Kablare: Poisoned Earth
In 1999 the UNHCR built three IDP camps for the Roma people of Mitrovica, a town in Northern Kosovo, on a site that was contaminated with lead from the nearby Trepca mines. The camps were set up in an attempt to re-house some of the 8,000 people displaced from the Roma Mahalla on the South side of Mitrovica, when their Albanian neighbours had burnt down their homes in the dying days of the conflict.
The UNHCR knew that the proposed location for the camps was highly toxic because of the lead mining and smelting works at the nearby Trepca mine. Despite subsequent reports by the WHO warning against the dangerous levels of lead in the camps, they remained open until 2006 by which time 73 people had died of suspected lead poisoning.
Vebbi Selimi was one of those people. When I first met him in February 2005 he was living in one of the tiny, damp barrack rooms of Kablare camp with his wife and two children. They had been there for about three years but intended to leave for Serbia as soon as they could, as they had family already there.
Vebbi died on the morning of the 26th of March 2005 aged 27. His death was shrouded in mystery, with no autopsy being carried out as a result of his Muslim faith, which required his burial within 24 hours. His family never found out exactly what killed him but subsequent tests on Vebbi's children suggested that it was linked with the amount of lead polluting the land his family were forced to live on.
© Ivor Prickett