JRS Dispatches No. 116

from Jesuit Refugee Service
Published on 31 Jul 2002
(Extracted from JRS Dispatches No. 116)
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office



With the general elections in Kenya scheduled for the end of the year, the refugees are once again suffering the consequences of "election fever" reports JRS in Kenya. The last couple of months have seen the harassment and arrest of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers in Nairobi - anti refugee sentiments fuelled by local politicians, which may well lead to xenophobia. As politicians canvass as many votes as possible, in the districts surrounding the refugee camp of Kenya, namely Kakuma and Dadaab, it is clear that refugees are being used as scapegoats. These local politicians have alleged that the refugees living in Kakuma and Dadaab camps are a burden to the local community and that their presence there has had a negative impact on the environment. These members of parliament and local leaders want the refugees relocated elsewhere or repatriated.

In Kakuma camp, where JRS has a presence, tension has been high causing a delay to the return of the JRS team, after a country meeting in Nairobi. For some months now trouble has been brewing within Kakuma camp and in the surrounding areas among the local Turkana people. This dispute began as a purely commercial row, between UNHCR and TERA (Turkana Environmental Regional Association) over the award of a tender for the supply of firewood to the refugees.

Consequently, there have been major disturbances and riots among the Turkana leading to the death of a local woman who was killed when police opened fire. This "firewood saga" has degenerated into a political issue threatening the well being and security of refugees, service providers and the local community. As a result a meeting was called by the government, UNHCR and other partners on 18th July, to discuss these issues in order to avert the immediate crisis. UNHCR agreed to return the contract of firewood to TERA, and the contracts awarded to the other 28 minority groups were deferred, pending investigations.

In this meeting, it was also agreed that the Ministry of Home Affairs establish a sub committee comprising of different government ministries and departments, UN agencies and some refugee service providers to assess the impact on the environment and the grievances of the refugee hosting communities.


An untimely disagreement between the President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka could have detrimental affects upon the country's fragile peace process and displaced populations, reports JRS from both Sri Lanka and India. President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe belong to different political parties and have in the past openly disagreed about the government's approach to the peace process. The latest disagreement centres on statements allegedly made by a government Minister.

The peace process in Sri Lanka, which is designed to bring to an end a long-running civil war between government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), will have far reaching effects on the estimated 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees currently living in India as well as 630,000 internally displaced people in Sri Lanka itself. A climate of uncertainty over the nation's future means that repatriation for the Tamil refugees in India is moving very slowly indeed.

The Tamil refugees in India are spending their 11th year in exile, and the education of the young has been much affected this year with the re-location of some of the camps away from areas near to local schools where many of the refugees children had been attending.

In response to the education needs of the refugees, JRS in Tamilnadu (India) has just opened its third ''Grihini'' school for refugee girls who had previously dropped out of school. ''Grihini'' schools are new types of residential schools popular in the poorer areas of India where early school leavers and illiterate women undergo six months of personality development, gender sensitisation, social analysis and skills development. JRS already runs two of these schools and so far 120 girls from the refugee camps have gone through the courses, which are very much appreciated by parents and the refugee community in general.


On 22 July more than a thousand East Timor refugees set off on their journey to cross the border from West Timor and return home. JRS in West Timor reports that there were 47 returnees from Kupang, 84 from Soe, 5 from Kefa, and hundreds from Atambua. "You are just about to move your bedroom. Last night you still slept in camps. Tonight you will sleep in your home country," an Indonesian military commander told the hundreds of assembled returnees.

It has been nearly three years now since the mass exit from East to West Timor - a population movement sparked by violence and large-scale destruction during and after a traumatic vote for independence in East Timor in August 1999. While the majority of the refugees have since returned home, thousands still remain in the camps in West Timor. Since the beginning of 2002, the number of people returning home to East Timor has increased substantially, partly due to the desire to return for the recent presidential elections and the celebration of Independence, partly due to the more peaceful climate in East Timor. However, since January 2002, the government of Indonesia has cut humanitarian assistance to East Timorese refugees, thus adding a further incentive to return.

JRS joined one of the buses taking returnees to the border and was surprised to find only one family, a mother with three children, on board. A JRS staff member asked the mother about her reasons for going home.

"Life is getting more difficult here. I could hardly support my four children. I could get vegetables or food easily from my garden in East Timor, but here, I couldn't find any for free. Everything has to be paid for. This land doesn't belong to us, East Timorese," she replied in a plain manner.

