LITTLE Sara Jahirovic is dying a slow, painful death.
Staring up with big, haunting brown eyes, Sara is a victim of broken promises by United Nations charity chiefs more than a decade after British troops helped free Kosovo.
Her desperate father – he has eight other children – explains that at the age of three she has already had three heart attacks and, as she now suffers daily fainting fits, this Christmas may well be her last.
Sara is just one of hundreds of forgotten children abandoned to suffer brain damage and await death in an international scandal exposed today by The Sun.
The youngsters are being poisoned by dust blowing into a stinking refugee camp from a mountain of toxic lead waste towering above them.
They were packed into the contaminated site by the UN ten years ago after British soldiers went in with our allies to rescue Kosovo from Serbian tyrant Slobodan Milosevic.
Their families, burned from their own homes by ethnic cleansing as the conflict ended, were assured it would be for just a few months until a safer place could be found.
But the UN High Commission For Refugees and sister agency UNMIK – the UN Mission in Kosovo – abandoned them behind the barbed wire of the filthy Osterode camp in Mitrovica when they pulled out two years ago and left the Kosovo government with the problem.
Around 400 of the 650 refugees at Osterode are youngsters, with more than 200 under the age of ten.
After a decade in the hellhole, tests show the children now have so much lead in their blood that medical equipment cannot accurately measure it.
The World Health Organisation and humanitarian campaigners say only immediate evacuation and medical treatment will save the children.
Yet the UN and its agencies STILL refuse to act.
Last night British scientists and humanitarian campaigners called on Foreign Secretary David Miliband to intervene.
Leading toxicologist Professor Alastair Hay, a UK Government adviser, said: “I have never encountered a situation in all the years I have been looking at lead where the situation is so catastrophic as it is for these children.
“I think this is absolutely criminal. It is such a disgrace that these children are exposed.”
So far, at least 84 refugees have died in the camp – many of them children whose organs simply packed up.
Sara’s father Feruz, 38, wipes away a tear as he watches her play in the filthy, crumbling former army barracks and says he expects her to join them soon.
Feruz, his own skin tainted with a dull, grey film of the deadly dust, said: “We do not know how long Sara will be with us.
“She has had three heart attacks and she is only three. She has regular fainting fits and epileptic attacks, yet she is a lovely, happy child. The only grace is that she does not understand what is happening to her.
“If she gets too excited, she collapses with an attack. At night she is screaming and my wife and I take turns to be awake with her because at any second she could die. We are exhausted.
“It is agonising to look outside and see a mountain of lead, and know it is killing your children.
“I am a strong man and yet I can do nothing and have to watch my children die in front of me.
“I have nine children, and seven of them are very sick. If there is a God, then he would help us. I am begging anyone who can help to stop this crime.
“The United Nations moved us here and told us it would be for a few months. We believed them and were grateful. Now they have gone but we are still here.
“Kids are kids wherever they are. They have a right to be healthy and happy. The United Nations told us it was saving us but it is killing us.
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“The only way the children can be saved is to move them away and give them medical treatment because here they are getting nothing. We are forgotten.
“People come and measure the levels of lead in our children’s blood and then go away and do nothing. There is no help, no hope.
“Where is the United Nations? When we first came we were told we would be here for four months. That is what they promised. Now they have gone. We need help.”
When the World Health Organisation first tested the childrens’ blood for lead five years ago, the readings for 90 per cent of the children went off the scale.
The levels were the highest they had ever recorded in any area, with many children poisoned by more than four times the amount that triggers brain damage.
Three months ago, after repeated pleas for help were ignored, outraged WHO bosses called for the camp’s “immediate and urgent” closure.
Standing on top of the 200 metre high mountain of 100 million tons of lead waste, you can see the air thick with the fine, grey dust that blows on to the camp.
The colossal slag heap that dominates the skyline was formed by Europe’s biggest mining and smelting complex, which has lain derelict since the Kosovo war. Below, children play in skips of human excrement and drink water from communal taps on land contaminated with the lead waste.
British human rights campaigner Bernard Sullivan told how he first began fighting for the refugees after delivering aid.
He said: “The UN has left these people high and dry. They have a moral responsibility to clean up the mess they have made.”
Both UN organisations claim they are still committed to helping the families even though they are no longer in charge.
But Kosovo government spokesman Memli Krasniqi said: “The UN did not do anything to move these people. We don’t know why.
“They have done their job badly. Now we are trying to deal with it but a lot of time has been lost.”
Meanwhile, only one thing is certain this winter in the camp – even more children will die.