JRS Dispatches No. 115
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
INDIA: SRI LANKAN REFUGEES WILL WAIT AND WATCH
The Sri Lankan Minister for Rehabilitation made a historic visits to the refugee camps in Tamilnadu, India, where nearly 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have been living for the past ten years. JRS in India reports that this visit is a refreshingly positive sign and an indication of the acceptance by the Sri Lankan government that these refugees are Sri Lankan citizens and that a solution will have to be found as to their future status and living arrangements. The hope now is that measures will be initiated to improve the prospects of repatriation. The Minister visited the camps and enquired from the refugees as to their views on repatriation. The refugees informed him that they would prefer to wait and watch until a comprehensive solution was arrived at in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is currently engaged in a fragile peace process and cease-fire after many years of civil conflict and ethnic tensions that have left deep scars and divisions throughout the nation. The Minister assured the refugees that the process of exit visas for those who chose to return on their own would be made easy. Furthermore, assurances were given that the university degrees obtained by the refugees in India will be accepted in Sri Lanka. The minister showed genuine interest in the welfare of the refugees and their speedy return to their land in Sri Lanka, reports JRS in India.
CONTINUING INSTABILITY IN BURUNDI
JRS in Burundi reports that President Buyoya has recently brought about a number of political changes in Burundi, replacing many of the country's regional Governors. JRS, based in Muramvya, Bujumbura Mairie and Bujumbura Rurale, recently met with the new governor of the Bujumbura Rurale province, Mr. Ignace Ntawembarira, in what was a very positive and constructive meeting. Mr. Ntawembarira organised the meeting with all the humanitarian organisations working in his province, and stated that he was ready to accept and support their demands, in particular in relation to access to people in need. He also stated his desire that the work of humanitarian and aid organisations would evolve from purely emergency work to become more involved in development work. His stated vision of the future was one where the work of organisations such as JRS would be capable of helping local communities to become independent, thus empowering them to take charge of and bring about change in their own lives. The situation in the country is, however, still unstable, according to JRS in Burundi. There have been a number of recent ambushes on the roads, as well as shelling and rocket attacks on the main towns of Bujumbura, Ruyigi and Makamba. There have also been attacks of vandalism on a weekly basis if not on a nightly basis, as documented by a recent Amnesty International report.
FIGHTING IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO DISPLACES THOUSANDS
Fighting between the Rwandan army and a Congolese rebel group has intensified recently in the South Kivu region of Eastern DR Congo, leading to an increasing number of displaced people, reports JRS in the Great Lakes region. The Rwandan army has been deployed in DR Congo since 1998 on the pretext of protecting their borders from hostile Hutu forces based there. Since March of this year however, they have become embroiled in a conflict with the Tutsi Banyamulenge rebel group, who themselves are a dissident breakaway group, having formerly been part of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD). JRS in the region reports that the conflict has escalated in recent days with an increasing use of heavy arms and attacks on villages, leading the local population to flee. Some reports indicate that tens of thousands of people have become displaced as a result of the latest fighting. There are no humanitarian organisations in the area capable of intervening and providing much needed aid to the civilian population, with the region classed as a maximum insecurity area.
US TASK FORCE ON PREVENTION OF SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN REFUGEES
A task force chaired by JRS USA Director, Rick Ryscavage SJ, has issued a report into the prevention of sexual exploitation of displaced children. The Task Force was created in March 2002 following the release of a report by UNHCR and the Save the Children-UK alleging that displaced children in Western Africa had been sexually exploited by, amongst others, humanitarian workers. The Task Force, which was set up by Inter Action, an alliance of 160 US-based international humanitarian non-governmental organisations, did not investigate the allegations of abuse but rather focused on actions that humanitarian agencies should take to prevent the abuse of displaced children. The report states that the possibility of abuse and exploitation is heightened by the scarcity of food and other resources that characterise many refugee camps. It also proposes a code of conduct for its member agencies to prevent what it describes as ''intolerable abuse of power, violation of the rights of individual children, misuse of humanitarian assistance, and violation of the fundamental duty of humanitarian workers to protect and assist refugees and displaced populations''. The report in full can be obtained at http://www.interaction.org
DETERIORATING CLIMATE OF INSECURITY IN ACEH, INDONESIA
The situation in Aceh (Indonesia) has deteriorated, not only for the indigenous people of Aceh, but also for outside parties, especially humanitarian workers. Violence is still ongoing and JRS has received reports from a local NGO monitoring human rights abuse concerning burnings, torture and sexual harassment committed by elements of the Indonesian armed forces. The latest incidents were sparked by a Free Aceh Movement (GAM) ambush of six trucks of police and military personnel in West Aceh. In retaliation, government troops instigated an ''anti-rebel operation'' on 7 July, burning stores belonging to civilians and a primary school building. On Wednesday, 10 July, local media reported that 10 people had been killed in another anti-rebel operation in East Aceh. Seven of the victims were identified by the government troops as GAM members. GAM has been fighting a separatist war with the Indonesian army for the past 26 years, a conflict that has resulted in at least 10,000 deaths and the displacement of thousands of people.
