The Commission has been funding the reception response for asylum seekers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) since 2018. The funding has enabled the set-up and maintenance of temporary reception centres (TRCs), including health services following the outbreak of COVID-19, and supports essential humanitarian assistance in off-site locations. The funding has created decent reception/living conditions at a number of sites, but the announcement by the Una Sana Canton (USC) authorities of the closure of camps already in operation (TRC Bira and TRC Miral) has worsened the already insufficient reception capacity, particularly for vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied minors and children, who are often forced to remain in informal settlements, squats or hidden in the forest.
On 01 October 2020, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Domènec Ruiz Devesa (S&D), Dietmar Köster (S&D), Bettina Vollath (S&D), Milan Brglez (S&D), Miguel Urbán Crespo (GUE/NGL), Erik Marquardt (Verts/ALE), Malin Björk (GUE/NGL) and Tineke Strik (Verts/ALE) sent a written parliamentary question to the European Commission.
The MEPs asked the Commission to explain “what is its position on the announced closures of TRC Bira and TRC Miral, which jeopardise the effective and sustainable use of EU funding?” and “how can it support the accommodation of vulnerable groups, particularly after the closure of TRC Bira and TRC Miral?”
With the Bosnian winter approaching, the MEPs enquired “will the EU support minimum humanitarian conditions for asylum seekers, particularly for vulnerable groups, including a possible expansion of reception capacity in BiH, the winterisation of the Lipa emergency tent camp, and the provision of emergency humanitarian support outside reception facilities?”
On 09 December, Commissioner Várhelyi, responsible for neighbourhood and enlargement, responded on behalf of the European Commission. Commissioner Hahn reported that “the European Union has strongly condemned the action of the Una-Sana Canton authorities to close the Bira reception centre in Bihac and forcibly transfer refugees and migrants to the COVID-19 emergency facility in Lipa, which was at full capacity and does not meet the conditions for use during winter”.
Commissioner Várhelyi stated that “the European Union has urged Bosnia and Herzegovina to take all necessary measures to prevent a humanitarian crisis; this is of particular concern ahead of winter” and “the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina need to ensure adequate shelter for refugees and migrants, notably vulnerable groups, by making full use of the existing capacities, including the centre in Bira, and finding suitable alternative facilities for the refugees and migrants hosted in Lipa as well as for those who are currently outside reception centres”. He further explained that “the emergency humanitarian support continues being provided to those sleeping in inadequate conditions outside reception facilities with dry food, sleeping bags and warm clothing, first aid and referrals” and that “the authorities should facilitate the work of humanitarian partners and the provision of outreach assistance”.
Commissioner Várhelyi highlighted that “the European Union has engaged with the competent authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to find suitable solutions to meet the needs of refugees and migrants, notably to prevent the closure of the Miral reception centre” and “it will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina in managing migration and addressing the humanitarian situation”. He concluded that “the European Union will continue to monitor the situation on the ground closely in cooperation with all humanitarian partners”.
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