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The forgotten children of a Kosovo refugee camp

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The forgotten children of a Kosovo refugee camp
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French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is in the Balkans on a mission to end the ongoing hostility between Serbia and its former province Kosovo which declared its independence two years ago.

Although France is among the nations to have recognised that independence, Serbia does not and Belgrade’s cooperation is considered crucial to the region’s future.

While reconciliation between Kosovo and Serbia remains at the heart of the the problem… in Kosovo, the divisions between Serbs and Albanians have not gone away.

In Mitrovica, itself a symbol of these ancient divisions, the declaration of independence merely intensified ethnic tensions.

The city is cut in two by the river Ibar. In the north, approximately 13,000 Serbs. In the south, 64,000 Albanians, and a small minority whose fate is uncertain.

“Roma Mahala” literally, the Roma district, is located on the banks of the Ibar. Totally destroyed during the war, it is now being rebuilt.

The families who lived there were rehoused in camps by the United Nations officially for a maximum of 45 days. For 10 years they have existed there. But the camps are located near old lead mines which are closed now but the toxic waste and the slag tips have never been cleaned-up. As a result, children are being poisoned.

Safeta Jahovic’s son Robert is seriously ill. She said: “He has high blood pressure and diabetes. No one helps us, Robert also has kidney failure. We find our food in the rubbish container.”

Over the last 10 years 80 people have died from poisoning in the camp. Even if these people were immediately relocated, doctors say it would take 10 years of intensive treatment to remove the poison from their blood and, it is claimed, the top United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is fully aware of the situation.

Human Rights Activist Paul Polansky, said:

“The Norwegian church (working for the UNHCR) did not save one child in the camps, they did not evacuate one child or one pregnant woman for medical treatment. It’s child neglect. There was one person from the Norwegian church, a former nurse, who became so upset by what she saw, she had to be transferred only two months after arriving there.”

The scandal is huge but largely ignored. No solution has been found to rehouse those families whose lives are in permanent danger.