Kosovo: Hope for lead-poisoned refugees
55 MEPs demand UN compensation for seriously ill Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians
In a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, 55 MEPs demand moral and material compensation for a group of Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians who the UN had accommodated in refugee camps in 1999, following the Kosovo war. As a result, they had fallen seriously ill. Now, the commitment of the parliamentarians gives the victims of irresponsible treatment new hope that they will finally be granted adequate medical treatment," stated Jasna Causevic, Southeast Europe expert of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), in Göttingen on Wednesday.
The human rights organization has been supporting the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians for many years. Early on, the STP had suspected that the five camps in northern Mitrovicë / Mitrovica were contaminated – due to their vicinity to a lead smelting plant – and had publicly demanded the camps to be evacuated. However, it was not until an environmental physician had documented poisoning phenomena among the refugees (end of October 2005, commissioned by the STP) that the UN gradually closed down the camps. The last camp was not evacuated until 2013. In a report published in 2018, the STP once again tried to raise awareness for the depressing situation of the victims. Representing a total number of around 600 former camp inmates, a group of 192 Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians have been fighting for compensation since 2008, with the help of American lawyer Dianne Post.
"We, Members of the European Parliament, are writing to urge you to take long overdue steps to ensure that the victims of widespread lead poisoning at UN-run camps inKosovo receive individual compensation, adequate health care and educational support," says the letter of the MEPs, which was initiated by Socialist MEPs Kati Piri (Netherlands) and Soraya Post (Sweden). The letter was also signed by the German MEPs Michael Detjen (SPD), Cornelia Ernst (Greens), Rebecca Harms (Greens), Knut Fleckenstein (SPD), Romeo Franz (Greens), Barbara Lochbihler (Greens), and Norbert Neuser (SPD). So far, the UN is not prepared to pay compensation, even though the Human Rights Committee of the UN Mission to Kosovo recommended this to the Human Rights Advisory Panel (HRAP) – and although the refugees are sure that it was the lead poisoning that caused a series of deaths.
"So far, the UN response has been inadequate," the MEPs criticized. "In 2017, you established a voluntary UN Trust Fund – falling short of offering individual compensation and specifically targeting those affected by lead poisoning (...)." Moreover, the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians still didn't receive any financial help at all, since the states failed to contribute to this fund, as Causevic emphasized. At the end of November, the European Parliament had once again called on the United Nations to provide the victims of lead poisoning with the necessary support – without delay.
Headerimage: Bernard Sulivan