JRS Dispatches No. 119
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
1. PEACE BRINGS NEW CHALLENGES IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING ANGOLA
The current peace process in Angola is bringing about immense change in a country that has experienced nearly thirty years of civil war and destruction, writes JRS Angola. The new political landscape has given hope to the millions of displaced people and refugees that they may be able to return to their areas of origin, and already thousands have undertaken the journey to their former homes. The challenges now facing the returnees, the authorities, and humanitarian organisations working in Angola are great, as many of the areas in question lack any type of social services, schools, hospitals, physical infrastructure, and are littered with land mines and left with the destructive legacy of conflict. Statistics from the areas where JRS is present reveal that 34,000 people have already returned home within Uige province, while 13,000 people have left Luena for other districts in Moxico Province. It is also estimated that approximately 500 Angolan refugees are returning from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo on a weekly basis. Figures relating to the capital city Luanda are less clear as most of the displaced people have been living outside of the camps and do not form part of the official statistics. With the changing circumstances and needs, JRS has reflected upon and evaluated its role and capabilities and established a plan of action for 2003. The plan will be developed further during the country meeting at the beginning of October and put into practice in Negage, Luena and Luanda, where JRS has a presence. The main focus is on reintegration of returnees, accompanying those in need, advocating for and protecting the vulnerable, promoting education of the young, skills training, teacher formation, and peace education, as well as community initiatives and pastoral work.
2. UGANDA: REBEL ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS CAUSE DISPLACEMENT
On 8 September, about 40 rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attacked two villages in Ofua sub-county, Adjumani, Uganda. The zones affected are not highly populated but the farmers and shepherds have a good number of cattle. A possible motive for the attack was the provision of food supplies for the rebels. Two bulls were slaughtered and the meat taken. About 40 goats were taken and 19 tukuls were burned. There were no casualties though some people were abducted to help the looters carry the goods. Given the relatively short distance between the affected villages and Adjumani town (around 12km), the head of the UNHCR sub-office asked the heads of Implementing and Operational NGO partners to be ready for a possible evacuation to Moyo town. Despite the relative calm, UNHCR, in consultation with Implementing Partners, decided to relocate some staff as a precautionary measure. All (except the Head) of UNHCR staff , WFP, and others were relocated to Moyo. JRS relocated three staff, with two remaining behind in Adjumani. The situation stabilised and the staff returned the following morning. The Army ensured that 4 battalions were detached in the affected areas of the District .
On Tuesday 10th September, at around 6pm, the LRA attacked again. This time they targeted 5 sites of Maaji refugee settlements, a zone that had already been affected in the past. Food and non-food items were looted and a number of civilians abducted, some of whom have still not been returned home. An unknown number of displaced people are now in relatively safer areas, near or inside churches, feeding centres or schools. Next month, when the dry season begins, the problem of food will be more evident. Already a relatively high number of refugees share the same latrines and health centres and the health situation is being supervised by concerned agencies. JRS has restricted activities in the affected areas.
3. RWANDA: REPATRIATION OF CONGOLESE REFUGEES CONTINUES
JRS in the Great Lakes region reports that though the pace has slowed significantly since September 18, the Rwandan government is continuing with the process of repatriating the 32,000 Congolese refugees from Gihembe (Byumba) and Kiziba (Kibuye). Byumba and Kibuye Camps have been home to the refugees since 1996 after they fled to Rwanda to escape the killings perpetrated against their ethnic group by the Interahamwe (Hutu militia). The Rwandan Secretary of State for Social Affairs, Dr. Odette Nyiramirimo, has asked JRS to delay re-opening the primary and secondary schools in both camps, citing "organisational reasons". In a letter sent to JRS on September 19, Dr. Nyiramirimo wrote that the "modalities" of reopening the schools will be discussed "as soon as possible". In partnership with UNHCR, JRS has been running an education programme in the two camps, catering for over 10,000 students at primary, secondary and pre-school level. However, many of the teachers have been among those who have already been repatriated to DR Congo. In Gihembe camp, the refugees are fearful and uncertain as to the future, with many expressing their disbelief and suspicion regarding the lack of security in their native provinces due to the proximity of Interahamwe and other armed forces in the forests close to the point of arrival.
