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25 Oct 10

Roma Lead Camp Closed, But Different Sides Claim Credit

Lead-polluted camps in north Mitrovica, home to Kosovo’s Roma refugees for more than ten years, have finally been closed, with several organisations claiming credit for the move.

Lawrence Marzouk
Pristina

The nearby Trepca lead mine and smelting works were closed in 2000, but heaps of waste matter were never cleaned up and the surrounding area remains extremely contaminated. Dozens of cases of lead poisoning have been reported over the years in the informal Cesmin Lug settlement.

Human rights and health groups have long expressed concern about the level of pollution in Cesmin Lug, one of three camps opened by UNHCR in 1999 to house hundreds of Roma civilians who had fled to northern Mitrovica after their homes in the city’s south were attacked.

The settlements were only intended to be used temporarily, but until recently the site remained home to hundreds of Roma.

But on October 1, the camps were officially closed and the remaining inhabitants have been resettled in new homes or to another nearby refugee camp, Osterode, which has been made safer from lead poisoning. In a press release on October 8 issued by the UN news agency, it said that the ‘UN had shut the leadcontaminated camp for displaced persons’.

“The United Nations mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has demolished a controversial settlement inhabited by uprooted members of the Roma community, which was contaminated with lead from a nearby plant,” the release reads.

But a statement issued four days later by the European Commission Liaison Office in Kosovo, ECLO, said that a ‘joint EU and USAID effort had brought Cesmin Lug camp in north Mitrovica to a successful closure’.

“This breakthrough was made possible with the joint efforts of USAID and EU-funded projects in full coordination with other stakeholders,” the statement said.

Fifty RAE – Roma, Ashkali and Egpytian – families were resettled in Roma Mahalla during September 2010 under the USAIDfunded project, and the EU-funded project will ensure resettlement of an additional 90 RAE families currently living in the Osterode camp, the press release revealed.

The projects are implemented by the NGO Mercy Corps on behalf of both USAID and the EU.

But neither rival press release referenced the work of the other international organisation.

When Balkan Insight asked ECLO whether it was the USAID and the EU team which had closed the camps or the UN, Fjolla Ceku, press officer, said her organization had been surprised by the press reports detailing the UN’s involvement.

She added that the camps were shut as part of the USAID-EU project.

She said: “UNMIK Administration in North Mitrovica demolished 4 hard-built structures in Cesmin Lug camp, while UNHCR had two trucks and one van for facilitating the transport of beneficiaries’ belongings from Cesmin Lug to Osterode camp.”

UNMIK, on the other hand, told Balkan Insight: “On October 1, in a coordinated effort of UNHCR, Mercy Corps International (MCI), RAE residents and UNMIK Administration in Mitrovica (UAM), Cesmin Lug camp in the northern part of Mitrovica was closed and the last residents moved to Ostorode camp.

“UAM sealed the camp, while the area remains to be under UNMIK Administration in Mitrovica (UAM) custody and KP protection. The remaining 22 families have voluntarily moved to the nearby Osterode camp.”

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