Fire destroys Kosovo Roma refugee camp in Montenegro
07/25/2012 13:23 GMT
by Olivera Nikolic
PODGORICA, July 25, 2012 (AFP) - Some 800 Kosovo Roma, including children, were left homeless after a fire tore through a shantytown refugee camp on the outskirts of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, officials said Wednesday.
No one was hurt and it is not clear what started the blaze in the camp, where the Council of Europe in February described living conditions as "inhuman and hazardous".
The fire broke out early Tuesday and quickly reduced the camp, which consisted of some 40 wooded shacks, to ashes.
"The fire started while we were sleeping. It is a miracle that there were no victims," Ljatif Ajdezi, who came to Montenegro from Kosovo in 1999 with nine other family members, told AFP.
"I ran out in shorts, everything I owned burned in less than an hour," he said, staring at the burned-out shell of his home.
The so-called Konik camp, built near a garbage dump, is one of the biggest settlements for Roma refugees in Montenegro.
It had no electricity, no cooking facilities, no running water and no sanitation, the Council of Europe said in its February report that urged the government to close the camp and find permanent housing for its inhabitants.
The Montenegrin authorities said Konik, which was set up during the 1998-199 Kosovo conflict, was housing some 800 refugees including 50 children when the fire started.
The Red Cross set up several tents close to Konik camp to provide shelter for the homeless while five families were housed temporarily in a nearby school and others moved in with friends or relatives.
But some refugees refused the offer of tents and demanded permanent housing instead.
"This provisional solution has lasted 13 years and now the authorities are giving us tents. This is torture," angry refugee Buja Dzimaili said.
About 50 refugees gathered outside the local office of the UN refugee organisation UNHCR to protest against the tents.
The head of Montenegro's bureau for refugees, Zeljko Sofranac, said the fire would speed up efforts to find a permanent solution for the refugee families.
The European Union earlier this year pledged some 2.5 million euros ($3 million) in funds to resolve the refugee housing issue.
Montenegro, a tiny Balkans country with 650,000 inhabitants, still houses over 12,000 refugees from the 1990s Balkans wars.
Many Roma fled from Kosovo to neighbouring Montenegro during the 1998-99 conflict between Serb troops and ethnic Albanian rebels.
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