“Concerning the reconstruction of houses of Roma, Ashkali or Egyptian, destroyed during or after 1999, this reporting period has at last seen some positive progress, in particular with regard to the Roma neighbourhood (Roma Mahalla) in the southern part of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica. During this reporting period, the return of Roma to the southern part of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica continued. After the return in 2006 of a first group of 23 Roma families, in October 2007, 11 Roma families have returned from Serbia and Montenegro, while 14 Roma families have returned from camps in Osterode, Cesmin Lug and Leposavić/Leposaviq. A large number of the Mahalla inhabitants lived for more than six years in Northern Kosovo in improvised houses under very bad health conditions.

In 2005, following pressure from the international press and the Ombudsperson Institution, UNMIK started to plan the transfer of the members of the Roma community from the Žitkovac and Kablare camps, as well as from the other temporary camp Cesmin Lug. This followed the publications of some analyses results in which independent experts and the World Health Organization concluded that inhabitants of these camps were affected by lead poisoning, in particular children, as the camps were situated in toxic areas close to a waste dump of the Trepça mining complex containing high amounts of lead.

UNMIK thereupon began reconstructing and refurbishing the former KFOR camp “Osterode” in the northern part of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica in order to allow most of the internally displaced persons to move. At the time, various organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO) and independent experts indeed confirmed that Osterode camp provided better health, hygiene and living conditions as the land on which the camp was built was covered in concrete. According to the allegations of representatives of Osterode, assistance in food and necessary medication for treatment against lead poisoning decreased after people had moved to the camp and later on ceased altogether. The residents of these camps now only receive assistance from the Serbian Red Cross.

Also, due to the lack of funds, the health centre that functioned inside the camp had to be closed, which provoked negative reactions from the inhabitants of this camp. However, the camp is visited on a daily basis by a nurse from the Health Centre in northern Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, while once a week the camp is visited by a medical team. According to the information available to the Ombudsperson Institution, a women’s centre and a youth centre are expected to start functioning soon in this camp.

Representatives of the camp allege that the results of the blood analyses conducted in 2005 by the representatives of the WHO on the children living in camp Osterode were never shared with the children’s families. Recently, representatives of the camps Osterode and Cesmin Lug requested the Public Health Institute in the northern part of Mitrovicë/Mitrovica to conduct blood analyses of children living in the camps. The results have shown very high levels of lead in the children’s blood, in certain cases much higher than the critical limit. They also demonstrated that the lead poisoning of the children in Cesmin Lug and Osterode is at a similar level. These allegations and the ensuing tests raise serious doubts as to the reliability of UNMIK’s statements that Osterode camp is a safer place to live than the other existing camps.

The responsibility for the management of Camp Osterode was handed over from UNMIK/DCA to Ministry for Communities and Returns (MCR) on 1 May 2008. On 12 May, the Permanent Secretary of the MCR and the NGO Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the continued management of Camp Osterode for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian displaced persons in Mitrovicë/Mitrovica through December 2008.

The MoU includes provisions which outline the responsibilities of MCR and the implementing partner NCA in working towards permanent housing solutions for the camp inhabitants, as well as in preventing the harmful practice of illegal lead smelting within the camp.

Many efforts have been realized by UNMIK to close down the camps Cesmin Lug and Leposavic/Leposaviq but they remained unsuccessful even if a considerable number of families from Cesmin Lug were relocated to camp Osterode. Even if the living conditions in the camps are very difficult, many remaining Roma persistently refuse to relocate.”

Source: Republic of Kosovo/Ombudsperson Institution: Eight Annual Report 2007 – 2008, 21 July 2008