The ongoing and escalating armed conflict has created a new phobia among Jakarta's elite. Military and civilian leaders in Jakarta have warned the Acehnese people of the possibility of implementing martial law in the region to crackdown on GAM movements and the issue has become a hot topic for several weeks in the Indonesian media. However, after spending some days visiting the restive province, the Minister for Political and Security Affairs, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, concluded that the government of Indonesia would not impose martial law or civil emergency in Aceh. He did however warn international and local NGOs not to take sides with GAM. The government of Indonesia seems very worried with the recent situation, especially with the extent to which the region is attracting international attention. The government has started to limit and control NGO movements and activities and JRS is no exception. Although martial law or civil emergency has not been imposed, the rigid operation for security has been intensified.
NEW LAW ON IMMIGRATION AND ASYLUM APPROVED IN ITALY: STRONGLY CRITICISED BY JRS
JRS Italy has strongly criticised the new immigration and asylum legislation approved by the Italian parliament on the 10th July. According to JRS, the new measures reflect negatively on immigrants and asylum seekers while failing to acknowledge the inherent dignity of immigrants and asylum seekers and the contribution they make to the development of Italy. The immigrant worker is portrayed as a part of an economic and productive system and therefore is only permitted to stay in Italy as long as he or she is able to produce wealth. To this regard the law introduces measures such as the "contract of stay" (residence permits will be given only to foreigners who have a two-year work contract. If an immigrant becomes unemployed then he must return to his country of origin) and the fingerprinting of all immigrants applying for permits or those who wish to renew their old permits. The articles regarding asylum are clearly restrictive and not in line with minimum standards of the European Community. Rather than looking at ways to protect asylum seekers and refugees the law seeks to deter and deport them. The law makes access to the right to asylum very difficult and introduces measures such as mandatory detention as well as making it virtually impossible to appeal a negative decision on an asylum application. With this new legislation Italy has, once again, ignored its international commitments, dealing with the right to asylum as a marginal issue within the broader context of immigration. The new measures will probably come into force at the end of September 2002, with the exception of the two articles relative to the right to asylum for which operative regulations have yet to be established.
KANANASKIS G8 SUMMIT: 'NOT A GOOD SUMMIT FOR REFUGEES'
Steps vital for the future of Africa and which could have helped to resolve the refugee crisis in many countries did not get approval at the G8 summit in Kanansakis, Canada, says JRS Europe. Nothing was done about the high duties imposed on goods from African countries. African leaders had asked for between $15bn and $20bn for debt relief but will only get an extra $1bn. The G8 merely agreed to assign to Africa half of an already pledged $12bn in development aid, and the question of investment in Africa's infrastructure was not tackled. 'The results are disappointing and much more was needed,' said JRS Europe director John Dardis. 'Europe is prepared to spend billions of euros on control of its borders but can't find the money to address the root causes of migration. When you put the results of the G8 summit with the results from the Seville summit of EU leaders, it has not been a good month for refugees.' For the full statement: http://www.jrseurope.org
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
A LOOK AT JRS PROJECTS: NAMIBIA
The refugees that JRS works with in Namibia are located mainly at the Osire Refugee Camp, about 250km northeast of Windhoek, the capital. The population at Osire is approximately 24,000, ninety percent of whom are Angolan, 6% Congolese (DRC), 2% Burundian, and the remaining 2% from other African countries, including Rwanda, Uganda and Liberia. Another 350 Angolan refugees are accommodated at the Kassava Camp, approximately 70 km south of Rundu on the Angolan border. The government announced in late June that the land immediately adjacent to the Osire camp will be turned over to the camp administration for use and since January, a new hospital and a distribution centre have been built. Electricity has been supplied to the school at the camp and work is in progress to improve sanitary facilities. Since March, the situation in Angola has changed dramatically with the death of the rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi and prospects for a permanent peace and eventual resettlement of the refugees have improved. However, the UNHCR in Namibia predicts that it will take three years to accomplish the work needed to support voluntary repatriation of Angolans.
