JRS DISPATCHES No. 286, 16 September 2010
1. South Africa: regulation of Zimbabweans, a welcome step
Johannesburg, 14 September - JRS has given a cautious welcome to the introduction of new regulations affecting Zimbabweans in South Africa.
The new regulations stipulate that Zimbabweans, present in the country before 31 May 2010, may be eligible for a four-year work, business or study permit, if they are in possession of a current Zimbabwean passport and meet other qualifying criteria. Although no exact date has been given, it is believed the new regulations will come into effect within the next two weeks.
The new procedures replace the Special Dispensation for Zimbabweans, introduced in April 2009. The dispensation allowed Zimbabweans crossing into South Africa the right to live, work, attend education facilities and access basic healthcare for a period of six months. This was in response to the socio-economic challenges in Zimbabwe, which resulted in large-scale cross-border movement, as vulnerable groups sought safety and alternative livelihood strategies in South Africa.
According to JRS, the move is a positive step, regulating and recognising the contribution of Zimbabweans to the South African economy.
"JRS is pleased to see the South African government has recognised the necessity of providing assistance to vulnerable Zimbabweans, and welcomes efforts to tackle the complex issue of cross-border movement head-on, as opposed to ignoring the issue. We are also pleased to see cross-border cooperation from both the Zimbabwean and South African governments, as this promises a more effective and meaningful solution to migration flows between the two countries", said JRS South Africa Director, David Holdcroft SJ.
JRS also welcomed the prompt response by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to a number of concerns raised by the NGO community.
It is now clear that Zimbabweans can apply for a passport at the Zimbabwe Embassy in South Africa, and the cost of this application has been reduced to 50 US dollars. Zimbabwe has also relaxed the documentation requirements for passport application, to assist in facilitating this process. The DHA has also waived all application fees and deployed staff in 46 regional Home Affairs offices in all nine provinces across the country to process these applications.
However, many human rights organisations have raised concerns that the stipulations cater for those Zimbabweans who are already employed in South Africa - and those who are destitute and unemployed will not benefit from the new rules. The inevitability of deportations of Zimbabweans resuming in early 2011 remains a topic of concern to JRS.
While assistance to vulnerable populations is not at the heart of the DHA mandate, policies which do not cater for unemployed and destitute Zimbabweans inevitably complicate its operations. In the absence of other legal options for survival, many vulnerable Zimbabweans who lack clear evidence of the need for refugee protection will continue to apply for asylum en masse. This provides a continuous and large caseload for the DHA to work through - and the 'revolving door' of deportations might not stem the tide of those crossing the border.
However, JRS looks forward to continued information-sharing sessions with the DHA and other stakeholders, and particularly to hearing more about the cross-border implementation and monitoring committee. This committee could be very influential in managing and responding to concerns and issues raised by NGOs and other service providers working with vulnerable Zimbabweans, both on the border and in other parts of South Africa.
2. Democratic Republic of Congo: UN urges sanctions against rebel leaders
Geneva, 7 September 2010 - Two senior UN officials have urged the Security Council to introduce sanctions against rebel leaders for the organisation of mass rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Deputy UN peacekeeping chief, Atul Khare, told the 15-nation Security Council at a special meeting on the DRC that more than 500 people were raped, some of them children, in July and August in the North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Congo - 10 of them by the Congolese government's own armed forces.
Last week, the UN peacekeeping force in Congo, MONUC, stated that at least 242 people had been raped between late July and early August in the town of Luvungi, near a UN camp in North Kivu.
UN special envoy on sexual violence Margot Wallstrom also supported the idea of the council blacklisting rebel leaders involved in the mass rapes, which she said appeared to be "part of a planned and organised attack."
"What is particularly disturbing is that the attacks ... were not an isolated incident but part of a broader pattern of widespread and systematic rape and pillage," she said.
Failure of the UN
More than 15,000 individuals were raped in 2008 and 2009 in the DRC, a daily average of some 45 rapes. Many were raped by government forces.
Human rights organisations have consistently called for these crimes to be investigated and those responsible to be punished. Time and again, they have accused the MONUC forces of failing to protect local and displaced populations. For instance, UN troops learned of the rapes in Luvungi only two weeks after they occurred, even though the UN base is only 30km from the Luvungi area.
Acknowledging past MONUC failures, Khare said increased patrols and other measures would be needed in the future. While responsibility for the protection of civilians lies with the Congolese state, its national army and police force, clearly the UN have also failed, he added.
3. Europe: UN appears before European Court
Brussels, 2 September 2010 - For the first time, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has taken part in an oral hearing before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. Director of International Protection Volker Türk spoke on behalf of UNHCR, which has made a third-party intervention in the case of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece.
