JRS DISPATCHES No. 275, 15 February 2010
KENYA: LIFE INCREASINGLY HOSTILE FOR SOMALIS
During January, approximately 1,200 people were arrested in a nationwide crackdown on 'irregular migrants' by the government, following demonstrations against the detention and subsequent deportation of a radical Islamist cleric, Abdullah al-Faisal.
According to the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK), a JRS partner, arrested migrants, mainly ethnic Cushitic Ethiopians and Somalis, were charged with illegal presence and a lack of adequate documentation. Those able to produce ID papers issued by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and/or by the authorities were released. Approximately 90 percent of the cases in which RCK intervened were released. A small number of individuals are still in custody.
Following the initial crackdown, many refugees left Nairobi for outlying towns, such as Kitengela and Kajiado. Although the situation has eased somewhat, arrests were still being made up to 15 February.
Moreover, many ethnic Somali Kenyans were also arrested. Complaints from ethnic Somali Kenyans affected during the arrests are believed to be a factor which contributed to easing of the situation.
Kenya has traditionally been a safe haven for refugees fleeing neighbouring countries. In the past, most sought safety in the two refugee camps in northern Kenya. However, in recent years, increasing numbers of refugees have drifted towards urban areas. Life is becoming increasingly hostile for refugees in once friendly Kenya.
"During the raids on Somali refugees, Kenyans are said to have cooperated with the police in identifying Somalis and ensuring their arrest. We hope the situation does not denigrate into xenophobic attacks in the future", JRS Urban Emergency Programme Director, Irene Waweru, told Dispatches on 9 February.
Statements from the Kenyan authorities said that more than 1,000 irregular migrants had been detained and would now "be dealt with according to the law", denying any charges of racism.
However, according to a report by the UN news agency (IRIN) on 27 January, many believe the government is fomenting hostility against migrants to deflect attention from its own failings in the run-up to 2012 elections.
SUDAN: TEACHER REDUCTION WILL HIT EDUCATION QUALITY
Children will suffer if the Southern Sudanese authorities continue removing unqualified teachers without making sufficient plans to replace them, JRS staff in border town of Kajo Keji told Dispatches on 6 February.
Last month, the authorities started removing teachers unable to present valid qualification from the government payroll. Unfortunately, approximately 45 percent of teachers in Southern Sudan have never received any training. So far the Kajo Keji county education office has removed 100 teachers from a total of 700 and a further 100 will be dismissed.
Under the policy, schools no longer able to function will be forced to merge."This means a significant number of the 83 primary school will have to be closed", said Wani Benjamin, acting district education officer in Kajo Keji county.
In addition, teachers trained in the National Teachers College in Uganda may also be affected. Never officially hired, they were advised to teach voluntarily until the government recruits new teachers. Consequently, schools will have to recruit more qualified teachers and will need to raise school fees to pay them. Unfortunately, according to JRS, the quality of teaching is likely to deteriorate as schools will be left with fewer teachers.
Salary and training
"JRS has already scheduled consultative meetings with the county education authorities and the head teachers to develop appropriate responses to the current dilemma, including how to help the teachers affected. Some have received in-service training and could be sent for more formal training," said Joseph Lisok, JRS Project Director in Kajo Keji.
Since the Southern Sudanese authorities took responsibility for the payment of teacher salaries in 2006, the irregularity of payments has been a major challenge to quality education, adversely affecting teacher motivation and consequently the quality of teaching.
In an attempt to improve standards, the Southern authorities reorganised school staffing and recruitment procedures in 2007. This led to major staff transfers across Southern Sudan, doing little to improve standards.
Instead of criticising the screening method, dismissed teachers have demanded immediate payment of all their arrears. Some may have an opportunity for in-service training, while others will simply stay at home.
JRS started working in Kajo Keji in 2001, training teachers and providing educational services. The project has expanded rapidly since 2002 and it provides extensive educational support in 26 primary and five secondary schools with 14,000 students.
THAILAND: GOVERNMENT U-TURN ON DEPORTATION PLANS
On 10 February, refugee NGOs welcomed the announcement by the Thai government not to forcibly return more than 3,000 ethnic Karen Burmese refugees living in three make-shift settlements in Tha Song Yang District in the western province of Tak.
