“The Roma case is urgent. Children’s lives and developmental potentials are at risk. Their future is in jeopardy, yet these kids have a fundamental human right to good health. A prompt and concerted action is in dire need.”

Gerry McWeeney, Healthy Environment Programme Manager, WHO, 22 October 2004

“There might have been – let’s be very clear – there might have been a lack of co-operation on the ground. We are dealing with what we all know is a particularly difficult group. But that would not serve as an excuse for not addressing an acute health problem.”

UN SRSG Soren Jessen-Petersen, commenting on the lead-poisoning in the IDPs camps in Northern Mitrovica, BBC News, 13 June 2005

“The situation of internally displaced persons inside Kosovo is frequently neglected. The continued existence of camps inside Kosovo is a disgrace for the governing structures and for the international community. The Roma camps in Plementina and Zitkovac are particularly distressing and made worse by serious health hazards. They should be dealt with on an emergency basis.”

Walter Kälin, UN Special Envoy for the Standard Implementation Process, 7 October 2005

“The inhabitants of the Žitkovac camp, as well as those persons living in the Kablare and Česmin Lug camps in Northern Mitrovica, are worse off than their counterparts in Leposavić/Leposaviq, mainly because they are situated dangerously close to waste dumps belonging to the remnants of the Trepča/Trepça mining complex which used to be part of the largest lead and zinc producer in Yugoslavia.

Regarding the Žitkovac camp, the last months have seen an increase in media coverage on the conditions there, in particular the fact that the proximity to the Trepča/Trepça waste dumps leads to severe health problems for the inhabitants of the camp. Strangely enough, the media reports have almost exclusively been focused on this camp, although the camps in Northern Mitrovica suffer from the same problems. Even if many voices, some of them from inside UNMIK itself, have been complaining about the bad health conditions in these camps, there has so far not been any concrete and workable plan to evacuate the people living there.

(…)

Given the fact that the reconstruction of the Roma Mahalla may take years, it is important that the urgent question of evacuating the people from the Žitkovac, Kablare and Česmin Lug camps be treated separately. Leaving aside the question of why these camps were built in such a high-risk area in the first place, it is paramount that UNMIK, together with the local authorities and other entities involved take concerted and immediate steps to move these people. According to recent information, the international and local authorities and institutions involved are shuttling back and forth in an attempt to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

Marek Nowicki, former Kosovo Ombudsman, Annual Report 2005

“The situation of approximately 120 displaced Roma families living in camps in the northern part of Mitrovica/Mitrovicë (Cesmin Lug and Kablare camps) and in Zvecan/Zveçan (Zitkovac Romani camp) since 1999 is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately. These camps are in close vicinity to the tailings dams of a former lead mining and smelting complex which was closed in 2000. Then it was known that, like the population in the region in general, these IDPs were affected by high levels of lead in their blood. Over the course of the years, it became clear that lead poisoning, especially of the children in these camps, reached levels that are much higher than those of the non-displaced population. Recently, the World Health Organization found that many children in the camps are currently suffering from unprecedented levels of lead poisoning constituting an acute medical emergency. They were not receiving appropriate medical treatment and the health or the level of life of those affected was very seriously affected.

During his visit, the Representative appealed to the international community responsible to immediately evacuate the IDPs concerned to non-contaminated areas and to provide the necessary resources for this without delay. He stressed that failure to act immediately was tantamount to a violation of the right of the affected children to have their health and physical integrity protected, and underlined the need to find – in consultation with the affected Roma population – alternative sites where the affected families could feel safe and have access to basic services as well as the possibility to make a living. After his visit, UNMIK decided that the camps would be evacuated and the affected IDPs relocated to a site where they would no longer be exposed to lead poisoning. A United Nations Inter-Agency Group was established to guide this process. However, at the time of writing of the present report, the decision had still not been implemented. While acknowledging the complexity of the problem, the Representative remains concerned about the slow pace of the process in the face of the very serious health threats for the affected children.”

