Bosnian authorities have begun moving migrants from a makeshift tent camp near the country’s northwestern border with EU member Croatia, following harsh international criticism of the improper conditions hundreds of people were being kept in.
The closing of the Vucjak camp, which the Red Cross estimates is housing some 600 migrants, had been scheduled for December 9, but was postponed for one day.
An RFE/RL correspondent said that buses carrying migrants began departing the Vucjak camp near the town of Bihac around 1 p.m. (1200 GMT/UTC) on December 10. Migrants will be relocated to a temporary reception center in Usivak, near Sarajevo, and in Salakovac, 250 kilometers away in western Bosnia-Herzegovina.
They are to be relocated later to the former Blazuj army barracks, near Tomislavgrad, also in western Bosnia.
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.
The relocation was first announced on December 6 by Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic.
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 was not closed at once. “If we don’t close the camp today, tomorrow people will start dying here,” Mijatovic told reporters while visiting the snow-covered camp.
However, many of the migrants earlier said they do not want to be moved farther away from the border despite the improper living conditions.
Most migrants flocked to the northwestern part of Bosnia because they want to continue their journey to Western Europe’s more prosperous countries by illegally passing through Croatia.
There are presently an estimated 7,000-8,000 migrants in Bosnia. They have been stranded there for months after arriving from neighboring Serbia or Montenegro.
Bosnian authorities have struggled to accommodate thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.