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EU warns Bosnia to help migrants as entire families on move

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Alia and her 5-year old son walk through a Croatian forest with others after crossing the Bosnia-Croatia border near the Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa, Thursday Dec. 10, 2020. Entire migrant families are on the move in cold weather in Bosnia while trying to reach the West as the European Union warns the Balkan country it must act to prevent a humanitarian disaster. A statement by the EU Bosnia mission says current weather conditions are putting at risk the lives of more than 3,000 people sleeping rough or staying in inadequate conditions. (AP Photo/Marc Sanye)

VELIKA KLADUSA – VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia-Entire migrant families are on the move in cold winter weather in Bosnia while trying to reach the West as the European Union urged the Balkan country to act to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

The EU's Bosnia mission warned in a statement that current weather conditions are putting at risk the lives of more than 3,000 people who have been sleeping rough or staying in inadequate conditions in the country.

“We urge the authorities to act with the utmost urgency to save lives,” Wednesday's statement said.

Bosnia has faced criticism for years for its handling of the influx of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in their countries. The politically unstable and impoverished Balkan nation is still recovering from a devastating conflict in the 1990s, and has failed to find a coherent response to the crisis.

Migrants come to Bosnia with the aim of reaching neighboring EU nation Croatia before moving on toward Western Europe from there. To cross to Croatia from Bosnia, migrants often use hidden mountain routes in the northwest of the country.

On Thursday morning, two Afghan families got to the Croatian border after walking for miles through fields and forests, and spending the night in a cold abandoned house with no doors or windows.

The families from Baghlan and Kabul fled the violence in their native Afghanistan. They have traveled for more than a year along with six small children who now range in age from 3 to 11.

Their minds set on reaching Germany and starting a new life there, the families on Wednesday set off from the northwestern Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa toward Croatia, pausing overnight in the pitch black and cold weather, their faces lit up by a small fire as they had their supper before moving into a tent to sleep.

In the morning, the men carried the small children as they climbed up steep and slippery forest routes before reaching their destination, tired but smiling and hopeful.

The Afghan families were lucky that the weather was dry although it was foggy and cold. With no Croatian police in sight, they moved into the country and on toward Italy.

Only a few weeks ago, other migrants in makeshift tent settlements in Bosnia woke up to the season's first snow, heralding the upcoming winter. Many also allegedly face pushbacks and violence at the hands of Croatia's police.

The EU in its statement urged Bosnia's authorities to relocate migrants to EU-funded facilities for the winter and open new ones.

“The humanitarian crisis is becoming a reality because of the lack of action of the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the statement said. “Solutions exist and the EU is ready to support Bosnia and Herzegovina in the necessary actions.”