Report of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin, 9 January 2006

“We further remind the relevant authorities of their commitment to alleviate, without further delay, the humanitarian crisis created due to the continued use of contaminated facilities for the temporary residence of a large Roma community in Mitrovica. Bureaucratic obstacles must be overcome. In this regard the European Union supports the call made by UNMIK, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF on 9 February 2006 for all Roma, Ashkaeli and Egyptian communities to vacate the lead polluted camps in northern Mitrovica in Kosovo and to move their families to the safer environment at Osterode camp. We also remind the PISG of the necessity to find a long-term solution for the IDPs. They should continue to work towards creating safe housing for IDPs, and should move quickly to provide sustainable options for returns and permanent housing.”

EU Presidency Statement – UN Security Council Public Meeting on Kosovo – United Nations Security Council, Public Meeting on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo; Statement by Ambassador Mr. Gerhard Pfanzelter, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, on behalf of the European Union, 14 February 2006

If you are concerned that you will be forgotten, I personally will do all in my power as the head of UNICEF to ensure that this is not the case. Although we hear of agencies that will move on as we get closer to a solution on the status of this province, UNICEF is here for the long haul and for your children.

What we have now is a serious health emergency and we all have to put politics aside and act in the best interests of the child.  We finally have a temporary solution to this awful tragedy. I urge the camp leadership, the parents, fathers, mothers to move now, and I urge the surrounding community, politicians and civil servants to support this move and open their hearts to those who have been victimized over the years.  I also urge the donor community not to forget…we are on the road to a permanent solution and the first step is to evacuate these camps.  Again, in the best interest of your children,  relocate. A safer, healthier place has been reconstructed and UNICEF, the international community and your political leaders will be with you.

Robert Fuderich, UNICEF Head of Office in the UN Administered Province of Kosovo, at Osterode Camp, 10 February 2006

“Demands adequate relocation to safer housing especially for Romani women refugees in the highly lead-contaminated land of the Mitrovica region of Kosovo; draws attention to the temporary and newly renovated location of the French KFOR Camp Osterode, which is provided as an interim solution;”

European Parliament, resolution on the situation of Roma women in the European Union (2005/2164(INI)), 1 June 2006

“The Committee, while acknowledging the progress made in the past few months, notes with concern that Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps in lead-polluted areas in north Mitrovica since 1999 have been relocated only recently, although the negative effects on the health of the communities concerned were known since mid-2004. The Committee is also concerned about the limited extent of consultation with the IDP communities prior to their relocation, the proximity of the temporary relocation camp Osterode to one of the contaminated sites, and the failure to provide medical follow-up treatment to the affected persons (art. 6).

UNMIK should ensure that the remaining inhabitants of lead-contaminated IDP camps, as well as those temporarily transferred to the Osterode camp, are relocated to environmentally safe areas, following their consultation in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2), and that the victims of lead contamination are provided with adequate medical treatment and access to effective remedies to seek and obtain compensation for any damage caused to their health.”

Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committe, 14 August 2006

“This has been a painful chapter in the lives of the IDPs concerned, whom circumstances connived to keep in extremely unhygienic and adverse living conditions in the camps. I congratulate the parents who took the difficult decision to cooperate in their temporary relocation to Osterode for the safety of their children who are particularly vulnerable to lead-induced health hazards”.

Joachim Rücker, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Kosovo (SRSG), 1 September 2006

“Camp Osterode is a well-organised and properly managed camp. Medical treatment has been offered to camp inhabitants to combat lead poisoning. The children are able to attend their old school in the northern part of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica with the aid of transport organised by the school principal, and there is a pre-school on the camp site. Complaints about the number of toilet facilities have decreased after the camp management installed a number of new ones. An official working for the camp management informed the Ombudsperson Institution that there were still problems with the water and plumbing supply, although one of the main reasons for this appeared to be the constant theft of parts, keys and locks. There have been some recent complaints regarding the lack of medicine and the closure of a medical centre in Camp Osterode as a result of budget cuts.”

Hilmi Jashari, Ombudsperson, 11 July 2007

See also: New statements on the situation in the lead-poisoned camps in Northern Mitrovica, November 2008