Ten years after being displaced by war, hundreds of Kosovar Roma still live where the UN put them – atop a toxic dump. A TOL multimedia presentation.
Michael J. Jordan, Special to Transitions Online, August 12, 2009
(Note: Below is the introduction to my photo essay. To view whole slideshow, click here.)
A decade ago, the orgy of violence that consumed Kosovo first revealed Albanian victims, then Serb victims. One victimized community was often overlooked: the Roma.
At the epicenter of interethnic clashes was the northern city of Mitrovica, which even today remains divided: Serbs on the north side of the Ibar River, Albanians on the south side, and NATO troops guarding the bridge in between.
In summer 1999, returning Albanian refugees virtually razed a local mahala (settlement) that was home to 8,000-plus Kosovar Roma, accusing the residents of collaborating with the Serbs. The UN mission in Kosovo relocated many of the displaced Roma to the abandoned Trepca mining and smelting complex in north Mitrovica, just a few blocks from the bridge.
But the Osterode and Cesmin Lug settlements, it turned out, sat on land contaminated by lead and other metals. And what was supposed to be temporary accommodation has turned permanent.
Despite calls by the World Health Organization, Human Rights Watch, and others to evacuate Osterode and Cesmin Lug, some 450 Roma continue to live amid what Thomas Hammarberg, the European commissioner for human rights, has branded “the single most major environmental disaster in Europe.” Roma leaders and their advocates allege that as many as 80 residents of the camps have died of cancer-related illness over the years.