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 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, with dozens of cases of lead poisoning having been reported over the years in the informal Cesmin Lug settlement, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The site for Roma internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Mitrovica was shut down last week, with all buildings – including living quarters – having been torn down.
“This is the first step of many that are needed for improving the living conditions of Kosovo’s Roma IDPs and to guarantee them a sustainable and dignified solution,” said Jo Hegenauer, who heads UNHCR in Kosovo.
Human rights and health groups have long expressed concern over 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 and torched.
The settlements were only intended to be used temporarily.
In 2004, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the sites be closed, and two of them were shuttered in 2006 with residents having moved to Osterode, which is also slated to be closed shortly.
UNHCR handed responsibility for Cesmin Lug over to UNMIK in 2001, but the refugee agency has continued to work with authorities and others to find a solution for uprooted Roma in Kosovo.
“To live in the camp was very difficult, but now we can start a new life,” said Avdi, 23, a Roma who fled his village in 1999 with his wife and two children to Cesmin Lug. He is moving to a new home in the capital, Pristina.
After a decade of displacement, the first group of some 180 Roma returned with UNHCR’s help to southern Mitrovica in 2007, with hundreds of other Roma following their footsteps in recent years.