Senior EU official tours migrant camp during visit to Bosnia

BIHAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A senior European Union official on Thursday urged Bosnia to further improve living conditions for thousands of migrants stuck in the Balkan country while trying to reach Western Europe.

Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson toured a migrant camp near the border with EU member state Croatia, on the first day of her visit to the troubled country.

The Lipa camp by the northwestern town of Bihac was at a center of a crisis in December, when hundreds of people faced freezing conditions there, fueling fears of a humanitarian disaster.

The camp was burnt down in a fire and migrants lived in make-shift tents with no heating or protection for days before Bosnia’s armed forces brought in heated tents and other basic facilities.

The EU has been helping Bosnia with funding and aid.

“I wanted to come here personally to visit the camp, to meet with the migrants, to meet with the people who work here … because I was very concerned by the humanitarian crisis in December,” said Johansson. “It’s very good now that the situation has improved a lot, but still more needs to be done.”

Bosnia has faced international criticism for its handling of the arrival of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa or Asia. Ethnically divided and impoverished following a war during the 1990s, Bosnia has been disorganized with some regions refusing to take any migrants at all.

The biggest share of the influx has been centered in the country’s northwest corner because it borders Croatia. From Croatia, migrants go to Slovenia or Italy and then further west. Many suffer alleged pushbacks and violence at the hands of Croatian police while trying to cross.

Johansson said she will discuss the migration policies and “high expectations” the EU has of Bosnia — which is seeking EU membership — during meetings on Friday with top government officials in the capital Sarajevo.

“Migration is one of 14 prioritized areas where we need to see improvements,” she said, adding that managing migration should be a “national obligation,” rather than being handled by certain regions only.

“And also they need to set up a proper governance to have proper procedures in place, to have political strength to actually manage migration in an orderly way,” said Johansson.

After Bosnia, Johansson is also expected to travel to Albania on Saturday. where she will visit the joint border control operation between Albania and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex.