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UN urges displaced in Kosovo: leave polluted camps

UN urges displaced people in Kosovo to leave polluted camps immediately

United Nations agencies in Kosovo renewed emergency calls today for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to leave lead polluted camps in the northern part of the province and move their families to the safer UN-run camp of Osterode.

Stressing that the move was particularly important for the health of children, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that the lead levels in the affected camps were such that “no amount of remediation on these sites can protect the residents.”

In a joint press release from Pristina, the capital of the UN-run province of Kosovo, the agencies declared that the only solution is for the IDPs “to relocate to a safer location immediately.”

The statement said that the IDPs affected come from the Roma, Ashkaeli and Egyptian communities but the appeal to move to the safer camp was also directed at local authorities and community leaders.

“Lead is highly toxic to humans. Young children, especially those under 5 years of age and fetuses, are the most vulnerable. Exposure to lead causes a variety of adverse health effects, including impaired mental and physical development,” the organizations said.

Camp Osterode, which can accommodate around 550 people, has been cleaned and refurbished by UNMIK in line with recommendations from a team of environmental engineers from the United States who had tested the site for lead contamination. WHO had also tested the site and concluded that “the camp is considerably safer from a lead stand point than the current camps.”

At Osterode, the housing units have been completely renovated and most are centrally heated. Arrangements are also in place for continuous electricity and water supply and there will be a doctor and two nurses on duty, as well as professional camp managers, according to the statement.

“Most importantly, Osterode will be a safer place for the IDPs to live as we and they finalize plans to return to their former homes in the Roma Mahala or elsewhere,” the organizations said, stressing that the temporary measure was only a “stepping stone to the permanent return of the IDPs to their homes.”

Kosovo has been run by UNMIK since 1999, when NATO drove out Yugoslav troops amid human rights abuses in fighting between Serbs

Last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Kosovo Serb leaders to work to promote government reform and other key goals in the province, saying he was “seriously concerned” by the slow progress and setbacks in recent months.

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