Little Nikolina has lost her sister
Preface ~ Introduction ~ Humanitarian situation ~ Medical treatment ~ Security ~The children ~ The labour market ~ Living accommodation ~ Conclusion ~ Appendix
Probably the most important living German philosopher Ernst Tugendhat said in 1979 on the situation of the German and European gypsies: "In the Third Reich we were seen as sub-humans. The gypsies are today not openly called gypsies, but they are seen and treated as such.” Ernst Tugendhat, coming from a German Jewish family and born in Brünn, escaped with most of his family from the holocaust. So he knew what he was talking about and what Sinti and Roma had to face in the Third Reich. Tugendhat was a member of the Committee and is one of the patrons of the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV). He has always given energetic support to its human rights work for this suppressed and still in many places discriminated minority.
While anti-Semitism is combated by governments and is analysed by many institutes, violations of human rights committed against Sinti and Roma arouse little attention and a negative attitude towards gypsies is often tolerated. In many countries of south and south-east Europe the Roma minorities are the subjects of racist persecution. They are treated as second-class human beings and their children are often pushed off to special schools.
While Europe said nothing when the Bosnian Muslims were the victims of genocide and deportation, the fate of the Bosnian Roma, many of who shared the same fate as the Bosnians, did not by and large attract the attention of the western media. Yet they were bombed and shot in the encircled towns just like the Muslims, being tortured, abused or murdered in the concentration and raping camps.
In 1998 and 1999, when the Serbian army turned more than a million Kosovo-Albanians into refugees and deportees, the international community intervened militarily and saw to it that they could return to their homes. Immediately after the invasion of the western troops large sections of the Albanian population turned against the minorities of Roma and Ashkali. They burnt and destroyed 14.000 of the 19.000 houses and 75 of their villages and settlements. Members of the Roma and Ashkali were threatened, insulted, maltreated, tortured, raped, dragged away and murdered. There was no international protest. The western countries accepted the fact that some 80% of the former 150.000 members of the minorities were driven out of the country.
The houses, villages and towns of the Albanians were rebuilt with western donations. The remaining Roma and Ashkali, who had become refugees in their own country, were forced into concentration camps. There and in the remains of their villages, which have become ghettos, they live in misery, without work, mostly without medical and humanitarian attention, isolated and without the chance of moving freely. The people living in the refugee camps have been constantly threatened by racist Albanians. The KFOR soldiers often watched these attacks without intervening. Hundreds of these defenceless people fled in a convoy to Macedonia.
The UN, with its civil administration, the UNMIK, the UNHCR, the EU, and also the NATO have all looked on, have allowed this to happen, while two shrinking "coloured” ethnic groups have been treated day by day as sub-humans. Even the existence for many years of three refugee camps for Roma and Ashkali on severely contaminated ground has led neither to a cry in the international media, nor to activity on the part of the international institutions mentioned. We do not know how many of the deaths registered so far are due to lead poisoning. We must assume however that this was in many cases the cause of death or that it accelerated the people’s deaths.
Of the 150.000 Roma and Ashkali once living in Kosovo before the persecution by the Serb regime (1990 to 1999) and by the Albanian extremists (from 1999 until today) 34.431 men, women and children came to Germany as refugees and displaced persons: 24.351 Roma, 8.197 Ashkali and 1.138 Egyptians. The last are a group of the Roma and Ashkali from Kosovo, who believe that their ancestors were in ancient times driven out of Egypt.
All these people have been living in Germany for at least six, many of them for ten or fifteen years. Most of their children were born here and now speak German as their first language. Often they do not even speak the language of their parents. In Germany they are treated by the authorities as second-class human beings. Only a few have received residence permits and can find jobs without hindrance. Most of them have short-term permits, often only for a week on end. Thus the young people can get no apprenticeships, the adults no jobs. One can make no plans for life and is constantly faced with the threat of deportation.
The expiry of residence permits means deportation to Kosovo, where there is a real danger of a threat to life and limb. Their houses and villages are either destroyed or occupied by Albanians. Often they cannot even leave the airport because there is everywhere a constant threat of racist violence to Roma and Ashkali, people with a dark skin. If they disappear into one of the ghettos or in one of the few settlements of their people they will find no work, their freedom of movement is limited, they will receive no assistance for survival, their children will usually not be welcome at the schools, they will not be able to afford medical treatment or it will be refused them.
Germany is obliged to the victims of the holocaust, to the Jews and the Roma equally. The position of the Roma and Ashkali left in Kosovo is in many respects similar to the situation of the minorities outlawed and persecuted in the third Reich before the beginning of the war. If the ministers of the interior and the authorities concerned with foreigners deport ethnic minorities which are existentially threatened in this way, they commit a crime, together with the UNHCR, the international Kosovo administration UNMIK and the so-called International Community, which all tolerate day by day the unbearable persecution of these people.
Results of an enquiry from December 2004 to May 2005
The US American journalist and human rights expert Paul Polansky and his team has been conducting research for the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) into the human rights situation of the Roma minorities (Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians”) in Kosovo. In several detailed reports the pitiful conditions, under which most of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” must live, have been documented.
The present report contains the latest information of the GfbV team in Kosovo from December 2004 until May 2005 and is thus the updating of the report from 1st January until 31st October 2004.
At the end of the war in Kosovo in 1999 130.000 of the former 150.000 Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” were driven out of their houses. Returning Albanians destroyed 14.000 of their 19.000 houses and razed to the ground 75 of the town neighbourhoods and villages inhabited by the minorities. A result of this catastrophe has been that the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” have fled the country.