The case concerns the compatibility of transfers of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation, which identifies the state responsible for examining an asylum claim, with the European Human Rights Convention. Greece and Belgium are among the 30 European countries participating in the Dublin II mechanism. UNHCR had earlier made written submissions to the Court in this case.
The Court is being asked to assess whether transfers of asylum seekers to Greece violate specific provisions of the European Human Rights Convention, to which all of the Dublin II participating states are also parties. At issue is the risk of contravening Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) and/or Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).
Greece, not safe for all asylum seekers
The case is important because the question of sending asylum seekers back from other EU countries to Greece for examination of their claims has been raised in hundreds of cases before courts in Europe in recent years. This is the first case to be referred to the European Court of Human Rights' Grand Chamber since the 2008 decision in K.R.S. v. UK (which found that such transfers did not violate rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights).
In addition to the parties to the case (the applicant M.S.S., who is an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, as well as the respondent states Greece and Belgium), there were third-party interventions at the oral hearing by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, as well as UNHCR.
Although Greece is currently working on a comprehensive reform of asylum procedures, UNHCR expressed concern that the current asylum system fails to provide protection from the risk of forced return, and that reception and detention conditions, among other things, are gravely inadequate.
4. Colombia: Catholic Church honours victims of conflict
Rome, 14 September, 2010 - From 5 to 12 September, a number of Catholic organisations commemorated Peace Week in Colombia in honour of the thousands of victims of the conflict in the country.
Under the week's theme, 'Integral Reparation: because no victim is a stranger', the organisers - Caritas Colombia and the Scottish (SCIAF), English and Welsh (CAFOD) and Irish (Trocaire) Caritas agencies - sought to raise awareness in Colombian society regarding the plight of victims of the armed conflict and to promote solidarity and a comprehensive reparation plan for them.
As a consequence of the prolonged internal armed conflict in Colombia, the civilian population has suffered grave human rights violations: murder; massacres; forced disappearances; hostage-taking; forced recruitment; physical and psychological abuse; forced displacement; and a largely hidden epidemic of gender-based violence.
The organisers also sought to highlight the efforts of thousands of people, the Catholic Church, Protestant Churches and faith-based organisations to achieve lasting peace and build on proposals to ensure that all Colombians can live a dignified life.
Truth, justice and reparation
The Catholic Church believes that to achieve a lasting solution to Colombia's internal armed conflict it is vital to give voice to the many thousands of victims of paramilitary, guerrilla, state, and other violence in the country and ensure the active participation of victims in the road to constructing peace.
This means seeking the truth about crimes committed against them and their families; justice leading to prosecution of the perpetrators of violence; reparation (including the return of stolen land and assets); and non-repetition - the right to guarantee the violations will never again take place.
"What the country needs is a public policy that responds to the need for a process of reparation that is just, fair, efficient, swift and proportional to the harm suffered by the victims of the armed conflict," said Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao Gaviria, Social and Pastoral Care Director of Caritas Colombia.
For a copy of the document issued by the four organisations, 'The Colombian Conflict: For the Rights of the Victims' see http://www.abcolombia.org.uk/downloads/Frontcover_for_web.jpg
5. Dominican Republic: 50 Haitians forcibly deported
Jimaní, 4 September 2010 - JRS has urged the Dominican authorities to establish transparent and expeditious procedures that ensure respect for human rights, including access to legal assistance, to all migrants arrested for the proposes of repatriation.
The appeal by JRS coordinator, Jerpin Suero, followed the forced deportation on 1 September of more than 50 undocumented migrants by the specialist border police force (CESFRONT) in Jimaní town on the southeastern Dominican-Haitian border.
JRS representatives had tried to interview the detained Haitians, but the migrants were deported before being allowed to access them.
According to informal statements by a CESFRONT official, regular deportation of undocumented Haitians and persons the border police view as suspicious will continue.
According to a local resident, at least four of these returnees were women who had lived more than three years in Jimaní and regularly sold rice and beans in the market.
The US view
During a recent visit to the Dominican Republic, US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Eric Schwartz, discussed migration-related issues affecting Haitians who have been living in the Caribbean country for many years or even generations.
In recent years, Mr Schwartz said that constitutional and legislative provisions, as well as administrative directives, have severely limited the ability of individuals of Haitian descent to affirm claims of citizenship. Although the issues are very complicated, the US Assistant Secretary said there is no dispute that hundreds of thousands of individuls who previously exercised a variety of rights traditionally associated with citizenship are now unable to do so and are currently in a very difficult and uncertain situation.