More than three weeks earlier, reports circulated that the Thai military would begin efforts to repatriate the Tha Song Yang refugees, voluntarily or otherwise. Following national and international criticism, the government declared its desire to work with NGOs, the Burmese authorities and armed groups to explore "safe return" or other options for the refugees.
If the 3,000 ethnic Kareni returned home they would almost certainly face a repetition of the human rights violations which caused their initial flight. NGOs have repeatedly insisted that any repatriation process be genuinely voluntary and those affected be involved in decisions about their settlement, return or relocation.
Despite the public commitments, the refugees have reported being threatened with immediate and mass removal by the authorities. Interviews with refugees, carried by the Karen Human Rights Group and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), confirm the overwhelming majority fear returning home and feel anxious about the lack of information on alternatives. The refugees wish to live in safety in Tha Song Yang or be transferred north to Mae La camp where shelter, food assistance and protection services are available.
Viable relocation to Burma is not simply a matter of appropriate shelter and food. Protection from human rights abuses must also be guaranteed. While the Thai government and DKBA rebels are committed to helping NGOs provide material assistance to returnees, neither are able to provide protection against landmines or human rights abuses, provide services or address livelihoods issues.
Given its role in the violation of human rights, including forced recruitment and labour, the veracity of DKBA assurances is questionable. Furthermore, the risk posed by landmines is particularly acute. Two Tha Song Yang refugees, forced back to Burma, returned to Thailand after being maimed in landmine explosions.
In these circumstances, efforts to forcibly return refugees would amount to refoulement, breaching international customary law, and undermine steps by the Thai authorities to deal sensitively with the significant numbers of refugee arrivals.
Most of the refugees living in Tha Song Yang were displaced after an escalation in hostilities in Pa'an District between the Burmese military and rebel groups last June. The violence compounded a long list of human rights violations against civilians in eastern Burma, leading to regular flows of refugees to Thailand since the 1980s.
More than 140,000 refugees live in nine official camps along the Thai-Burma border and, hundreds of thousands more undocumented Burmese eke out an existence outside of the camps.
SRI LANKA: POLITICS NOT ADDRESSING TAMIL CONCERNS
On 8 February, a group of six Sri Lankan bishops issued a public statement criticising recent trends in national political arena.
According to bishops Thomas Savundaranayagam, Kingsley Swampillai, Rayappu Joseph, Kumara Illangasinghe, Duleep de Chickera and Norbert Andradi - it is hardly surprising the majority in some Tamil areas did not vote. While the lack of transportation prevented many from voting, the bishops continued, others clearly chose not to do so. Neither of the two main candidates proposed to address the problems faced by Tamils. Their silence may be seen as a clear message that their expectations were not being addressed.
By 15 January, more than 158,000 people had returned home to north and eastern Sri Lanka, leaving approximately 106,000 people the so-called welfare centres. Nearly 2,000 internally displaced persons remain in hospitals in various war affected districts.
For instance, according to JRS, a large percentage of the permanent housing in the return areas is severely or completely damaged. Although 50 transitional shelters have been constructed in Thunukkai, Mullaitivu District and 150 in construction, staff are concerned about meeting the needs of particularly vulnerable populations, including female headed families, separated children, ex-child combatants, and those seriously injured in the war.
Access to employment opportunities, shelter and basic services continue to be major challenges in return areas, forcing many to seek employment and education services in urban areas.
However, JRS staff on the ground said, there have been the positive developments since the end of the war. Some 700 child combatants were reunited with their families. Moreover, the government also announced the extension of train services to Jaffna and reopened of the main highway to the northern district and five schools in Kilinochchi District.
ECUADOR: GOVERNMENT ESTABLISHES HUMANITARIAN VISA FOR HAITIANS
On 31 January, the foreign ministry announced the commencement of a regularisation process for Haitians already in the country.
The process, described as straightforward by the authorities, will begin on 17 February until 30 June. Within 24 hours Haitian applicants will be offered a humanitarian visa for five years. In addition, procedures will be established to allow Haitians to apply for reunification visa for spouses and children under 18.
Welcoming the move by the government, JRS Ecuador urged the authorities to establish mechanisms to ensure protection is granted to refugees on the basis of the Cartagena Agreement on Generalized Violence, which is broader than the UN refugee convention.