Only some 200 of the 14.000 houses destroyed have been rebuilt. For the internally displaced persons who had not left Kosovo refugee camps had to be set up. Today, six years after the Kosovo war, 744 Roma and Ashkali are living in four refugee camps in Cesmin Lug, Kablare (North Mitrovica), Zitkovac (Zvecani) and Leposavic. They have been exposed for years to lead, for the camps were built on rubbish heaps with contaminated mining deposits. Some 60 Roma children have been born in the three refugee camps Cesmin Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac. They all suffer from symptoms of lead poisoning. (See here "Memorandum of the Society for Threatened peoples; Lead Poisoning of Roma in IDP Camps in Kosovo”, Appendix, p.5)
The GfbV issued a warning for the first time in 1999 on the health risks for the refugees. We then drew attention to this several times in personal talks and written reports to those responsible at the UN Mission for Kosovo (UNMIK), demanding the evacuation of the refugees.
The head of the GfbV team estimates that some 16.000 Ashkali and Egyptians (of 80.000 before the war) live in Albanian communities in larger towns and some 8.000 Roma (of 40.000 before the war) in Serb communities and the Albanian towns Ferizai/Urosevac, Gjakova/Djakovica, Peja/Pec and Kamenica.
The monthly reports of the GfbV team for the period December 2004 to May 2005 show that by contrast with the information given by UNMIK the situation of the minorities during the long and hard Kosovo winter has not improved at all. There can be no question of a stabilisation of the security situation. The mobility of the minority population still remains limited. The protection of the KFOR soldiers and police is still required. The humanitarian situation of the Roma and Ashkali minorities is catastrophic. Everything is in short supply. There are shortages of food, heating, clothing and footwear. Medical services are still inadequate. Economic and social misery, high unemployment and dissension between the majority Albanian population and the largest minority group, the Serbs, make the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians nervous.
The information of the GfbV team shows clearly that the prospects for a quick and significant improvement of the situation of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” in the foreseeable future are very dim. In the opinion of our team leader they cannot lead normal lives in Kosovo. They have no future there. In the past four months the GfbV has informed the press, international authorities in Kosovo and the general public on the general suffering of the Roma minority and particularly of the situation in the refugee camps in Kosovo through press releases, background information for press, radio and TV, a memorandum and open letters. Pressure has also been exercised on the authorities to make them take action. Recently the English-speaking daily newspaper International Herald Tribune published a report by our team leader Paul Polansky. The local authorities and the general public throughout the world must be alarmed and mobilised so that measures are taken to ensure the protection of minorities in Kosovo and so restore freedom of movement and confidence in the security forces and the department of justice. Measures must be taken immediately to avert a humanitarian catastrophe for the refugees in Kosovo. The immediate evacuation of the 550 displaced Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” from the camps Cesmin, Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac must have priority.
THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION
The humanitarian situation of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” has further deteriorated in recent months as a result of the unusually hard winter. The Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” in the IDP camps are experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the region so far. They lack oil and flour and all kinds of food. Women and children often search through rubbish heaps for something to eat. In the IDP camps there is often a lack of stoves and firewood. At the present time the Roma are only receiving regular support from the GfbV team and the organisations "Balkan Sunflowers” and "Voice of Roma”. A few other organisations provide irregular help and mostly only on feast-days with limited and symbolic deliveries for the starving Roma communities. The "Danish Refugee Council” was given the task of supervising a project for combating the lead poisoning in three refugee camps – Cesmin Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac. €150.000 have been provided for this purpose by the UNMIK. There are also some aid organisations from Serbia, but these are ineffective and evidently unable to cope with the situation. The GfbV team has frequently been confronted with the fact that with tins donated from Serbia the eat-by date had already passed.
The electricity supply is a further problem. Under the new Albanian administration the electricity supply has been cut off in the quarters inhabited by Serbs and Roma. The Roma see this as an attempt to drive the remaining members of their minority out of Kosovo. For the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” the severe winter without electricity or heating in their huts was often a threat to life.
Women suffer most under the severity of everyday life of the Roma in Kosovo. To save their families and especially the children from starvation many of them look for leftovers from the rubbish-heaps. Without soap, shampoo, cleaning materials and sanitary facilities they have no protection against lice, herpes, skin infections and many other health problems.
EXAMPLES FROM THE TOWNS
- Ajnur Tahiri, 37, from the refugee camp Plementina, expresses the misery of his family and that of most of the Roma families in the refugee camps in the following terms: " I live now in a room measuring 20 sq. metres with my wife and six children. We do not receive help of any kind. It is really difficult to survive in this winter. It is cold and we have no wood for the fire. I lost my job after the war. The income of my family consists of assistance payments of €50 a month. What can I do with €50 a month? It isn’t even enough for food. In the beginning life was good in this refugee camp. We had enough food and milk for the children. Every month we received a cubic metre of firewood; this lasted for two months.” (December 2004)
- Fatmir Jakupi, 58, from the same refugee camp as Ajnur Tahiri, emphasises the lack of stoves and firewood: "The local administration of Plementina gave us some stoves, but there were only enough for the poorest families. But everyone needs a stove. Everybody got some firewood, but only two cubic metres per family. Some sold the wood and bought an old stove. Today they burn old shoes.” (December 2004)
- Osman Kurteshi and Ljatif Kurteshi, both 51 years old, report their depressing experience with aid organisations (NGOs): "There were many organisations which promised not to forget us; however they just collected information from us and never came back.” "I spoke with some organisations which came to the camp. I asked them to bring help as soon as possible because I needed food. They said that they would send help. After a couple of weeks they came back, but they didn’t bring any help; they didn’t even speak to me. I don’t know, the NGOs don’t help us. Sometimes I wonder: Are we Roma invisible? Organisations just pass us by, they don’t even say hello to us.” (December 2004)
Medical treatment for the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” is quite inadequate. Illnesses caused by lack of hygiene like lice, herpes and other illnesses are widespread in the IDP camps. Nevertheless donations of soap or shampoo are limited because such products can encourage suicide attempts by refugees suffering from a posttraumatic stress syndrome. The GfbV also reports some attempts at suicide with lice shampoo in recent months.
All Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” in the IDP camps or in the quarters suffer from lack of money to pay for getting to hospitals in the vicinity, not to speak of Belgrade, for medicine or doctors’ fees. Albanian doctors demand a fee for treating Ashkali or Egyptians. But as most of the Ashkali and Egyptians cannot afford either a doctor or medicine they are hardly ever treated. Serb doctors offer Roma free treatment under a free Serb medical system. However they often provide treatment reluctantly. The GfbV team reported recently that Serb doctors had refused to treat seriously ill Roma in hospital. It was said that they only had ‘flu and they were sent home. Thus most of the minority population remain without any medical treatment.
The most serious problem for the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” is the already mentioned problem of lead poisoning. The UNHCR and its acting partners, the ACT (Action by Churches Working Together) ignored the warnings of health experts and set up the camps for displaced persons on contaminated land. The camps are encircled by the waste heaps of a disused mine giving off toxic gases which are constantly breathed in by the people living there. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there is a danger to human life on 88% of the camp on account of the proximity to the old mine workings, for the permissible limit of lead in the soil is exceeded by four to seven times. The 744 Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” living in the camps Cesmin Lug, Zitkovac and Kablare therefore inhale enormous quantities of lead, either through their lungs or through their food. As the unborn children are also burdened with lead through the placenta there are miscarriages. Damage to the brain and kidneys and sperm production is a further consequence.
In February 2005 the representatives of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) in Pristina engaged a lawyer to lodge a complaint against the UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) and the UNHCR. However both institutions are pessimistic about the result of the case as UN personnel enjoys immunity.
In the past four months (February to May 2005) we have informed the general public, press and the authorities several times concerning these conditions. Newspaper reports awoke public opinion throughout the world. Local and international institutions took up the matter in their agendas. In March 2005 a working party from the UNMIK, the UNHCR, the OSCE and the health Ministry of Kosovo was set up to cover the acute need for humanitarian aid and basic provision and to work on a long-term solution for the problem of lead poisoning.
The UNHCR and the UNMIK spoke against moving the Roma and Ashkali because they could see no lasting solution for the housing question and there were no funds for moving the refugees. The options of evacuating the displaced persons to another country, moving them to Serbia or somewhere in Kosovo, but not to their homeland of South Mitrovica was rejected by Sören Jessen-Petersen, the leader of the UN Mission in Kosovo. He preferred rebuilding the houses of the Roma and Ashkali in South Mitrovica , which was however rejected by the Albanian town authorities.
In April 2005 Sören Jessen-Petersen set up a budget of €150.000 for dealing with the lead poisoning. This is to finance the following measures: the setting up of a health scheme and a team for combating the poisoning with heavy metals, hospital treatment for the most seriously ill, temporary accommodation and medical after-care for those treated for lead poisoning, collection of blood samples and their examination in the refugee camps, emergences measures (skimmed milk for children, louse sprays and rodent control), purchase of instruments for the examination of soil samples. The WHO has in addition asked for €400.000 for a project to plough up the toxic deposits on which the camps have been built. The Minorities Consultant, Laurie Wisberg, initiated a Donors’ Conference for the reconstruction of the Roma-Mahala (Fabricka) in South Mitrovica. On 7th June 2005 she reported that several countries (among them the USA, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany) were prepared to contribute to the project of rebuilding Roma-Mahala in South Mitrovica.
A representative of the International Red Cross (ICRC) reported that some organisations were concerned with health matters like lice and herpes, but not with the problem of lead poisoning on the grounds that this was a political matter. Yet as long as the refugee camps are not evacuated the inhabitants of the camps remain exposed to the toxic gases and contaminated soil and all preventive measures and all treatment of the sick Roma and Ashkali will be in vain. (Report of February 2005)
EXAMPLES FROM THE TOWNS
- Mirsada N., a 28 year-old mother, interviewed by the GfbV, lived for two months in the parks and streets of Belgrade with several children. While one of her children was in hospital she gave birth to her youngest child in a park near the hospital. When she decided to return with her family to the refugee camp in Zitkovac she had to send her children begging to be able to pay for the bus ticket.
- Vebi Selimi, a 25 year-old Rom from the Kablare refugee camp, died in a hospital in Belgrade in March 2005. Ten days before his death he had cleaned the drain in front of his hut, which was full of slag. The water was red with the contaminated soil. Vebi was in contact with this water working with it for several days and then collapsed. His family said that he had had problems breathing. They were sure that it came from the contaminated water. He was treated in the hospital in Mitrovica, then referred to Belgrade. He leaves a wife and four small children. His wife is six months pregnant and threatens suicide. (March 2005)
- The story of Djenita nad Nikolina Memheti shows very clearly the extent of the tragedy caused by the lead poisoning in the refugee camps in Kosovo. In July 2004 the four year-old Djenita Mehmeti died in the Zitkovac refugee camp after treatment in Serbia for lead poisoning. Shortly afterwards her younger sister Nikolina was admitted to the hospital in Mitrovica with cramp, showing the same symptoms as her sister. The WHO also took soil tests with the result that the permissible limit was exceeded by four to seven times. These conditions are for the inhabitants and particularly for the children a matter of life and death.
