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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Bosnia must do more to help migrants, a European human rights official said Tuesday as the war-scarred country struggles to cope with a growing influx of people trying to reach Western Europe through the Balkans.
Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern in a letter to Bosnian authorities over "lack of systematic response" to the situation, with migrants sleeping outdoors in Bosnia's streets and parks.
"I am concerned to learn that many refugees and migrants, including families with children, sleep rough on the streets and have irregular access to food," Mijatovic wrote. "This situation cannot continue in this way."
Migrants have turned to Bosnia in recent months, trying to avoid more heavily guarded routes and borders in the Balkans. From Bosnia, migrants seek to enter EU-member Croatia in the northwest, and move on toward Western Europe.
Dozens of people have been camping in central Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, setting up a small tent settlement. Sarajevo citizens, who suffered under siege during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, have been bringing food and clothes to help.
Bosnia's Council of Ministers, the country's government, is set later Tuesday to adopt more measures on providing housing, food and medical care for the migrants. Officials have warned that the influx could strain Bosnia's already weak economy.
"Where can we get the money, where?" Interior Minister Dragan Mektic said on the state TV, urging help from the European Union and other Balkan countries in controlling the influx. "The route is growing and we could face a crisis."
Hundreds of thousands of migrants entered Europe through the Balkans in 2015 before countries in the region closed their borders. EU member Hungary set up barbed-wire fences on its southern border with Serbia to stop the influx of migrants.
Migrants first arrive in Greece across the sea from Turkey, then move on toward Albania and Montenegro and then on to Bosnia, before proceeding to Croatia and Slovenia.
Previously they more used to go from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia, and then on to Croatia or Hungary.
In the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihac, some 200-250 people, including families with children, have been staying in an abandoned former students' home that was ruined during the war.
Peter Van der Auweraert, the representative in Bosnia of the International Organization for Migration, said local authorities and aid groups have provided food, basic medical aid, water and containers with showers.
"It is a big challenge to accommodate people in a building that is obviously abandoned, but compared to Sarajevo where people are sleeping in the streets, it is obviously a better solution," he said, adding that he expected in influx of migrants to continue.
During lunch time, a windowless concrete hall that once hosted students welcomed dozens of migrants for a warm meal.
Among them was Ibrahim from Syria, who said he had tried to cross into Croatia with his fellow migrants but police there beat them, broke their mobile phone and tore away their money.
"We are human, not animals," Ibrahim said.