When we reached the border town, there were already around 80 people crossing the frontier. JRS delivered lunch packages to all the returnees and accompanied three mothers with their new-born babies, one pregnant mother, and a very old couple to the junction point where a doctor from IOM was waiting for them. To read the report in full go to http://www.jesref.org/alerts/tplatest.htm


JRS Venezuela reports that the town of Guasdualito, capital of the Alto Apure district, has been affected by large-scale flooding due to constant rains in the Andean and Plains regions of Venezuela and Colombia. Guasdualito is on the border with the Colombian department of Arauca, in an area that hosted the first ever mission of the Jesuits in Venezuela. Since 20 July, 6 people have died and 30,000 have been forcibly displaced with the loss of their homes and belongings. In the region there is a Jesuit network of schools for the poor (Fe y Alegria), a radio station, two parishes and a JRS team. The rains have affected both the radio station, the parish and the JRS office, but of more concern is the situation of the 30,000 people who have lost their homes and possessions. Currently, the Venezuelan Government is working through the Armed Forces to take care of these people and a solidarity network has been set up with contacts in towns and cities all over the country. Fe y Alegria is organising a solidarity campaign along with St. Ignatius High School in Caracas and the small JRS team is on the field helping the parish and the Fe y Alegria personnel in support of the victims.

JRS Venezuela has previous experience of this kind of situation, having already helped thousands of people who were displaced by devastating floods in Vargas State in 1999. JRS is now preparing a solidarity campaign with the leitmotiv "A Hand for Alto Apure", due to reach its peak from September onwards, when the mass- media attention may well have already passed but when the needs for reconstruction will still be great.


54 people were injured by a bomb blast in the Moluccan capital of Ambon on 27 July, reports JRS in Ambon. The explosion is the latest in a series of violent incidents which threaten the stability of a peace agreement that seeks to end three years of sectarian conflict between Christians and Muslims on the Moluccan Islands. JRS also reports that a number of other bombs were found in Ambon on the same day, though they were all successfully diffused. No group has claimed responsibility for the latest breach of the cease-fire, which was an obvious attempt to destabilise the peace process and renew a conflict that has already caused thousands of deaths and the displacement of thousands of people. JRS is working with displaced people from both the Muslim and Christian communities in Ambon providing material assistance and services as well as promoting reconciliation and peace.



The JRS Regional Director for Latin America, José Núñez SJ, travelled to Colombia between July 6 and 16. During his stay he visited the projects of JRS Colombia, and met with the JRS National Director and staff working in San Pablo and Barrancabermeja. Between July 12 and 16 he attended a meeting of the Social Apostolate of the Society of Jesus, in which he delivered the JRS Latin America 2001 Report. Some recent news from the region is listed below.

- COLOMBIA: After three years of supporting and accompanying returnees in Santa Helena and Norisí, Municipality of Río Viejo, the staff of JRS-South Bolivar met with 23 other governmental and non-governmental organisations to identify the lessons learnt and results obtained from working with the 200 families of these two groups. The staff of JRS Centro del Valle, in association with the "Instituto Mayor Campesino" [Major Institute of Farmers] and in alliance with the Network of Social Solidarity of the State and the OIM, continued its support to 60 returnee families in the Municipality of San Pedro.

- EQUADOR: JRS staff, together with other civil organisations grouped in the "Taller Nacional de Migración", are preparing the first South American Meeting of Civil Society on Migration, to be held in Quito August 14-16.

- MEXICO: From July 5-7 a Meeting for Peace was held in the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Approximately 1,200 people (representatives of 286 community organisations) attended this meeting. An excellent paper was read jointly by a group of displaced people from Chiapas, where displacement is still occurring, and a group of returnees from Las Abejas

- PANAMA: The military presence in Jaque claimed its first civilian victim. On Monday, July 15, a native girl of the community of Biroquerá was killed by machine - gun fire. In Jaque (close to the Colombian border) approximately 200 border police constantly invade the native communities under the pretext of offering protection from incursions by Colombian guerrillas. JRS welcomes P. Francisco Ornelas SJ as a new member of its team in Jaque. Fr. Ornelas is from the Province of Mexico and has previously worked with refugees in Uganda.