Although the hospital in Mitrovica ordered the immediate referral of Nikolina to Belgrade the local health authority let some time pass before sending a written inquiry to the UNMIK health commissar Sergey Shevchenko. He did not spend much time on the matter, so the GfbV team brought the girl and her mother to Belgrade and then secretly to the "Institut za zdravstvenu zastitu majke i deteta Dr. Vukan Cubic”. The blood test confirmed that Nikolina urgently needed treatment for lead poisoning. Nikolina was treated with donated medicine. Then the GfbV team brought her back with her mother to the house of her uncle in Priluzje in Kosovo, where the Red Cross rented a small room for them both, far away from the contaminated site. (March 2005)
- In April the GfbV team brought seven more children with a lead content in the blood of over 65 mg/dl to the "Institut za zdravstvenu zastitu majke i deteta” in Belgrade. The children were tested there again. After three days the woman doctor, who does not wish to be named, stated that the highest value lay by "only” 38 mg/dl and that the children did not therefore need any treatment. The head of the GfbV team conducted several talks with the doctors at the hospital in Belgrade, at the hospital in Mitrovica, which had referred the children to Belgrade, with the ECRC and with the WHO. But finally he had to bring the children back untreated. (April 2005)
The GfbV has organised the transfer of the necessary medicines, which had been donated, for 12 children from Paris to Belgrade to support the treatment of children with lead poisoning. In the countries of former Yugoslavia or in the neighbouring countries these medicines are not available.
During her stay at the "Institut za zdravstvenu zastitu majke i deteta” in Belgrade the mother of the sick children was discriminated against. So Nikolina’s mother had to sleep in a chair in the room of her daughter after a bed, which most of the other mothers received, was refused her. Although the GfbV team had agreed with the hospital that she should receive meals, the mother was never informed by the sisters on the ward when and where meals were supplied. The two mothers who had accompanied the seven children did not even get a chair. They were constantly annoyed by the sisters and told to leave as their children did not require treatment. (March and April 2005)
In another case on which the GfbV reported a seriously ill pregnant 24 year-old Roma woman (Suzana Gidzic, nicknamed Suzi) was referred from the hospital in Mitrivica to Belgrade. There the patient unintentionally broke a glass instrument. The doctor did not allow her father to visit her until he had replaced the instrument and did not inform him that his daughter was dying. He was only told that she had a fever. The next morning Suzi and her baby died. (March 2005)
Contrary to the declarations of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) in Kosovo that the situation had improved in the province after the troubles of March 2004 the security situation is according to the information of our human rights organisation still disturbing. Smouldering interethnic tensions can escalate overnight into bloody fights. The institutions of the UNMIK have not to the present day managed to reach the most important standards which the UN has stipulated as a precondition for a change of the status of Kosovo in 2005. The Serb refugees and the members of the minorities (Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians”) were supposed to have returned, but this has not happened. The disturbances of March brought all projects of repatriation to a standstill. Thousands of refugees have been living in catastrophic circumstances in the neighbouring countries of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The political situation over the past few months has made even worse the situation of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” living in Kosovo.
According to a report of the UNHCR of March 2005 the general security situation since the outbreaks of inter-ethnic violence of March 2004 has improved compared with the serious crimes carried out against minorities, but it remains very complex. Certain ethnic minorities are in especial danger of falling victims to bodily harm, intimidation, chicanery or robbery.” Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” belong to this minority, which are still in great danger.
In the course of their campaign for independence extremist Kosovo-Albanians harass the minorities to drive Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” out of Kosovo. Information available to the GfbV indicates that most Roma families have not unpacked their suitcases since the disturbances of March 2004. The mere thought of independence terrifies them, for they fear that in an independent Kosovo they would be exposed to persecution from the Albanian extremists.
The handing over of the Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj to the Tribunal in den Haag in March 2005 has also caused great fear among the minorities. The GfbV team prophesises that any kind of violence will spark off a mass exodus from Kosovo to Serbia.
Parallel to the deterioration in the political situation in Kosovo the freedom of movement of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” is severely limited. It is true that there have not been any serious attacks on the Roma and Ashkali since the events of 17th to 19th March 2004, but for fear of harassment from the Kosovo police (KPS) they do not dare to use country roads or main roads. The police stop every driver with a dark complexion and if it is clear from the person’s papers that he comes from a Serb community then he is either compelled to wait for hours at the side of the road or they declare that the driving licence is perhaps a forgery. In such a case driving licence and vehicle are seized. It is indeed current practice for the courts to return these with the remark that there was a mistake, but harassments of this kind keep the Roma off the roads. Paul Polansky had his own such experience on the main road. He was recently in the minibus used by the project and his Roma colleague Dzafer (Jacky) Buzoli was at the wheel. As soon as the policeman established that Jacky belonged to the Serb Roma he tried to pin a traffic offence on him, making him wait for no reason at the roadside for hours on end. It was only when Polansky showed his American passport that the two could continue their journey. (December 2004)
There are also individual cases where dark-skinned people, crossing the road or walking along it, are shot at from passing cars. This happens mostly on the main road between Prishtine/Pristina and Lipjan/Lipljan. Up till now nobody has been killed, but the Roma are afraid to report such cases to anyone except the GfbV team. Some Roma, who live only a few kilometres from Prishtine/Pristina, are afraid to go into town to do their shopping. Roma whose houses in Prishtine/Pristina have been rebuilt just spend the day there and go back to Gracnica at night-time, where they have been living as displaced persons (IDPs) since 1999.
SITUATION OF THE CHILDREN
The education of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptian” children is also in danger. The cost of schoolbooks, proper shoes and clothing prevent them going to school, especially to the senior schools. Besides this the children must contribute to the family income and are therefore sent begging. Following the disturbances in March 2004 in Vushtrri/Vucitrn many parents are also afraid to send their children to school. Polansky estimates that today no more than 20% of the Roma children still go to school. Most of the Roma girls leave school already at the age of 11 so that the mothers can prepare them for their lives as housewives. The girls are often married at 13 or 14 (before the war the average age was 16 or 17) as their marriage also increases the family income (through the bride-price which is paid to the girl’s family).
SITUATION ON THE LABOUR MARKET
Reliable statistics on the unemployment of Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” in Kosovo still do not exist. It is however generally known that nearly all Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” have no income.
