JRS Dispatches No. 179
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
2. UGANDA: NEARLY 20% FEAR RETURNING HOME
More than 175,000 Sudanese refugees, or 82.5%, wish to participate in the UNHCR-supported repatriation programme. This was the principle finding, made public on 3 September, of a UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the German Development Agency (DED) survey concerning the repatriation of the Sudanese refugees. The survey was carried out in eight refugee camps in northern Uganda: in Rhino, Imvepi, Madi-Okollo, Ikafe, Adjumani, Palorinya, Kiryandongo and Kyagwali.
The survey sought to collect information to support planning and budgeting for the repatriation of Sudanese refugees from Uganda. Information such as the numbers of refugees interested in returning home, the area to which they wish to return in Sudan, particular needs on arrival, ethnicity and occupational skills. Refugees indicated a desire to return to Sudan as it was their home. However, they also highlighted better economic opportunities, insecurity caused by LRA rebel attacks, infertile land and a desire to be reunited with their families as reasons.
Information was also collected from those who did not wish to return home. The main reasons they cited were: insecurity, poor economic prospects, fear of ethnic discrimination or persecution and food insecurity. Others cited illness and lack of family support in Sudan.
It is foreseen that most refugees will return before the end of 2006, with over 90% indicating three areas as their desired destination: Torit, Yei, and Kejo Keji.
Most refugees indicated that they wished to return home with their property, such as livestock, agricultural tools, building materials etc. Agricultural and other businesses are likely to be the major source of income for returnees. Thus, the biggest concern identified by those wishing to return was about property rights. Many fear that they may encounter difficulties repossessing their property.
"JRS supports repatriation as long as it is done voluntarily, in safety and in dignity and maintains this is going to be a challenge. Unfortunately, refugees living in urban areas, outside refugee camps, were not included in the survey", said Ms Janet Otte, Assistant Programme Coordinator, Urban, Programme, JRS Uganda.
3. TANZANIA: SECURITY CONCERNS IN REFUGEE CAMPS
Security continues to be a major problem in refugee camps in western Tanzania. Refugees continue to suffer because of the xenophobic attitudes of the local population, who consider them a threat.
Recently in Ngara camps, in western Tanzania, there have been a number of cases of the police using excessive force and assaulting refugees.
In Lukole A camp, also in western Tanzania, the government has taken harsh action and resolved to close down the markets in a bid to restore order. Consequently, refugees have opened small shops within the camps.
Reports reaching the JRS East Africa regional office in Nairobi indicated that on 9 September the police tore roofs off small shops in Lukole A camp, and confiscated food and bicycles belonging to refugees. The refugees are now torn between returning home or staying on. Though, they fear that the Tanzanian government may impose harsh conditions and possibly force them home, as they did in 1996 to the Rwandan refugees.
In the Kibondo camps, again in western Tanzania, the recent situation has been relatively calm. The last reports of disturbances recorded on 20 June, World Refugee Day, were attributed to criminal activity. A police officer was killed in a shoot out with local criminals. This highlighted some of the very serious security concerns for refugees in camps.
Consequently, the Mtendeli market in Kibondo was closed and restrictions were placed on the movement of refugees outside the camp. To date JRS has received reports of 26 people, some of whom were refugees, who have been arrested in relation with the shooting on 20 June. The UNHCR, concerned that refugees may have been falsely accused, has hired a Tanzanian lawyer to represent them in court.
4. NEPAL/ BHUTAN: TALKS ON REFUGEE DEADLOCK TO RECOMMENCE
On 14 September, the Nepalese Foreign Minister, Ramesh Nath Pandey and his Bhutanese counterpart, Khandu Wangchuk, agreed to resume implementation negotiations to resolve the 15-year-old Bhutanese refugee problem. Sources termed the development as significant. The signing of the agreement will pave the way for resuming verification of the refugees.
Over 100,000 of Nepali origin (ethnic Lhotshampas) fled or were forcibly evicted from their homes in Bhutan in the early 1990s, when the Bhutanese government introduced highly discriminatory citizenship policies targeting the ethnic Nepalese population. They have been accommodated in seven camps, jointly administered by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the Nepali authorities.
Pressured by the international community to start talks with Nepal and repatriate the refugees, Bhutan began talks in 1993 but started stalling the process. A Joint Verification Team (JVT) comprised of officials from Nepal and Bhutan began a case-by-case verification of refugees in camps in eastern Nepal in early 2001.
However, the first verification triggered anger among the refugees, who accused Bhutan of excluding hundreds of genuine citizens from the list. The resentment led to a scuffle between the camp residents and Bhutanese officials in December 2003 when the latter had gone to visit a camp.
"It is definitely a step forward. Unfortunately, Nepal still seems to be adamant that local integration of the refugees, or their resettlement in third countries, should take place after their repatriation is fully exhausted. It would be more beneficial that all options be placed on the table to be considered simultaneously", Fr Varkey Perekatt SJ, JRS Nepal Director, told Dispatches on 22 September.
5. COTE D'IVOIRE: FEAR, WORRY AND FRUSTRATION AS THE ELECTION NEARS
What will happen on Election Day? Will the war start again? Having seen that their political leaders and the international community have been unable to find a solution to the conflict for the last three years, the latest developments in Cote d'Ivoire have left the population suspicious and afraid.
Many peace accords initiated by the international community remain unimplemented. The last agreement in Pretoria obtained under the auspices of the South African government, called for, among other things, the disarmament of the rebels and pro government militias before the presidential elections, indicating the end of the presidential mandate.
The rebels and the opposition demanded that Laurent Gbagbo step-down on 30 October and allow a genuine political transition. Gbagbo responded by saying that the constitution gives him the authority to remain as president until a new one is elected.
"To some degree everybody, government or rebel, experiences feelings of anxiety and intimidation. Neither side can predict the reaction of the other. The populations, north and south, continue to live in fear and incertitude", said Mr Robert Boedeker, Regional Advocacy Officer, JRS West Africa.
The only new reassurance comes from the French General, Elrick Irastorza. In a press conference, the General indicated that his forces have a sufficiently strong mandate to prevent that Cote d'Ivoire from sliding back to civil war. In other words, the French forces will use force to prevent either side from restarting the conflict.
For further information see www.jrs.net/reports
6. SRI LANKA: EXTENDS STATE OF EMERGENCY AHEAD OF VOTE
According to Reuters news agency on 21 September, the government of Sri Lanka extended the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the August assassination of its foreign minister, a murder the government blames on the Tamil Tiger rebels, the LTTE, though it has yet to find proof and the LTTE denies any involvement.
The state of emergency grants government and police special authority to detain suspects and deploy troops if need be. The move comes as ties between the state and the Tigers are at their lowest point since a 2002 ceasefire halted two decades of civil war.
The month-long extension coincides with the 17 November presidential election, which will help set the course of the island's future security policy.
Left-of-centre Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, is set to face off against his right-of-centre predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe in an election seen as too close to call. Rajapakse, popular with the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, has aligned himself with hardline Marxists and monks have demanded he take a tough line in a bid to turn the truce with the LTTE.
"The political situation remains tense. We have not been prevented from working either in the rebel or government held territories; however, we are constantly stopped at check points. This makes life difficult for ordinary people and for NGO's to work", Fr Vinny Joseph SJ, JRS Sri Lanka Director told Dispatches on 26 September.
"Both the government and the LTTE are nearly at war. The propaganda apparatus of LTTE is at its peak and so is its recruitment", added Fr Joseph.
7. COLOMBIA: URIBE DEFENDS COCA SPRAYING NEAR ECUADOR
According to the news agency Reuters on 19 September, the Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe, defended his government's spraying of illicit crops near the Ecuadorian border, a practice condemned as harmful to the environment.
US government support to Colombia, otherwise called Plan Colombia, focuses on the fumigation of illicit crops, said to negatively impact agriculture, domestic animals, and human health.
On 25 March 2005, local health authorities
in the rural areas of Bocas de Satinga and Nariño in southern Colombia
reported that crop spraying with glycoside injured 600 people. They suffered
skin injuries, fever and respiratory difficulties. Twenty children suffered
nausea and diarrhoea and three died. On 13 June 20, according to AA Noticias
Nacionales 198, a national electronic bulletin, further
spraying caused damage to potatoes, yucca and lemon crops.
"Human rights violations and armed
conflict is the principle reason why Colombia has the largest, at over
three million, internally displaced population in the world. Rural agricultural
workers, Afro- and indigenous Colombians are regularly forced out of their
homes by the armed forces and paramilitary groups. However, illicit crop
spraying also forces many families to leave their homes, often fleeing
urban areas but also to Ecuador and Venezuela", said Mr Juan Manuel Bustillo, Advocacy Officer, JRS Colombia.
"Nonetheless, those displaced by crop spraying are frequently refused entry onto the official registry of internal displaced persons. As victims of intra-urban displacement, they should be registered as displaced. Entitlement to support from the state depends on it", added Mr Bustillo.
8. BURUNDI: SOME REBELS ARE TIRED OF THE WAR
On 22 September, 100 ex-combatants from the rebel FNL, led by Agathon Rwasa, accepted the offer from the newly elected President Pierre Nkurunziza, to begin peace negotiations with the Burundian government.
In a declaration reported by Reuters news agency, the FNL ex-combatants said they were tired of the war and called on Rwasa to begin peace negotiations with the government. They said that, now more than ever, Burundi needs peace. They also urged the international community to put pressure on Rwasa to begin peace talks.
In their declaration, the FNL dissidents openly accused Agathon Rwasa of human rights abuses for its use of children, who die everyday fighting for the FNL, as soldiers.
The spokespersons of the group demanded that Rwasa immediately cease hostilities against, and enter into negotiations with, the government. They maintained that they took up arms to ensure that Hutus integrated into the army and the government, and that had been achieved.
JRS Burundi hopes that with the return of peace, strengthened by fair presidential elections, it is essential that all of the democratic political parties enter into negotiations. For JRS Burundi, failure to recognise the legitimacy of the new president may hinder the small central African country's transition to a peaceful democracy.
The current president of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, an ethnic Hutu and former leader of the rebel movement, the CNDD-FDD, has promised to do everything possible to pacify the country, ravaged by 12 years of civil war which has cost the lives of over 30,000 people and forced many more to flee.