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Migrants remain in Bosnia make-shift camp amid snow and cold

BIHAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Despite calls for their relocation before winter, hundreds of migrants have remained stuck in a makeshift tent camp in northwestern Bosnia as a spate of snowy and cold weather has hit the region.

Their tents bending under wet snow, migrants at the Vucjak camp near the Bosnian town of Bihac on Monday lit fires and wrapped themselves in blankets to try to stay warm and dry. Coughing could be heard coming from inside the tents where smoke from the fires dimmed the air. Outside the tents, the camp was soaked in mud.

“This place is no good,” said 21-year-old Tisham Hadi from Pakistan. “My room is finished, I have no space for sleeping.” International officials and aid groups have repeatedly demanded that the Vucjak camp be closed down. It has almost no facilities and is located on a former landfill by a former mine field from Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

Authorities in Bihac have set up the camp as they struggled to accommodate thousands of people who got stranded in the Balkan country while trying to reach Western Europe. Most migrants in Bosnia have flocked to the northwestern corner because it borders European Union member state Croatia. They arrive there after traveling across the so-called Balkan route from Greece, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro.

On Monday, the Vatican said that Pope Francis dispatched a close aide to the Greek island of Lesbos to bring back 33 asylum-seekers to Rome. Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almsgiver, is expected to return on Wednesday with the migrants. Francis asked Krajewski to go to “renew solidarity to the Greek people and to the refugees.”

The pope, according to the Vatican, wants to make “a further gesture of solidarity” in hosting young refugees and families from Afghanistan, Cameroon and Togo. Ten more refugees will be brought to Italy from Lesbos later this month.

U.N. officials say minors risk exploitation at overcrowded migrant camps on Greek islands. In Bosnia, aid workers have warned, migrants will be in danger if they stay at the Vucjak camp over the winter.

Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic has said a new facility for migrants near Sarajevo won’t be ready for at least another 20 days. Hadi said that he tried to go to two other migrant camps in Bihac, which are better than Vucjak, but that there was no room.

“Please help me,” he pleaded. Separately, the German charity rescue organization Sea-Eye said Monday that the situation aboard its Alan Kurdi ship, which recently rescued 69 migrants in the Mediterranean, has worsened, with eight migrants evacuated to Lampedusa on Saturday due to their deteriorating medical conditions, including two infants and a newborn.

On Sunday, four more people were given emergency medical care on the ship, but the Regensburg-based organization said they need further treatment on land. Two more people were treated Monday morning aboard the ship but again were not allowed to debark, the organization said.

The humanitarian organization has been operating the German-flagged Alan Kurdi since 2018 and has rescued several hundred migrants. Before that, starting in 2015 it operated the Dutch-flagged modified fishing boats Sea-Eye and Seefuchs, and claims to have rescued nearly 15,000 people.

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