The reason for this dreadful unemployment is the severely limited freedom of movement. This prevents Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” from returning to their places of work or finding new jobs. In their villages and quarters there is not enough work. Many Roma used to earn their living previously by selling their wares, farm products &c on markets in many Kosovo towns. But today most of these markets are closed. Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” cannot find work with the international organisations either as these are mostly situated in Prishtine/Pristina, where the minorities do not dare to go. Apart from this the earlier reports of the GfbV team show that the members of the Roma minorities are in their search for work discriminated against by the international organisations and aid bodies. Albanian colleagues, who are often in high positions in these organisations, refuse strictly to work alongside Roma.
The Roma women also suffer greatly under the restricted freedom of movement. Throughout Kosovo they can be victims of attacks, kidnapping and rape by Albanian extremists, so that it is dangerous for them to travel alone. The fear of this very tangible danger prevents the women from going to work, from going begging and even from going to the doctor. Therefore many Roma women suffer from serious mental problems.
A positive example for hopeful steps in Serbia:
In neighbouring Serbia small projects of independent organisations awaken a glimmer of hope of overcoming the tragic unemployment figures. A Jewish organisation for example offers the Roma living there courses for training as welders. The Kosovo Roma Refugee Foundation (KRRF) has commenced a project in which American voluntary workers give tuition in English free of charge to Serb business people on condition that they employ a Rom. Thanks to this "English Tuition for Business People” project of the KRRF 17 Serb business people have signed up for the courses and thus 17 new jobs for Roma have been created. Even if these projects are just a drop in the ocean in view of the enormous number of unemployed they do give a few Roma a chance and hopefully a stimulus for similar projects to be started not only in Serbia but also in neighbouring Kosovo.
THE ACCOMMODATION SITUATION
The accommodation situation of the 20.000 Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians”who did not flee from Kosovo in 1999 or shortly afterwards is deplorable. While the reconstruction of the Albanian houses which were destroyed in the war of 1999 has been almost completed, just over 200 of the 14.000 houses belong to the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” have been rebuilt. In the largest pre-war settlement of the Roma in South Mitrovica (before the war 8.000 people) not a single Roma house has been rebuilt. Consequently none of the families has returned. These people are still living in refugee camps for displaced persons. In March 2005 there were several talks between various authorities, agencies and persons concerned with the evacuation and resettlement of the Roma refugees, i.e. the UNMIK, a legal adviser for minorities in the office for returned refugees, representatives of the Danish Refugee Council and a speaker of the Roma from the camp for displaced persons. Encouraging this time is the fact that Roma took part in these discussions at all, as they have up to now been excluded from the process of decision-making. It is on the other hand depressing to note that the talks did not lead to solutions of the question of the settling of the Roma, but to the scene of a conflict of interest. While the representatives of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) supported a project to settle the Roma in their own area (Fabricka Mahala) again to the south of Mitrovica, the town council (made up of Albanians) pressed for settling the Roma in eight-storey blocks and making a park where they had lived. In spite of the open threats from the Albanians the Roma refused to accept this plan, demanding that their land be given back, that all Roma and Ashkali be able to live together and that for their safety a wall be built around their settlement with a pedestrian bridge in the north.
Any plan decided upon will, according to Polansky, need time to be implemented. For this reason many are afraid that such plans will be implemented.
According to reports of the GfbV team many of these minority groups see the only chance of surviving in leaving the country. Emigration is however for the many unemployed unaffordable and for those who do not even have passports out of the question.
Polansky spoke in his last report (May 2005) of the panic among the Roma and Ashkali in Kosovo on account of the announcements of the German government to return members of the Ashkali and "Egyptians” to Kosovo from May 2005. (On 25th and 26th April the UNMIK concluded an agreement to begin with the return of Ashkali and "Egyptians” in May. The agreement envisages returning 300 persons per month at first and from July possibly 50 persons per month.) As there are in Kosovo neither accommodation nor jobs their return will cause a great burden on their relatives. Not only that. Polansky fears great inter-ethnic tensions and a humanitarian catastrophe. A return from abroad is seen by Polansky as extremely dangerous and risky.
As the disturbances in May 2004 have shown in a tragic way the majority of the Albanian population is so frustrated by the unsolved political status of Kosovo with the continuing economic and social problems that extremist Albanian groups can easily provoke an escalation of inter-ethnic conflicts with the large potential for violence which is at hand. Not only Serbs, but also members of the non-Serb minorities of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” and other minorities are still particularly in danger and can be the victims of violence. And while the Kosovo Serbs can resist the Albanian extremists with their own institutions and the help (also of a military nature) from Belgrade, the members of other minority communities in Kosovo are too weak to articulate and press forward their interests.
In the light of the inadequate attention paid to the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” by the international community and in the light of the hard winter, political instability and severe lead poisoning in the refugee camps, marked progress in the situation of these minorities could hardly be expected in the past five months. The lack of confidence in the departments of security and law and a distrust of the local majority population remain especially for the minority members of the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” one of the main problems in Kosovo.
Through unsatisfied daily needs, limited medical treatment, high unemployment and quarrels about the matter of settlement the Roma, Ashkali and "Egyptians” in the refugee camps and the enclaves are condemned to simply vegetating.
At the behest of the GfbV the international community has taken some measures in the past few months to ease the present severe conditions and to find a long-term solution to remove the misery of the minorities. These measures are however not enough by far and they must be pursued energetically and immediately to prevent more people from becoming victims of the insecure situation of lead poisoning or discrimination.
The Society for Threatened Peoples is horrified by the new agreement of the UN civil administration UNMIK and of the German Minister of the Interior of April of this year, which envisages the return of up to 10.000 members of the minorities of the Ashkali and the Kosovo Egyptians, who have found refuge in Germany.
The return of these minorities is according to our information not only extremely risky but also a matter of danger to life and limb. The members of the Ashkali, Roma and Kosovo Egyptians should not be sent back into a situation in Kosovo which is politically extremely fragile and chaotic. As they cannot be provided with adequate food and medical treatment and cannot lead normal lives we put forward the following demands and recommendations:
- Prior to any deliberations on the final status of Kosovo the protection of the minorities must be secured.