JRS, as implementing partner for UNHCR, has responsibility for primary and secondary education for refugees residing at the Osire and Kassava camps. Enrolment at the primary school in Osire is currently at 5,450 pupils, with a total of 149 teachers, 141 of whom are paid by JRS and UNHCR. Classroom space is inadequate for the large number of students and plans are in place for the construction of 12 new classrooms and the renovation of a further 8. Electricity has been supplied to the school buildings since April and work is in progress to supply water with sufficient pressure to allow for the use of existing toilets - safe drinking water will also soon be available at the school. With JRS funding, a junior secondary school was established in the Osire Refugee Camp, beginning with grade 8 in January 2002, catering for 417 pupils. Grade 9 will be added in 2003; grade 10, in 2004.
JRS works with the Catholic community at Osire, primarily by providing support to the catechist at the camp and by helping to provide clothing and supplementary food for the elderly and most vulnerable people in the camp. JRS staff have been also been able to secure donations of bibles and rosaries as well as a crucifix, statues and images for the church at the camp.
YOUTH LEADERSHIP SEMINAR AT RHINO CAMP, UGANDA
The JRS team in Rhino Camp, Uganda reports on a youth leadership seminar that recently took place in the camp. ''Some forty-eight young people and leaders attended from all the chapels within the camp. The seminar lasted five days and was facilitated by a Salesian Father, Arisu Lazar from Kampala, his lay assistant, Edward Bulubar, and the JRS Rhino Camp Pastoral Assistant, Abel Okoth. The participants packed our training facility to the limits, but the days were filled with excellent topics and all the young people seemed to have enjoyed themselves and to have come away from the seminar with an abundance of ideas. Lazar, who conducts and facilitates these seminars regularly, included topics such as Group Dynamics, Africa Youth, Needs and Problems of Youth, AIDS, Persons as Gifts, Self-esteem, Emotions, Leadership and Jesus' Style of Leadership, Family, Drugs, Friendship, Sexuality, and a wonderful cultural evening. Each day, all were invited to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist and the Chapels all seemed to be buzzing during those days and since''
JRS BRINGS TO A CLOSE ITS MISSION IN EAST TIMOR
June 30 was the official date of the winding down of operations for JRS in East Timor. Some of the activities formerly conduced by JRS will be handed over to the Jesuit Social Ministry, and the focus will now turn to peace building and reconciliation for the newly independent Asia Pacific island. JRS has mainly been concerned with facilitating the return of those people who fled to West Timor in the violent days of 1999 during and following a traumatic vote for independence in East Timor. It has been nearly three years since the mass exit over the border to West Timor, though thanks to the new peaceful climate in East Timor and many reconciliation meetings, the vast majority of the refugees have since returned home. However, thousands of exiles still live in West Timor, and JRS will continue its work with these people until the end of 2002. East Timor will now have to come to term with its own violent and bloody past, and for this purpose a Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CRTR) has been established, with Isabel Guterres, a former JRS East Timor staff member, being appointed as one of the seven national commissioners. The new Commission will become the main agent facilitating both continuing repatriation from West Timor as well as future reconciliation initiatives.
JRS PORTUGAL LAUNCHES BOOK ON REFUGEES
World Refugee Day, 20 June 2002, saw the official launch of JRS Portugal staff member Rosário Farmhouses' book: ''Starting Over - Step by Step with Refugee and Displaced People''. The new publication is a collection of stories detailing the experiences of 20 refugees and immigrants who have been helped by JRS in Portugal. The official launch was attended by the Portuguese President, Dr. Jorge Sampaio, who took part in a dialogue with refugees and immigrants from various countries including Tanzania, Pakistan, Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. Dr. Sampaio voiced his concerns at the problems experienced by such people arriving in Portugal who were unable to gain the necessary legal documents or papers. The launch was also attended by Fr. Amadeu Pinto, Provincial of the Society of Jesus, Father Alberto de Brito, Superior of the Community of St. John de Britto and Fr. Manuel Moruj=E3o from the publishing house, Apostolado da Oraç=E3o.
JRS DISPATCHES is from the International Office of Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.391; Fax: +39-06 687.92.83; Email: email@example.com; JRS on-line: http://www.jesref.org; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: Hugh Delaney; Translation: Pablo Baron(Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Centro Astalli/JRS Italy (Italian).