Bosnian authorities are returning hundreds of migrants to empty tent camps after 24 hours on relocation buses.
The relocation of hundreds of migrants and refugees from a fire-damaged tent camp in Bosnia has been called off amid protests from residents, reflecting confusion in the Balkan country’s handling of the crisis.
Migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East were supposed to move on Tuesday from the much criticized Lipa camp in northwestern Bosnia to a former army barracks in the town of Bradina, at 320 km (200 miles).
Instead, they spent around 24 hours on buses before being tasked Wednesday afternoon to disembark and return to the now empty camp.
The migrants lit fires to warm themselves while waiting to see what would happen next.
About 1,000 migrants were stranded at the camp in snowy and windy weather after it was demolished in a fire last week.
The tent camp, located near the border with Croatia, lacked basic facilities such as running water and heating.
EU officials and aid groups have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe and increased pressure on Bosnia to keep migrants away from the camp.
The struggling Balkan country, which went through a devastating war in the 1990s, struggled before the pandemic to respond to an influx of thousands seeking to reach Western Europe by moving from Bosnia to Croatia.
Disputes between the ethnically divided Bosnian authorities prevented an organized response, leaving around 3,000 migrants sleeping on the streets or in makeshift tents.
The mufti leader of the Islamic Community of Bosnia, Husein Kavazovic, on Wednesday called for better treatment of migrants, calling the situation “shameful” for the country and the rest of Europe.
“We don’t treat people in need this way,” he said in a statement.
Most of the migrants stay in northwestern Bosnia, where they hope to enter EU member Croatia before heading to wealthy EU countries.
To get to Croatia, migrants use illegal mountain roads and often face push-backs and allegations of violence from the Croatian police.