The UNMIK civil administration in Kosovo, the Kosovo government and the Albanian authorities must ensure:
- The closing of all refugee camps
- The initiation of social and reconstruction programmes for minorities
- Adequate accommodation for all persons returning and access to the labour market
- The resettling of Roma driven out of their original settlement (Fabricka Mahala) in South Mitrovica
- Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ must be given protection in Germany
- Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ must be given a permit to remain in Germany. They must be given access to the labour market. Those who have become integrated should have a perspective for the future in Germany and receive the right to remain.
- Repatriation of the Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ should only take place on a voluntary basis. They should then be given assistance to enable them to settle down.
Resolution of the 37th AGM of the Society for Threatened peoples in Göttingen 04/05.06.2005: The deportation of the Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ to Kosovo can mean transportation to death
"Refugees in Kosovo ‘irresponsibly neglected’ by the UNMIK”, a press release of the GfbV of 27th April 2005
The GfbV International presents before the "International Conference on the Integration of the Roma” a memorandum: Lead Poisoning of Roma Children in IDP Camps in Kosovo in February 2005
Kosovo: Poisoned camps for the Gypsies, an article by Paul Polansky in the "International Herald Tribune” of 26th April 2005
Still excluded. The southeast European countries want to pay more attention to their Roma Minorities, an article by Michael Martens in the Frankfurter Allgemeine zeitung of 4th February 2005
Evacuate the Roma camps in Kosovo! News for friends, supporters and members of the GfbV No.4, May 2005, p. 2
Speeches by Paul Polansky (Head of the GfbV Team in Kosovo) and Miradija Gidzic (Roma colleague of the GfbV Team) held at the AGM of the Society for Threatened Peoples in Göttingen 04/05.06.2005
"Roma women in Kosovo”, a statement of the GfbV at the UN Human Rights Conference in Geneva 2005
of the 37th AGM of the Society for Threatened peoples in Göttingen 04/05.06.2005:
The deportation of the Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ to Kosovo can mean transportation to death
In the course of their campaign for independence extremist Kosovo Albanians are trying to drive out some 10.000 to 20.000 members of the non-Serb minorities of the Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ by harassment (previously there were 150.000). The UN civil administration (UNMIK) declares that the situation has improved since the disturbances of March 2004. However the information available to the GfbV shows that the situation remains serious.
The freedom of movement of Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ is still limited. For fear of harassment by the Kosovo police (KPS) and because they are sometimes shot at from passing cars, they dare no longer use the main roads.
The humanitarian situation of the Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ is catastrophic, above all in the IDP camps. There is a lack of food and medical supplies. Epidemics of lice, erythema and other infectious diseases receive scant treatment because people have no money for the journey to the hospital or doctor or for medicine.
744 Roma and Ashkali have been vegetating in the four refugee camps in Cesmin Lug, kablare (North Mitrovica), Zitkovac (Zvecani) and Leposavic. These camps were set up on refuse heaps contaminated with deposits from disused mine-workings. Lead poisoning, causing damage to kidneys and brain, is the result. Some 60 Roma children are suffering from poisoning. One child has already died as a result of lead poisoning. There are miscarriages. Most of the Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ are unemployed. Children are sent begging instead of to school. Roma women can also be the victims of brutal attacks, so they no longer dare go out into the open. 14.000 of the 19.000 houses of the minorities have been destroyed. So far just over 200 have been rebuilt.
The AGM of the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) calls upon the international UN administration in Kosovo UNMIK to:
- secure protection for the minorities prior to taking up talks on the final status of Kosovo
- close all refugee camps and
- initiate reconstruction and social programmes for minorities
The Society for Threatened Peoples condemns the plans of the German Minister of the Interior to deport the members of the Ashkali and Egyptians from Germany to Kosovo because they are then in danger of their lives. The AGM of the GfbV calls therefore on the German Minister of the Interior:
to continue giving shelter to the Roma, Ashkali and ‘Egyptians’ in Germany, to give them residence permits and access to the labour market. Those who are already integrated should have a perspective for the future and the right to remain in Germany.
Göttingen/Pristina, 27th April 2005
Warnings and medical reports ignored for years
Refugees in Kosovo "irresponsibly neglected” by the UNMIK
Following the dramatic rescue of a refugee child by the Kosovo team of the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) the international human rights organisation has charged the UN mission in Kosovo UNMIK with "irresponsible neglect of the refugees entrusted to it”. "Regardless of many personal and written warnings of the GfbV, regardless of horrifying reports and recommendations of immediate evacuation by medical experts the UNMIK has not reacted and continued to maintain three refugee camps for some 500 Roma in the immediate vicinity of poisonous refuse heaps” said the president of the international human rights organisation, Tilman Zülch, on Wednesday in Göttingen. "These people have been exposed to poisonous gases for five and a half years, and children in particular have been suffering most from the poisoning”.
The head of the GfbV Kosovo team and bearer of the Weimar Human Rights Prize, Paul Polansky, collected the two year-old Roma girl Nikolina and her mother from the camp on his own responsibility and taken them to hospital and succeeded in pressing for in-patient treatment of the seriously ill child. Following the in-patient treatment Nikolina went to live with her uncle. The attempt to detoxicate her four year-old sister Jenita came too late. She died in summer 2004 of lead poisoning two months after in-patient treatment.
According to alarming medical reports the 60 Roma children born in the three camps setu up in 1999 of Cesmin Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac have scant chance of survival due to the high concentration of lead in their blood. Their nerve system has already been permanently damaged. Many of them display the clear signs of lead poisoning: loss of memory, difficulties of coordination, sickness, attacks of cramp and comatose conditions.