Meanwhile, after more than four years on Congolese soil, Rwandan troops have started to withdraw from Eastern Congo in accordance with the terms of the Pretoria peace agreement of July 30th. The agreement signed between Rwandan president Paul Kagame and Congolese president Joseph Kabila calls for the withdrawal of Rwandan armed forces from the DRC in exchange for the disarming, regrouping and repatriation by the government of Kinshasa of Hutu forces hostile to the Rwandan government, operating on Congolese soil.
4. BURUNDI: DISPLACEMENT DUE TO INCREASING LEVELS OF VIOLENCE
Increasing levels of violence in the interior of Burundi have forced more than 500 Burundians to flee their country over the last number of weeks. On September 9th, at least 183 people were killed in the Gitega province in Central Burundi, the largest civilian massacre in Burundi in two years. Since the beginning of September, over 1,200 Burundian refugees have fled to Tanzania as a result of the intensification of the conflict between the Burundian army and rebel forces. Colonel Augustin Nzabampema, the Burundian army spokesman, reportedly told the AFP news agency on September 19th that "through complicity or because they had been taken hostage by the FDD (rebel group), civilians were shot by elements of the army on the hills of Kanyonga and Kagoma during clashes". On 22 September, however, the transitional government of Burundi "categorically denied" this version of events, AFP reported. In reaction to the killings, the Archbishop of Gitega, Simon Ntamwana, told Radio France International that he believed the army was responsible. The government has established a commission of inquiry composed of military and administrative personnel from Gitega province to investigate the circumstances surrounding the massacre.
Meanwhile, negotiations due to take place on 22 September in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) between the transitional government of Burundi and the main rebel group, CNDD-FDD, collapsed without agreement. Despite the mediation of South Africa Vice President, Jacob Zuma, no progress towards a cease-fire could be achieved.
5. CONFLICT IN COLOMBIA: HARDSHIP FOR MANY DISPLACED PEOPLE
The Colombian authorities have passed a decree restricting movement within two zones, reports JRS in Colombia. The first area is located in the department of Araucan, on the border with Venezuela, and the second includes the Municipalities of the department of Sucre and Bolivar. These zones, within which there are restrictions on the entrance of foreigners and movements of food, are hampering humanitarian organisations in their services to the displaced people. In neighbouring Ecuador, the government has decided to close the Rumichaca Bridge, located in the border province of Carchi, between the hours of 10:00pm and 6:00 a.m. This measure, an attempt to control the influx of undocumented Colombians into the country, took effect on September 1 and will last for 45 days. However, the nocturnal closing of the Bridge has not prevented the continuing flow of refugees fleeing the conflict in Colombia from entering Ecuador.
In Panama, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that a group of Colombian refugees had returned voluntarily to Colombia. The15 refugees in question had been prisoners in " La Palma" prison, detained there because the Panamanian government claimed to have no other place to accommodate them. Among the returnees were two women, a girl and two adolescents. JRS-Panama maintains that the group was forced to return to Colombia.
6. CAMPAIGN TO BAN LANDMINES: FOURTH MEETING OF STATES PARTIES TO MINE BAN TREATY
JRS was well represented at the Fourth Meeting of States Parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, held in Geneva from 15-19 September. JRS Landmine consultant, Sr. Patricia Pak Poy RSM participated as a member of the Australian government delegation while JRS' Sr. Denise Coghlan, RSM from Cambodia, and Emilie Ketudat from Thailand were also in attendance as member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The meeting issued a strong Final Declaration, as well as a President's Action Programme, which will set the stage for continued progress on fully implementing the Treaty. The state parties to the Treaty are committed to 1) desist from production, stockpiling, transfer and use of landmines, 2) destroy stockpiled landmines within four years, and 3) clear all landmines from the ground within ten years.
Thailand has accepted to host the next such meeting, which normally rotates between Geneva and a mine-affected country, and is hoping to raise awareness about land mines in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole in order to enhance collective action on de-mining in the region. Even though Thailand is well known as a tourist destination with great scenic beauty, a Landmine Impact Survey revealed in 2001 that it was a country with 934 mine-contaminated areas or over 2,556 square kilometres located within 27 provinces, mainly along the Cambodian, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysian borders.
