Displaced Roma once housed in camps near the Trepca mine continue to suffer the effects of lead poisoning – and say a UN decision admitting negligence comes too late.
Ten years since he left the Zitkovac camp in the Zvecan municipality of northern Kosovo’s, Fejzullah Latifi points to the exact spot where he was housed in a tent with his family.
He and thousands of Roma from Mitrovica were displaced from their community, known as the Roma Mahalla, after ethnic Albanians from Kosovo attacked it on June 21, 1999, as Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo and while NATO/KFOR troops were still being deployed.
Latifi, who is 26 but looks much older, took us to the hill he once called home next to a disused factory building in Zitkovac, near a smelter’s chimney.
The camp in Zitkovac, like several other camps that housed the displaced Roma, were all within 200 yards of facilities belonging to the Trepca mining complex.
Once one of Europe’s biggest mines, it employed 23,000 people back in the 1980s, extracting lead, copper, zinc and other precious metals.
Latifi points to places where the waste from the mine was dumped, sometimes covered with a layer of soil, which he said would not cover the waste for more than a few weeks.
“Many people were poisoned because there was a hill with poison and Trepca was close by,” he said.
“Every time there was a light snow, all the pyrite would fall on us, on the barracks where we were staying in Zitkovac.”
Latifi was only six when the UN placed 700 Roma in camps near Trepca between 1999 and 2001.
The camps were close to the factory’s lead smelter and to three big tailing dams used to store mining waste, which has been scientifically proven as a cause of environmental degradation and pollution.
Trepca, which was administered after the war by the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, was shut down for a time after peacekeepers working nearby were found to have high levels of lead in their bloodstreams.