International Romani Day

Toxic scandal in Kosovo – still no compensation

On the occasion of the International Romani Day, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) once again criticized the discriminatory treatment of the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians who were forced to live in lead-contaminated refugee camps in Kosovo. “Over the last ten years, the responsible institutions have been trying to evade any liability. They don’t want to pay any compensation although they are clearly responsible for the suffering,” criticized Jasna Causevic, STP expert on genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect, in Göttingen on Saturday. “The institutions of the EU and of Kosovo declare themselves not responsible, while the victims are still suffering from the consequences of the poisoning. They can’t afford the necessary medical treatment. This shows, once again, how deep-rooted the bias of the authorities against these marginalized groups is.” 

Although it was known that the area was contaminated with lead, activists and human rights organizations – including the STP – had to fight for a resettlement for several years. “Years ago, the UN Human Rights Advisory Panel (HRAP) confirmed that the United Nations had criminally neglected its duty to protect – and that the victims were therefore entitled to compensation. They haven’t received any money until today – not even an apology,” Causevic stated. “Because of this failure of the United Nations, the institutions of the Kosovo and the EU, including the European Union Rule of Law Mission, refused to take responsibility too. Nobody wants to be responsible, and the victims are left alone once again.” This shameful treatment of a powerless group by the guardians of universal human rights and the European judicial organizations is to be seen as a continuation of the discriminatory disregard that had led to the genocide of the European Roma in the first place. There must be initiatives to draw lessons from the past and to do justice to the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians of Mitrovica.

In the violent days after the end of the war in Kosovo in 1999, the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians were forced to leave their homes in Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo. Despite dire warnings – among others by the World Health Organization – the UNHCR had decided to accommodate the refugees in one of the most contaminated areas in Europe: in refugee camps near the dumps of the Trepča Mine. Originally, they were supposed to stay for a maximum of 45 days. In the end, the Roma stayed for more than 10 years – until 2013. As a consequence, dangerous levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic substances accumulated in their blood and internal organs – and those who were still children at that time are suffering from especially severe symptoms today.