Mr Schwartz added that "issues of citizenship are the prerogative of national governments, but broadly accepted and internationally recognised principles of due process and the universal right to nationality should inform decision-making...."
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
7. Kenya: JRS higher education projects evolve
Kakuma, 13 September 2010 - JRS has announced modifications to its higher education distance learning courses.
The existing distance learning programme with the University of South Africa (UNISA) and Social Work and Community Development (KISWCD) will be wound down at the end of the 2010-2011 academic year. This correspondence course will be replaced by an e-learning programme to be rolled out in Kenya, Malawi and Syria.
Although students on UNISA/KISWCD courses receive support from JRS staff and are able to use the organisation's facilities, materials frequently arrive late, and when students face difficulties they are unable to discuss these issues face-to-face with their teachers.
According to Daniel Macharia, a tutor from Kenya, the materials are very good when they come. Unfortunately, he says, they frequently arrive very late. Compared to the materials Mr Macharia received in university, these are extremely good, he added.
The JRS programme with UNISA and KISWCD began 11 years ago. In the interim, 66 students began the Bachelor of Arts or Commerce degree courses offered by UNISA. Of the total 21 graduated, four of whom are doing post-graduates in Nairobi and Canada. Currently, there are seven students taking degree courses through UNISA. A further 41 students registered for certificate and diploma courses in KISWCD. Of this number 23 graduated and 10 students are currently finishing off certificate courses.
Of the university graduates, many have gone on to work for the government in their home countries and NGOs in Kenya. While most KISWCD graduates found employment as community counsellors, community health workers, teachers, medical assistants and social workers, the rest left the programme for a variety of reasons, such as repatriation and resettlement in third countries.
This latest Jesuit initiative, 'Higher Education at the Margins', seeks to offer refugees opportunities to broaden their minds and help their communities. The programme - a partnership between JRS and Jesuit Commons - combines the best of new technology with the Jesuit philosophy of Ignatian pedagogy which emphasises experience and new learning; reflection and evaluation; and action and service.
Using the expertise of Jesuit universities and JRS field staff, the organisations plan to use the internet and on-site teachers, mentors and tutors, to offer accredited certificate and diploma courses to refugees in Kakuma (Kenya) and Dzaleka (Malawi) camps, and in urban areas in Syria, as well as certificates of learning, known as Community Service Learning Track (CSLT). In the pilot phase of the programme, ending in August 2014, more than 1,000 refugees are expected to participate.
Some of the difficulties faced by students in the original course will continue to cause problems, such as access to electricity, water and food. Moreover, the heat also can be unbearable, and fighting occasionally breaks out in the camp or surrounding areas. However, with online lessons and delivery of materials by email, JRS expects to be able to iron out difficulties rapidly and give students a higher quality of service.
More details will be released on the new project when it is officially launched on 27 September 2010.
8. Sudan: citizens long for good governance
Kajo Keji, 14 September 2010 - JRS and the local Department of Religious Affairs have providing training to 72 local leaders and government officials on good governance.
The two-day workshops took place in June and July and participants were introduced to issues such as democracy, leadership and good governance.
"We were asleep but we are now awake to do the actual work of good governance to our people," one of the 13 female participants said, after the group had discussed strengths and weaknesses of leaders.
"We appreciate JRS efforts to work in collaboration with the government, especially in the area of building capacities of citizens," said Mr Benson, Acting Commissioner of Kajo Keji County, Southern Sudan, when opening the second workshop.
"It helps people participate positively in the affairs of their government," he added, urging all county department heads, district directors, and police, prison and wildlife representatives to participate actively in the discussions.
The leaders unanimously agreed to organise similar workshops in each of the county's five districts later in the year. They also plan to establish effective revenue collection to support activities at all levels of authority and initiate awareness programmes using local FM radio stations and departments to promote a spirit of cooperation.
The level of voter participation in Kajo Keji county was very high during the April 2010 national elections, the first after a two decade long civil war. All hope peace will prevail in Southern Sudan and that their leaders will govern democratically.
"The future of Sudan depends on the people themselves .... Their full involvement in all aspects of governance will help them co-exist peacefully and develop their country", said JRS Peace Coordinator in Kajo Keji, Yusto Lasuba.
Since the 2005 peace agreement between south and north Sudan, JRS has strengthened its community education programmes in Kajo Keji. JRS teams take part in peace building activities and organise workshops to encourage citizens to become involved in nation building.
JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.386; Fax: +39-06 689.77.380; Email: email@example.com; JRS online: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian).