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Kosovo: Roma to leave lead-tainted camps

Displaced Roma in Kosovo to leave lead-tainted camps, UN says

A newly-refurbished camp will open on Monday for internally displaced Roma populations in Kosovo that are enduring unhealthy lead levels in their present dwellings, the United Nations Mission in that province (UNMIK) announced today.

The displaced Roma will be temporarily housed in Camp Osterode, recently vacated by French forces, until the ongoing reconstruction of their permanent homes in northern Kosovo is completed.

UNMIK said that the new camp will closely follow recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), to protect children and pregnant women from lead poisoning. The mission has offered to help the Roma relocate.

This past June, Dr. Walter Kalin, a UN expert on the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) appealed to the international community to provide resources to evacuate the Roma population affected by lead poisoning in camps in Northern Mitrovica.

`Camp Osterode, which had housed a French unit of the international Kosovo Force (KFOR), was refurbished with contributions from international donors. According to UNMIK, the Camp offers access to health and hygiene infrastructure, social supports, children's programmes as well as employment and training opportunities for residents.

In a meeting in Camp Osterode today, representatives of UNMIK, WHO, and other agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the camps called on Roma leaders to support an immediate relocation to the new camp following its opening on 9 January.

Most of the displaced came from the major Roma neighbourhood, known as the Roma Mahala, which was destroyed during the conflict between majority Albanians, Serbs, and Yugoslav forces in 1999. The UN has administered Kosovo since NATO forces drove out the Yugoslav troops that year.

Reconstruction of the Roma Mahala has started, with the first phase of rubble clearing completed and work on the first two buildings planned.

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