Pristina, 5 June 2008 – A human rights watchdog has asked the UN in Kosovo to ensure the safe return of displaced members of the Egyptian community.
Through an open letter addressed to the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, demanded all measures are taken to enable the reconstruction of 25 houses in the village of Rudesh, near Kosovo’s north-western town of Istog/Istok and facilitate the return of their owners, who are members of the Egyptian community.
“There is a right for these families to return which must be protected. However, the realisation of this right is a key part of the UN’s mandate. The failure to facilitate the return of these families from the Egyptian community could further amount to discriminatory action. Urgent action by the UN Special Representative could bring the issue forward,” the Helsinki Committee Secretary General Bjorn Engesland said in a statement.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee letter notes that the municipality of Istog agreed to formalise the return of these families to their lands but it hinged on the approval of the UN administration in Kosovo and recommends that an urgent approval could pave the way for accelerating the reconstructing of the families’ houses.
Kosovo’s Egyptian minority, not to be confused with people from the Middle Eastern country of the same name, is a distinct community of Roma within Kosovo, and are now recognised as such together with the Ashkali.
According to the European Roma Centre, members of these communities faced discrimination even under the Yugoslav regimes, and continue to face poor access to education, health and other public services in areas where they have returned and a large number of them continue to live in camps.
They face hostility from both Kosovo’s ethnic Serb and Albanian communities.
“Hindering their return to Rudesh will serve to preserve the heritage created by war and destruction, the very heritage that the international community has rightfully pledged to counter in Kosovo,” the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s letter goes on to read.