According to JRS Ecuador, which has been assisting approximately 100 undocumented and refugee families from Haiti since November 2008, many Haitians had applied for refugee status and the overwhelming majority have yet to receive a response from the national refugee office. Government estimates put the number of Haitians in the country at 500.
In line with the data collected by JRS teams, a large group of Haitians alleges to have been victims of a smuggling network. After having paid 5,000 US dollars to the smugglers, they were abandoned in Ecuador, without money or documents, unable to reach their final destination.
Most of the Haitians, assisted by JRS, are adult males with varying levels of educational attainment from primary school to university level. However, few have been able to find employment in accordance with their level of educational attainment. A major obstacle is largely due to language, as a majority speak Creole, a mix of French with various dialects originally from Africa. In response, JRS began providing a group with language classes.
After subsequent consultations with the group, JRS decided to begin offering two other types of support: assistance establishing an NGO and individual legal assistance, particularly related to the regulation of their migration statuses.
HAITI: HEALTH, SHELTER, SANITATION AND FOOD NEEDS STILL PRIORITIES
On 6 February, Haitian authorities issued new statistics on the damage caused by the January earthquake: approximately 212,000 believed dead and 300,000 injured.
More than 1.2 million people are in spontaneous settlements and 467,701 people have left Port-au-Prince for outlying regions. Over 162,000 people have arrived in Artibonite region and over 90,000 in Centre region.
The provision of shelter material is a priority. Only 272,000 out of an estimated 1.2 million displaced persons have received emergency shelter support. Sanitation in temporary settlement sites remains a concern with less than five percent of needs being met. Aid agencies estimate that 18,000 latrines are needed in Port-au-Prince to support 900,000 people. The lack of dumping sites for waste is also a constraint.
With the arrival of thousands of people from Port-au-Prince in villages along the border with the Dominican Republic, the food security situation, which was already precarious, is getting worse. The main source of income in the Haitian border area is subsistence farming. Trade flows between Port-au-Prince have been disrupted, making the supply of goods coming from the capital more difficult. This situation is further exacerbated by the inability of local communities to sell their surplus in Port-au-Prince markets.
Children at risk
The global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate is expected to rise in the coming months due to the stress of displacement, the rainy season and the seasonal hunger gap. The rainy season will increase morbidity rates for childhood diseases, while the hungry season (May-July) is anticipated to be particularly severe since the Gonaives area is likely to receive less rainfall than usual. The spring harvest usually accounts for up to 60 percent of the country's yield.
At these levels, an estimated 17,500 children are suffering from acute malnutrition and 3,100 of these are severely malnourished and in need of life-saving assistance. Assessments are underway to determine the post-crisis GAM levels in highly affected areas.
The security situation remains unchanged but there is growing concern over potential restiveness and crime prompted by shortages of shelter, jobs and sanitation.
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
TANZANIA: AWARD WINNING REFUGEE CHILD ANXIOUS TO HELP HIS COMMUNITY
On 5 February, award-winning Congolese refugee, Baruani Ndume, announced he plans to use his winnings to help his fellow refugees in Nyarugusu camp in northwestern Tanzania.
Co-producer and announcer of the radio programme, Children for Children (Sisi kwa Sisi) - aired by the formerly JRS-managed Radio Kwizera - recently returned to Tanzania after receiving the International Children's Peace Prize in the Netherlands. The 16-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo received the award last December for his efforts on behalf of refugee children.
"I would like to thank Radio Kwizera for discovering my talents and providing me with the necessary training. I also thank my group, Sisi kwa Sisi, and everyone who supported me. Their support enabled me to have an impact on the community," Baruani said.
While the award offers new possibilities, it also makes life difficult for young refugees.
"Some people are jealous which makes me feel insecure when I move around the camp. Wherever I go, people ask me for help. Some think I do not want to share with my community", he said.
Helping families help children
"The money has not yet been released but I can't wait to use it for the concerns of my community," Baruani told JRS Country Representative, Damas Missanga SJ, at Nyarugusu refugee camp where he lives with a foster family. Baruani plans to use the 100,000 euro prize money to help fellow refugee children gain access to education services, particularly pregnant girls who have been forced to leave school early.
He also explained how he wanted to increase the capacity of families to help their children. Part of the money, he continued, will go to poor families to establish small income-generating activities. The income derived from the projects could be used to fund their children's education. In addition, he wants to help local organisations promote the rights and protection of children.