7. NEW LAW ON REFUGEES IN SLOVENIA
JRS Slovenia reports that a new law on refugees came into affect on the 25th of August. The law relates to people from Bosnia who are residing in Slovenia with temporary protection status, and opens the way for them to change their status and apply for permanent residency in Slovenia. This change of status would allow them to enjoy the same labour rights as Slovenian nationals. JRS, together with a number of other NGOs in Slovenia is working to help the refugees integrate into Slovenian society, some of whom have been living there in exile for as many as ten years. Meanwhile the JRS summer camp and pilgrimage for war victims from Sarajevo was a great success. The five-day pilgrimage from Moravée (near Ljubljana) to the Pohorje Mountains involved walking, praying, meditating and communication and had a great impact on the participants, most of whom were young people from St. Ignatius parish in Sarajevo.
8. SYMPOSIUM ON REFUGEE POST-PRIMARY EDUCATION
The Refugee Education Trust (RET) held its first international symposium on post-primary education on 18/19 September, with JRS participating as a member of the steering committee. The mission of RET, established by the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is to provide quality post-primary education to the largest possible number of refugee children (including internally displaced children). While the statistics for refugee children attending primary education has slightly improved over the last decade, the corresponding figures for post- primary education are still a serious cause for concern. Developing countries host some 1.5 million teenage refugees (aged 12-17) though only about 50,000 of them, a mere 3%, attend school beyond primary level. The symposium was an attempt to reaffirm the urgent need for more and better post-primary education for refugees, to exchange information and experience and to enhance co-operation. It was also an occasion to take stock of good practices and recommend practical measures. At the core of the symposium were the thematic workshops - each launched by a specialist on the topic under examination (background papers can be found at www.RefugeeEducationTrust.org ). The workshop sessions dealt with subjects such as: access to post-primary education; returning adolescents; gender; the quality of post-primary education for refugees; conflict prevention; vocational training; and distance education.
9. UNHCR PRE-EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING, 25-27 SEPTEMBER
In the week prior to UNHCR's Executive Committee (EXCOM) meeting, UNHCR meets with NGOs in what is known as Pre-EXCOM, to brief NGOs and listen to their concerns. This year's Pre-Excom meeting, held between 25-27 September, was characterised by a number of plenary sessions and a whole range of different workshops, covering various issues from staff and refugee security through to sexual exploitation, codes of conduct, UNHCR/NGO partnerships, evaluations and accountability.
The High Commissioner Mr. Lubbers in his opening speech spoke about partnerships between UNHCR and NGOs and encouraged NGOs to become more active in the humanitarian field. He also stated that the number of refugees of concern to UNHCR had fallen from 21.8 million to 19.8 million over the last couple of years, but that the job had become more difficult after September 11, with people becoming less generous and more afraid of foreigners. Mr. Lubbers also spoke about the need to bridge the gap between emergencies and development, and stated that countries which host large numbers of refugee should benefit more from development assistance. To read a full account of the meeting, go to http://www.jesref.org/alerts/unlatest.htm
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
10. HIGHLIGHTS FROM JRS PROJECTS IN KAKUMA CAMP, KENYA
MOMS PROGRAMME: 11 Mothers who were without adequate shelter have been provided with tents. They will form a small co-operative to produce mud bricks for their houses.
BEAD PRODUCTION is going well and the young mothers are happy to receive a little money to provide for their infants.
BANTU SOMALIS: The transfer of approximately 12,000 Bantu Somalis from Dadaab camp to Kakuma continues. Most of them will be resettled in USA after all the processing is done here. JRS recently invited the leaders of the communities to a meeting in our Day Care Centre 3 in order to introduce them to the JRS Social Services facilities available to them and to speak about the JRS mission to all refugees. They expressed their appreciation at the end of the meeting and promised to inform their community members.
SAFE HAVEN: For the past six weeks,
we have had problems with space because in a building made to accommodate
six adult women, we have had 36 clients, 24 of them children. Most of these
people in the Safe Haven are facing domestic violence, threatened abduction
or forced marriage. Gradually, solutions are being found and we now await
the transport of three families to Dadaab camp, Northern Kenya.
