Budapest/Geneva, 24 October 2019– A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding at a makeshift migrant camp on the outskirts of Bihac in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is warning today.
The Vucjak camp – which has been termed “The Jungle” by people living there – has no running water, no electricity, no usable toilets, and mouldy, leaking, overcrowded tents.
Currently, there are about 700 migrants living in the camp. Last week there were 2,500 people there in some days. The camp only has 80 tents, no medical assistance, and just five volunteers from Bosnia and Herzegovina Red Cross Society to help the whole camp population.
Adnan Kurtagic, one of the Red Cross volunteers working at Vucjak, says the situation is heartbreaking and devastating.
“They come to me to talk. They cry and cry. They say, ‘I miss my home, my mother has died, the police did this’. I hear a lot of stories. I don’t know how I don’t break – for two months now I have only been able to sleep two or three hours a night and even then, I dream about them.”
He says the team from the Red Cross Bihac City is responsible for a wide range of tasks. They clean the camp, feed hundreds of people a day, and provide basic first aid and psychosocial support.
The health situation at Vucjak is particularly concerning, says the Red Cross’ Kurtagic. There are people in the camp with untreated broken limbs and 70 per cent of the population has scabies.
“The sanitation and hygiene situation is alarming. I don’t know how they can sleep. People should not be living here and it should be closed, but first these people need somewhere to go. We can hardly manage but I don’t want to leave these people all alone. If Red Cross leaves, there will be no food, no water, no clothes, no help – it will be awful.”
IFRC’s operations manager for Bosnia and Herzegovina Indira Kulenovic agrees that Vucjak camp should be urgently closed and the people moved to a safe, secure place that meets at least the basic humanitarian standards.
“These poor people are sleeping in the mud, six to one blanket, in temperatures falling to below zero at night. At least half of them require medical assistance, and the many do not even have shoes. The conditions are inhumane, and their suffering is overwhelming,” says Kulenovic.
“There is no dignity for these people. Most of them are covered in scabies bites, have fevers and diarrhoea, and winter is approaching. There will be a metre of snow at Vucjak camp in a few weeks,” Kulenovic says.
Since the beginning of 2019, 23,000 migrants have arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Existing migrant reception centres are full and thousands are sleeping on the streets or squatting in empty houses.
The Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina has seven mobile teams who have so far assisted 41,000 people but Kulenovic says more are needed. The teams provide people at Vucjak and those on the roadside with food, water, clothes, blankets, psychosocial support and first aid. They also distribute information on active landmine fields to warn migrants of the dangers.
IFRC and the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina are appealing to their partners for 3.3 million Swiss francs to provide food, hygiene items, first aid and other assistance to 7,600 of the most vulnerable migrants along with cash grants for 1,500 host families during 2019. The appeal is about one third funded.
In Budapest: Corinne Ambler, +36 704 306 506, firstname.lastname@example.org @corinneambler
In Geneva: Matthew Cochrane, +41 79 251 80 39, email@example.com, @mahatmat