However, the form-three student said he would also like to use part of the prize money to improve his own education and further develop his media skills.
"It is my dream to attend a boarding school because the camp facilities are inadequate," he added.
SPAIN: COALITION URGES ACTION TO PROTECT MINORS
On 12 February, the Spanish Coalition Against the Use of Child Soldiers urged the Colombian government and illegally armed groups to cease using minors in the internal armed conflict.
The Spanish Coalition, including JRS, urged the government, in its role as Presidency of the Council of the European Union, to put pressure on the Colombian government and illegally armed groups to implement the UN recommendations regarding the involvement of children in armed conflicts.
The statement, issued on International Day against the Use of child Soldiers, called on the Colombian government to:
comply with UN Security Council resolutions regarding children in armed conflicts; and
investigate cases of sexual abuse committed by all the actors to the armed conflict and hold those responsible to account before a court of law.
In addition, the Coalition urged illegally armed groups to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law, particularly to:
stop using minors in the activities related to the conflict; and
take action to prevent the sexual abuse of minors and cease attacks on schools.
Facts behind the conflict
Between 1997 and 2008, more than a million children were victims of forced displacement. According to the 2009 UN Security Council report regarding the situation of minors in the Colombian armed conflict, the war has had a serious impact on the lives of minors, causing death and mutilation, forced displacement, among others.
Forced recruitment of minors by all armed groups is commonplace in Colombia. NGOs estimate that approximately 11,000 minors participate in military activities in the country, and between 2002 and 2006 the average recruitment age dropped from 13.8 to 12.8 years of age.
Although reliable data is difficult to obtain on sexual violence against minors due to fear of reprisals and distrust of the justice system, the Colombian Constitutional Court described it as commonplace, widespread, systematic and hidden within the context of armed conflict. Girls recruited by armed groups are obliged to engage in sexual activity; and if they get pregnant are punished and forced to have abortions. In a study by the Attorney General's Office in Colombia on 183 women and girl victims of sexual violence, 31.8 percent of those who subsequently had abortions, were involved with armed groups. Forty percent of abortions involved girls between 11 and 14 years of age.
According to the 2008 International Coalition report, minors were involved in armed conflicts in at least 17 countries. Since then thousands of child soldiers have been freed by armed groups following peace agreements and demobilisation programmes. Nonetheless, conflicts have started or intensified, increasing the involvement of minors.
For further information see JRS statement in November 2009
HAITI: JRS FINDS GAPS IN ASSISTANCE
Many Haitians are still going hungry. This situation does not only touch the poor; the middle class are also suffering. Their homes have collapsed. Unable to access funds as most banks remain closed, they are living rough and seeking help from friends and groups like JRS.
According to Kawas François SJ, French Canada Provincial's Delegate for Apostolic Ministries in Haiti, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) system of seven food distribution centres is still in need of greater organisation.
"The centres open at 8am and long lines begin to form at 3am. There still are people who do not receive food," said Fr Kawas.
The IOM - Fr Kawas continued - needs to open more centres and work more closely with neighbourhood committees to get food to hungry families.
In Fond Parisien, a Haitian town across from Jimani, JRS workers visited a well-staffed medical centre on the grounds of Love a Child Healing Centre. Just minutes from the centre they visited a camp of 200 displaced Haitians with few resources and no electricity.
When asked what they needed, one woman replied, "A little salt and a little meat. We haven't had meat in a long time."
Moreover, according to Fr Kawas, with the establishment of informal camps throughout Port-au-Prince, there is a growing incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea due to lack of potable water and poor sanitary conditions. These crowded living conditions highlight the ongoing medical emergency in the capital.
At the Jesuit novitiate in the Tabarre neighbourhood there are many signs of the disaster, both physical and psychological. Fr Miller Lamotte SJ, the Director of Novices told a JRS worker, "Whenever I enter the novitiate building, I feel that it is still shaking. Then I realise that I am the one shaking!"
A JRS worker reported that it was moving to see the dedication and hard work of volunteers from the Dominican Republic and other countries that gather and fill the trucks with the much-needed supplies. When the JRS worker thanked a young volunteer for his good work, he replied, "What else could I do?"
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