Rokho Kim, expert on lead poisoning at the European Centre for Environment and Health of the World Health Organisation WHO in Bonn stated on a visit to the camps in February 2005 that the degree of contamination in the surroundings was three to four times that of the most dangerous poison waste deposit of the USA in Tar Creek, Oklahoma.
During the time that the camp was being set up the GfbV warned of the dangerous environmental gases. However the UNMIK continued the building work with the explanation that the camps would only be required for 45 days. After blood tests the medical expert at the United Nations, Dr Andrei Andreyev, recommended to the WHO and UNMIK in the year 2000 the immediate evacuation of the camps. Thereupon officers of the international police, who went jogging every day near the Cesmin Lug camp were tested. Their blood showed such a high concentration of lead that the men were sent home immediately. However the UNMIK undertook no measures for the refugees. In 2004 the WHO carried out tests in the camps again. In 44 of 75 persons – above all children and pregnant women – 65 microgrammes of lead per decilitre of blood were measured. This was the highest concentration which could be shown by the measuring instrument.
The majority of the Roma living at present in the three camps come from South Mitrovica, which was formerly with some 8.000 inhabitants the largest settlement of the Roma in Kosovo. Shortly after the entry of the Nato troops in June 1999 they were driven out by the Albanian extremists and their houses were burnt down. 130.000 of the 150.000 Roma and Ashkali were driven out of the country by murder, rape, abduction, torture and racist persecution which has continued to the present day. While tens of thousands of houses belonging to the Albanians have been rebuilt, the NATO and KFOR troops have watched the destruction of 14.000 of the 19.000 houses and 75 of the districts and villages of the Roma and Ashkali minorities.
In spite of the daily reports in the media, especially in Germany, of the persecution and destruction of the minorities in the Third Reich, among them Sinti and Roma, the mass expulsion of the Roma and Ashkali from Kosovo and the fate of the those left behind has so far aroused very little attention. We will gladly send you photos of the Roma refugees concerned by Email. The International Herald Tribune has published a report on the poisonings. For further information please approach Tilman Zülch: Tel. 0049 (0)151 153 09 888.
South- European countries want to devote more attention to their Roma minorities / by Michael Martens
Millions of Roma in Southeast Europe are still living on the edge of society. They are either ‘only’ neglected or, as recently in Kosovo, pin-pointed for attack. The ethnic group is divided among itself, which does not make helping easier.
BELGRADE, 3rd February
When travelling to the capital of Serbia from the northwest one reaches the largest bridge, which links the old city centre from the concrete tower blocks of New Belgrade, and is confronted with a disturbing picture. On the far side of the Save in the south-east rise up the old Turkish castle and the silhouette of a large city, which after years of sanctions, international isolation and the pin-point Nato bombing of 1999 lends an impression, which, by its liveliness and "western appearance” surprises many people who come the for the first time. Down away to the right below the bridge there is the contrast of a collection of huts, whose walls and roofs have evidently been hammered together by their inhabitants from rubbish heaps and recycling dumps. This scene has usually disappeared from view before one has time to register the details from the car window. For that one has to go right down there, where children are playing in muddy streets, beside them in fine weather women are washing the family laundry in tubs or canisters and men are squatting in larger or smaller groups with nothing to do and are waiting for everything or nothing. In its poverty the area below the bridge, which presents the visitor with a sort of greeting scene, reminds one of the pictures of South American or Indian slums.
Certainly pictures like this are by no means unusual in the cities of the Balkans. Many towns of central and southeast Europe present similar proof of poverty and some have complete quarters with various degrees of decay. In order to make such humiliating pictures a thing of the past eight countries of the region officially inaugurated on Wednesday in Sofia a "Decade for the Integration of the Roma”, in which the causes of poverty of the Roma are to be tackled. In all the countries taking part in this joint advancement programme Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Macedonia, Rumania, Serbia-Montenegro and Slovakia – there are large Roma minorities, which have however practically no economic or political influence. The new supportive measures are geared to remove or at least diminish by the year 2015 the exclusion from society of the European Roma by education, on the labour market and in the health sector. This will be no easy task, firstly on account of the numbers of Roma in the countries concerned – estimated at somewhere between six and nine million people. Most of them live in Rumania, where there are two million Roma. In Bulgaria there are some 800.000, the same being true for Serbia-Montenegro, while there are more than half a million in Hungary and about a quarter of a million in Slovakia. In Greece too there is a large Roma population (160.000) and in Albania some 10.000. In Bosnia-Herzegovina there live about 40.000 Roma, most of them being Muslims.
It is not only on account of the different religions that it is hardly possible to speak of ‘the Roma’ of the Balkans, since they have also adapted in language and culture to the majority of the countries in which they live. So, apart from Romanes, which with the mixture of words from old Indian, Persian, Armenian and Greek leads scientists to believe that they originate from northwest India, they also speak one of the modern languages of the Balkans. This partial adaptation has however not kept the various Roma minorities from continuous exclusion and in the darkest times from massive persecution. In the Osmanic provinces the Roma Muslims had to pay higher taxes than other Muslims. In the ‘Independent State of Croatia’, created by Hitler’s favour, Roma were murdered alongside Serbs and Jews in the notorious concentration camp of Yasenovac, while Rumanian Roma were deported to Transnistria.
There is at present – again – a part of the Balkans, where the Roma are not only excluded as everywhere else, but have to fear for their possessions and indeed for life and limb. This is the case in precisely the province of Kosovo, which belongs formally to Serbia, but which is under UN administration. When in March last year during the disturbances, which lasted several days, houses and churches were burnt down, the terror of the Albanian extremists was aimed not only at the Serb minority, but against the Roma, because they were supposed to have been collaborators of the Serbs during the Milosevic regime. In the town of Vushtrii (Serbian Vuctrn) during the bloody disturbances of March some 70 houses of Kosovo Roma were set alight by marauding Albanian extremists.
