Page last updated at 20:07 GMT, Saturday, 20 June 2009 21:07 UK

Living in filth for 10 years

A girl looks through the wire-fenced perimetre of Konik refugee camp
Konik is the largest refugee camp in the Balkans

More than 2,000 Roma (Gypsies) who fled Kosovo during the conflict in the 1990s still live in Konik refugee camp near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.

The sprawling slum of tents and shacks is built near the largest rubbish dump in Montenegro.

The mayor of Podgorica recently said the refugees should go back to where they came from.

Save the Children is working to integrate the Roma, but few stay long in the local school.

As the UN marks World Refugee Day, Save the Children's Phoebe Greenwood meets two men who describe appalling living conditions at the largest refugee camp in the Balkans.


My family and I have nothing to eat, nothing to wear, nowhere to take a proper shower. We have been living like this for 10 years.

Veseb Berisa
Veseb says he wants to leave the camp, but has nowhere to go

I work all day every day scouring the rubbish tips for metal to sell and maybe, if I'm lucky, earn 200 euros (£170) a month to feed my family. We cope because we have to.

I had a job in Kosovo. I ran my own business buying and selling fruit and vegetables. I would like to do that here in Montenegro but I can't. I don't have any resources. I've no money to get started.

The worst thing about the camp is that it's dirty. The hygiene here is terrible. It causes so many health problems. Everything we have is dirty. Nothing can stay clean here. It causes so many health problems.

A lot of people are sick in the camp for lots of different reasons, most often in their lungs because the air here is so foul. Lots of others have problems with their hearts and blood pressure. But in 10 years of living here, I've only seen the UN help one boy who was sick.

It's too hot here, over 40C in the summer and there isn't enough water. Water comes into the washing area near the toilets but the water pressure is so low, there isn't enough for all of us.

Some of the kids here go to the local school. They were given books there but they have no clothes and most of the time they are hungry, so how are they meant to think about learning?

I would leave now if I could, but where would I go? I would like to have a proper house, if only to know that I have my own home, a roof over my head. I want to leave a house for my children as my father left a house for me.

Children play in the rubbish strewn across the camp
Piles of rubbish are strewn across Konik

I have five children and I'm worried about their future. My heart aches for them. I was sitting here half-an-hour ago, I heard music coming from somewhere and I imagined my family dancing. But I can only imagine that now. I know I won't see it - it's not possible any more.

We are in a critical state. It's too much. No-one helps us anymore. No-one comes to see how we are or how we live.

We want to live as other normal people live do. We are the same as the other refugees, the Bosnians and Croats who came to this country during the war. But the refugees from Bosnia have been given houses, all around this camp. Why do they have different conditions to us? Why do we have to live like this?

We are people too. We are humans. We need help from the UN, from the Albanians and Serbs who put us in this situation. What do they think in America, in the UK? They are also responsible for the conditions we live in. They have done nothing to help us.


I run a business in the camp, cleaning people's cars and carpets. I started it two years ago. I won a competition at the local Catholic Church with my business plan and they gave me 500 euros to get started.

Hamza Pajezitaj
Hamza says most of the refugees are afraid to go out from the camp

Sometimes taxi drivers come from the town to get their cars cleaned because I charge three euros and it's five euros in town. I'm pretty affordable.

I was 10 when we left Kosovo. I remember arriving at the camp and thinking it was just too full of people. There were more than 10,000 people here then and it's still crowded now.

The people who live around us here are really aggressive. It's discrimination. I don't have as many problems as most people in the camps because I've met people from town through my business. I'm accepted in a way. But most of the others who live here feel too afraid to go out.

It's not so much the local people who fight with us as the local Roma who have lived here for years. They consider us, refugees, to be a lower status than them.

It's difficult for us to start any kind of life here because we can't earn money. We're not allowed to sell on the streets so most people survive by eating food from garbage cans.

The conditions in the camp are bad. It's dirty everywhere and there aren't enough toilets. The biggest problem people have is to heat enough water to wash themselves and their things.

The air stinks of the piles of rubbish we live in. The garbage depot is just next door. It's the main depot in Montenegro and takes the rubbish for the whole of Podgorica. They burn rubbish there almost every day and the smoke comes over into the camp. People have a lot of lung problems here.

Conditions are getting worse because people's homes are falling apart. They were only ever meant to be temporary and we've been living in these huts and tents for 11 years.

The mayor of Podgorica said he wants us to go back to Kosovo but it's just not possible. Our houses were burned and our lives there were destroyed.

Those who are lucky go abroad, to Europe. Others just have to keep their heads down and survive. I can't go back to Kosovo now. I have nothing there. This is my home now.

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