks, in carparks, on the footpath, and in dangerous buildings."

“A few weeks ago three migrants sheltering in an abandoned building burned to death when a candle they were using caused a fire. Soon after, another fell from the top floor of a building he was sheltering in. Psychological stress among migrants is high – just last week one man set himself on fire in desperation. The situation is dire,” Kulenovic said.

The Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina has six mobile teams providing people on the move with food, water, clothes, blankets, psychosocial support and first aid. The mobile teams are also distributing information on active landmine fields to warn migrants of the dangers of unexploded ordinances. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in Europe.

Red Cross volunteers are working in five migrant centres across the country, preparing meals for 3,000 people a day, with food supplies provided by IOM. They are also providing clothing, bedding, tents, hygiene items and first aid.

The Secretary General of the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mr Rajko Lazic said that, despite the best efforts of aid agencies to provide food and shelter, living conditions for many people remain inadequate in the centres, and worse for the people outside.

“Our teams are doing what they can but they are stretched to the limit and the situation has reached a critical point. This is a humanitarian crisis,” Mr Lazic said.

As a result of the crowded conditions in the centres, there has been an alarming increase in some communicable diseases. The Minister of Health Dr. Nermina Cemalovic said on 15 May there were 800 cases of scabies in Bihac transit centres.

Health officials are also trying to prevent a measles outbreak, tracing all known contacts of at least two humanitarian workers who have been hospitalised with the disease. Officials have also urged all humanitarian agencies to ensure their staff are fully vaccinated.

“We are extremely concerned for people on the move in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are arriving in poor condition, and many, including children, have walked for weeks. They are hungry, exhausted, sick and cold and traumatised by their journeys. The recent wet weather has just made their misery worse,” Kulenovic said.

Spring has brought more arrivals and put even more pressure on the Una-Sana Canton area in the north west of the country near the Croatian border. Last year 25,000 migrants entered Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ms Kulenovic said the local population is suffering as well, from the pressure that extra numbers has put on services, security, land and property. The IFRC will also be assisting local communities with cash grants.

IFRC and the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina are appealing to their partners for 3.3 million Swiss francs to provide food, hygiene items, first aid and other assistance to 7,600 of the most vulnerable migrants along with cash grants for 1,500 host families during 2019. The appeal is less than one third funded.

Press photos are available here. 

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