Benedetta Capelli – Vatican City
The assistance provided to the Lipa refugee camp is intended as a humanitarian intervention to give dignity to those living there. The Nuncio to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Archbishop Luigi Pezzuto, spoke about this outreach to Vatican News and the initiatives being promoted to assist those in the camp with the donation of Pope Francis. The funds are being allocated for the construction of two multi-purpose rooms and dining rooms for families and minors living at the permanent camp of Lipa. On Thursday morning a ceremony took place to mark the laying of the foundation stone, with the presence of the Nuncio. The diocesan Caritas of Banja Luka, Caritas Milan and the NGO Ipsia have also contributed to the construction and management of the structures.
Archbishop Luigi Pezzuto was accompanied by Bishop Petar Palić of Mostar and the director of Caritas Mostar. The program includes the laying of the cornerstone of the structures that will help the camp residents to feel more at home. Archbishop Pezzuto points out that the Pope’s outreach here has a history. “We have already built and inaugurated, in October, two small centers,” he explains, “where children can play indoors because of course in winter it is very cold here, being a mountainous area.” The places not only serve to offer shelter but help to create a needed harmony among the migrants and refugees.
Archbishop Pezzuto says “It is necessary for these people have better living conditions also to improve their relationships and reactions, which are the result of many years of suffering and travels they have made while waiting to find a place of refuge”. Several times in the nuncio’s words the term “humanize” recurs, a reference also to the words of Pope Francis who has repeatedly spoken out on the difficult conditions faced by Balkan Route migrants.
Speaking at the Angelus on February 7, 2021, Pope Francis said, “Let us ensure that these fragile and defenseless people do not lack proper care and preferential humanitarian channels.” At that time over nine thousand refugees, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Iraq, Iran were stranded in Bosnia and Herzegovina, not only in the Lipa camp but also in other immigrant centers. Lipa was also made news following a fire in the tent city on December 23 that forced 1,500 refugees to live outdoors in desperate conditions under the snow. Only later was a temporary tent city built to await the complete reconstruction of the camp. For Archbishop Pezzuto, “the people who live here are prisoners who would like to leave but everything is closed. We need solidarity from all states so that there is an equal distribution of them to various places and countries.”
The Balkan Route is one of the passages of entry into Europe for migrants and asylum seekers. Over the past five years, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their countries due to war or persecution and transited through the Balkans. Since 2018, the passage on this route often ends in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where there are an estimated nine thousand migrants and asylum seekers, most of them hosted in camps with entire families and unaccompanied minors.