Viennese NGO Accuses ICMPD of Building Austrian Guantanamo

PeopleOther ♦ Published: April 11, 2023; 22:41 ♦ (Vindobona)

Plans for the Lipa refugee camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina have recently caused a stir. A deportation center with a prison is to be built at the facility, which is to be built in 2020, according to reports. At the same time, the NGO SOS Balkan Route raised the accusation that Austria was co-financing the construction of the prison; media reports named the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), headed by former Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, as a partner in the project.

A sign listing some sponsors for the construction of the facility. / Picture: © SOS Balkanroute

Meanwhile, the Viennese NGO, SOS Balkan Route, led by rapper Petar Rosandic, reiterated the accusations against the facility already raised the previous week. "A high fence, cameras at every step, windows with prison bars and almost no daylight in the cells," it said Tuesday in a dispatch titled "This is what the Austrian Guantanamo in Bosnia looks like."

The EU representation in Bosnia, Bosnia and Herzegovina's Office for Foreigners and the mayor of Bihac (the facility stands about 25 kilometers away) would confirm that the Vienna Migration Center "is responsible for the construction of the detention cells," SOS-Balkanroute said. The ICMPD, founded in the early 1990s by Austria and Switzerland, is thereby described as an "institute close to the ÖVP."

"ICMPD is of course not involved in the construction of detention cells or similar," stressed a spokesman for the Vienna-based organization, which has a total of 19 member states, as reported by ORF. The role of ICMPD is limited to "procurement" and the control of contracts, it was stated on the part of the migration association.

Involved was ICMPD "in the construction of a temporary residence accommodation, which is an extension of the existing Temporary Reception Center," it added, as reported by ORF. However, both the planning of the project and the management of the center do not lie with ICMPD, but with the Ministry of Security and the Foreigners Authority (SFA) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Detention Camps and Illegal Pushbacks

ut the NGO, people arrive at the deportation center having previously been brought to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the police of Schengen's new member Croatia through illegal pushbacks.

According to SOS Balkan Route, one affected person stated that he was held for four days in a very cold garage with only a little water and bread. Another said that Croatian police collected money, shoes, and cell phones and burned them. The refugees were beaten and taken to Lia camp, he said.

"We only know about pushbacks from media reports and therefore cannot comment on them in more detail," the ICMPD said, as reported by ORF. The organization also referred to statements by the EU delegation and the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina in connection with Camp Lipa. The EU delegation told broadcaster N1 that refugees stay in the camp for a maximum of 72 hours. After that, they would be taken to the migration-center near Sarajevo.

Actual help for refugees

The camp was built in the summer of 2020 to get refugees stuck on the Balkan route out of the center of the northern Bosnian city. After opening, it had to be closed by the IOM after only a few months because, contrary to promises made by the Bosnian authorities, it was not connected to the water and electricity network.

Hundreds of refugees were thus left homeless and wandering around in the depths of winter, which caused a great stir internationally. Under the impression of the humanitarian crisis, Austria also pledged one million euros in support to the IOM at the time. After tent camps were initially set up, construction of a new refugee camp began in early 2021, which is now under criticism for its alleged prison area.

Austria is among the largest donors

Austria is among the largest donors to the project. The Interior Ministry confirmed the previous week that it had provided a total of 821,672 euros to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Of that amount, it said 483,000 euros had been used to upgrade the electricity and water and sewerage networks at the site to ensure it could accommodate 1,500 people and enable year-round shelter operations. 17,000 euros had been used to finance an ambulance that had been withdrawn from the Red Cross stock, and another 321,671 euros had been used to purchase 71 living and sleeping containers for the Borici (36 containers) and Lipa (35 containers) camps.

However, according to ORF, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior was "neither involved in the conception, nor in the financing, nor the operation." This opinion was echoed by the Upper Austrian provincial government, which contributed 300,000 euros to the construction of the center.


SOS Balkanroute