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Kosovo Authorities House Romani Families in Toxic Area

11 March 2005

According to information provided to the ERRC by Mr Paul Polansky of the Kosovo Roma Refugee Foundation (KRRF), one hundred and twelve Romani families, living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Mitrovica/Mitrovicë (North Mitrovica Romani camp) and Zvean/Zveçan (Zitkovac Romani camp), were earlier this year found, by the World Health Organization (WHO), to have high blood lead levels ("BLLs"). The camps were built in 1999 by the UNCHR very near a toxic waste site, despite protests by Mr Polansky, who was at the time an advisor to UNHCR on Romani issues.

WHO documentation dated July 11, 2004, on file with the ERRC, reveals extremely harmful BLLs in Romani residents of the North Mitrovica and Zitkovac IDP camps. The US Center for Disease Control recommends that special attention be given to BLLs higher than 10 g/dl. WHO testing of 18 Romani persons indicates that all have BLLs above 10 g/dl, six of whom tested between 45 and 64.99 g/dl BLL and six of whom tested above 65 g/dl BLL. The BLLs are reportedly highest among young children, with twelve children between 2 and 3 years of age experiencing such high BLLs that they require anti-convulsive medication. High BLLs are reported to cause serious harm to children and pregnant women in particular, and can cause damage to the central nervous system, brain and kidney damage and possible miscarriages by pregnant women.

The WHO recommended in July 2004 that children and pregnant women be moved from the area until confirmation of the routes of exposure were identified, that municipal authorities end all smelting activities in the camps, and that fresh water be provided in the camps. Mr Polansky informed the ERRC that the UNHCR and UNMIK and Zvean/Zveçan municipal authorities' that now administer the camps, have been unwilling to move the affected Romani families.

On November 26, 2004, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to the UNHCR, UNMIK and the responsible Zveauthorities, expressing alarm that despite being aware of the extreme health concerns posed by the location of the camps, UNHCR, UNMIK and local government officials had failed to take actions to ensure the safety of the affected families. The ERRC demanded that the UNHCR, UNMIK and Zveauthorities take immediate actions to move the Romani families from the IDP camps to a safe and adequate living area and arrange for the provision of all necessary medical treatment for all affected persons. The full text of the letter can be found on the ERRC's Internet website at:

As of February 25, 2005, no action had been taken to move the affected Romani families.

(ERRC, KRRF)
 

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