The ‘Society for Threatened Peoples’ (GfbV), which has for a long time tried to point to the threat to the Roma in Kosovo, grasped the fleeting chance of attention for this subject by presenting a memorandum on the situation in the Roma refugee camps, in which the temporary Kosovo administration of the United Nations is criticised. The memorandum deals with several camps, which are reported to have been built on refuse heaps contaminated with material from old mine workings. "Dust containing lead is spread by the wind and breathed in by the refugees. It settles everywhere and is therefore enters the body with food”, states the report, quoting the World Health Organisation WHO. "It is disgraceful that six years after the liberation of the Albanian population by international forces the Roma are still locked up in refugee camps”, says Tilman Zülch, head of the GfbV.
The Polish lawyer, Marek Nowicki, who has the office of ombudsman, which is provided for in the transitional constitution of Kosovo, described in a similar vein in a newspaper article his recent visit to a Roma refugee camp in northern Kosovo. And he finishes with the statement that there is evidently no wish, either on the part of the political leadership of the Kosovo or on the part of the people, to take any action in this matter. Rather the question is put: ”Why should Albanians be concerned with the Roma?”
Süddeutsche Zeitung 02.02.2005
Help for the helpless
The Roma are still on the edge of society – now eight East European countries are starting a campaign aimed at integration
Stefan Kostov wanted to collect wood to make a fire against the cold. On 2nd February 2002 the 27-year old Rom walked through a small wood near the small Bulgarian town of Sliven, accompanied by three boys from the neighbourhood. A policeman came up and shot Kostov without warning in the knee. Later that day the official made the boys agree to a statement, which they could not read because they had never learned to read. Kostov lodged a complaint with the public prosecutor – and the case was dismissed. His companions had confirmed with their assent that Kostov had injured himself.
Examples of the discrimination of the Roma like that of Stefan Kostov, documented by the Bulgarian Human Rights Project are legion. The state electricity company refused for five years to provide a connection to a Rom and a clothing store refused to serve a Roma woman. Both cases occurred in 2004 – after the passing of the anti-discrimination law.
The exclusion of the Roma in Bulgaria is just an example of what is happening in other eastern European countries. "The situation is still very, very disturbing” says Jasna Causevic, the correspondent at the Society for Threatened Peoples. For this reason eight countries – Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Macedonia, Rumania, Serbia-Montenegro and Slovakia – are inaugurating today the "Decade of the Integration of the Roma” in Sofia. From 2005 to 2015 they want to improve the integration and economic situation of the Roma.
Some eight million Roma, whose roots lie in India, live in Europe, six million of them in the eastern countries. "They are on the edge of society” says Causevic. According to the World Bank 40% of the Roma live on less than 1.65 euros per day. In Bulgaria 89% of the children go only to primary school. In many Roma areas the unemployment rate is 100%. Causevic speaks of a vicious circle. The families are too poor to pay for clothing and books for the children. They are isolated at school and fail to obtain a certificate when they leave. For this reason the planned measures start with education and with the support of the World Bank an education programme is to be set up.
Since the year 2000 the EU Commission has invested 77 million euros in Roma projects – without any noticeable result. The new EU countries and the candidates for entry into the EU Bulgaria and Rumania have committed themselves to the "Copenhagen criteria” and to the protection of minorities. However Causevic speaks of "lip service”. She hopes to see in the "Roma Decade” a testing of the applicant countries, but above all a decrease in prejudice among the citizens. According to one survey 97% would never marry a Rom, 66% would not live on the same housing estate, 61% consider the Roma to be "lazy and irresponsible”. Discrimination is even rooted in the language. Popcorn which does not puff up is called in Bulgarian "a gipsy”.
News for friends, supporters and members of the GfbV
No. 4 – May 2005
Evacuate the Roma camps in Kosovo!
We are hoping that Nikolina will survive. The GfbV team brought the desperately ill small child to hospital a few weeks ago and made sure that her body was detoxicated. Now the two year-old Roma girl is living with her uncle. Her four year-old sister Jenita died in the summer of 2004 of lead poisoning. Some 60 Roma children have been born in the three refugee camps of Cesmin Lug, Kablare and Zitkovac. They all suffer from lead poisoning. Their nerve systems are probably permanently damaged. The camps were set up in 1999 for refugees from Mitrovica, the largest Roma settlement in Kosovo, directly beside refuse heaps. At the time the GfbV issued a warning for the first time about the health dangers to the refugees. Later we suggested in numerous talks with those responsible at the UN mission in Kosovo UNMIK and like several doctors called for their evacuation. However even their frightening reports on the very high lead contamination did not move the UNMIK to any noticeable reaction.
Now the English-speaking daily newspaper International Herald Tribune has published a report by our team leader, Paul Polansky. From Göttingen we have given detailed information to our media on the irresponsible neglect of the 500 refugees on the part of the UNMIK. We are now hoping that the politicians will at last help these people, who have been driven out by Albanian extremists. Some 130.000 of the former 150.000 Roma and Ashkali have had to flee from Kosovo as a result of the racist persecution.
Text and research: Paul Polansky assisted by Miradija Gidzic, Dzafer Buzoli and Tina Gidzic
Editing and translations: Laure Almairac, Yvonne Bangert, Jasna Causevic, Annelore Hermes
The project "Humanitäre Unterstützung und Beratung von hilfsbedürftigen Roma und Aschkali in Kosovo, insbesondere von allein stehenden Frauen und Kindern” ("Humanitarian support and counselling of Roma and Ashkali in Kosovo, especially single women and children”) was financed by the Niedersächsächsische Lotto-Stiftung (Lower Saxon Lotto Foundation), the Stiftung Vielfalt der Kulturen (Many Cultures Foundation), the Ev.ref. Church of the Canton St. Gallen, the Waldemar-Koch Foundation and the Society for Threatened Peoples.
We should like to express our thanks for this generous support.