Written by Sr. Christina Mc Glynn FMM, JRS Project Director, Kakuma.
11. THE ON-GOING STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE IN ETHIOPIA
By Stephen Power, JRS Ethiopia Country Director
"JRS has had a long-standing involvement in Ethiopia: registered in 1982, Fr. Roland Turenne SJ braved the intricacies of dealing with the Dergue dictatorship to start up the first JRS projects there. These were programmes especially for relief - not surprising in the times of famine. JRS went on to assist in projects for the 'relocated' in Kishe, for development in Tigray, for the displaced in Debre Zeit and in Addis Ababa, for education in Gambella and for refugees in the Community Centre and Parish Outreach programme, also in Addis Ababa. "Working in Ethiopia has its own joys and challenges. The country remains amongst the poorest in the world. With a large population (60 million) and high rate of rural poor along with a low rate of enrolment in primary education (~50%), life in Ethiopia often means struggling for the basics. Wars and famine have hampered the ability of many to rise out of the miserable conditions, yet the cultural heritage, deep faith and the hospitality of the Ethiopian people give more than passing glimmers of hope.
"Most of the refugees in Ethiopia can be divided into two groups: Sudanese in the Western camps and Somalis in the East. There is also a camp for about three thousand Eritreans on the northern border. The country also has people who were displaced by the latest war (1998-2000). JRS has worked more with displaced people than with refugees, as until now we have not found our place in the camps. The Ethiopian government has their own operational refugee agency, the Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), and through this department they take the majority of UNHCR funding contracts for the work in the camps. This leads to particular protection and assessment concerns. JRS works, at present, for the refugees in the urban area of Addis Ababa and for some displaced families, who remain since 1991 in one of the worst slums on the outskirts of Addis.
"Our refugee community centre at Siddist Kilo provides facilities for learning languages, computing, music; it has a library, entertainment facilities and an Income Generating Activity (IGA) office. The parish outreach office helps those who have to go to the camps, those who are sick and those who have other emergency needs on a one-off basis. NGO regulations are strong in Ethiopia and the task now is to see if JRS is still needed as an organisation or whether more should be done to encourage the local church or others to take on more responsibility. I would like JRS to do all it can in this very poor country where refugees, through disadvantage, can be the poorest of the poor. Can JRS fully carry out its mandate, to accompany those most in need?"
12. A REFUGEES VOICE: BY ROGER NZOHABONIMANA
I am a refugee born in Burundi. I fled my country in 1996, when I entered one of the camps in Kibondo district, western Tanzania. I had no prior experience of life in a refugee camp. My first impression was that there is a lack of private life - little by little I noticed that there is no word to qualify the reality of my life. My life now has no connection with what it was in the past and the future is an unknown quantity. There is the trauma of the past, the present is a fiction and the future cannot be envisioned. One could compare camp life with life in a prison, but the question is who is convicted of what? You cannot really comprehend it if you do not experience it. The majority of refugees are frustrated as people are in wartime. What is their future? Nothing can be as frustrating as the fact that you cannot accomplish what you wish to of your own free will. I was a student in my homeland, but now I have no opportunity to continue my studies. It is as if I have not existed during my six years in the camp. If I say that I have been alive, one would ask me what I have fulfilled thus far. I cannot say that I was dead, since one cannot be that and have existed for six years at the same time! Even the few occasions given to us in the camp to promote our skills do not solve the problem since there is no certificate for the efforts. There are good opportunities definitely, which allow some refugees to be in contact with other people and share their experiences, but these do not suffice for us to lead an independent life in the future. After all, this situation is nothing in comparison with the one we escaped from. This one is the least evil, which can be changed if people of goodwill see refugees' lives as not only comprising of the past but of the present too. They should take into account our future, which should be independent.
The author, a refugee in Nduta camp, western Tanzania, works closely with JRS in the area of peace education and conflict transformation.
JRS DISPATCHES is from the International Office of Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.391; Fax: +39-06 688 06 418; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; JRS on-line: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: Hugh Delaney; Translation: Ignacio Echaniz (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Centro Astalli/JRS Italy (Italian).