Ijjo Jurugo Isaac, JRS Kampala, Uganda reports: JRS Uganda Peace Education Project has been conducting workshops in different areas of Uganda since April and intends to continue until September 2002. Through the workshops, we aim at facilitating problem solving in the community and sensitising new arrivals about peace education programmes. We also aim to continue working with the peace education beneficiaries to involve them in a process of problem identification and resolution. Some of the prominent issues cited by the refugee communities are: ethnic sentiments between the Rwandese and Burundians in lieu of their historical Hutu / Tutsi relationships; domestic fighting between husbands and wives; and crop destruction by stray domestic animals. Peace education has changed the perception of the beneficiaries in many ways. Generally, the community appreciate the programmes and request more of the same in order to benefit further, to learn more about problem solving and to overcome tribal antagonism and improve the levels of trust between the Rwandese and Burundians.


The JRS Southern Africa Regional Training Programme took place in Siavonga, Zambia, between 9th and 11th July 2002. Sr Thuy Nguyen, who works with JRS at the Maheba Refugee Settlement, Zambia, gives the following report.

''On the first day of the programme Fr Joe Hampson SJ (JRS Southern Africa Regional Director) led the discussion on JRS Goals and the JRS Charter, and together with Fr Jim McGloin SJ also explored the subject of Ignatian Spirituality. Before examining the significance of Ignatian Spirituality, Fr Jim invited those present to reflect upon the question "Why do I work for JRS?" Throughout the day, he helped us to understand more about Ignatian and Jesuit influences on the JRS Charter, as well as the Ignatian World View and its relevance to the work being done by JRS. It was a great and vital day for all of the JRS members present, especially for those who have only recently joined JRS.

''On day two, Christine Bloch (JRS International Representative in Geneva) and Fr Michael Gallagher SJ (JRS Zambia Policy Officer) discussed a number of topics with the participants: refugee status and definition; general principles relevant to Voluntary Repatriation of Refugees; the role of governments, inter-governmental organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in repatriation; return in safety and dignity; and reception and integration. The third day of the programme focused on issues relating to Angolan Refugees and Repatriation, beginning with the JRS Angola Team presenting their insights into the subject. Following this, Christine Bloch spoke about the UNHCR Programme in Angola, and in small groups we discussed "the role of JRS in the repatriation of Angolan refugees", before presenting the outcome of the discussions to the main group.


My long life as a refugee has taught me tolerance. I know that tolerance is the rule of the game and it is the way to sanity. That is why I am still alive. I remember how many of my friends perished and disappeared in the desert, left to an unknown fate. I hate remembering, counting the days that I have lived in the refugee camp, enduring the unendurable.

Today I went on thinking about my future. But there is nothing bright and clear that I could imagine. All my visions are dark like winter clouds and all the future days are as dreadful as open graves. I have no other place to go or a chance to live where I want to live. When I was in my country I had a good feeling for my life. I once had strong ambitions and dreams of success. My deep heart had been filled with love. Here now I have disabled hope. Sometimes when I sit and ponder what I am doing with my life or what is being done to me - I always end up confused.

Being a refugee is like having someone press the pause button on the recording of your life until the pause button is released, you are stuck; your life is on hold while the years march by. I have lost not only my human behaviour, culture and customs, homelands, belongings, but also confidence, dignity, hope and so forth. As I know my life, it is in the dark, the dark of day, which is not black. Since I commenced refugee life, for the past 8 solid years I have gained nothing. I have planned nothing. I have built nothing - nothing but begging and waiting for tomorrow.

I have been here for many years - years of unhappiness and tears. I prayed to God for my deliverance. But I know God is unfair in his treatment of individuals. The illogical God allows some creatures to wither away in a hot desert, in an alien land, while others are leading luxurious lives. I doubt fairness. Is everything cursed or forgotten by God? I asked myself. But I couldn't answer this question.

Where will this endless kicking of my heels possibly one day lead? Could I see my soul at the end of this mess of a life? I endure the life of a homeless person and I am subjected to prejudice and misunderstanding. My trust is spoilt. I become useless in the eyes of others. I am forced to persevere and pass through disaster. My heart and my soul know deep sorrow. I am punished like the soul in hell. Here it is like this all the time. You are fighting, when you are asleep and when you are awake. And you look after yourself. If you do not you are finished. If you are soft everyone will spit in your face. They rob you and cheat you and betray you. You are so; to live and survive you must be hard, hard as a stone. With money you can buy your freedom for a while. To live one must see it.

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: dispatches@jesref.org; JRS on-line: http://www.jesref.org; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: Hugh Delaney; Translation: Ignacio Echaniz (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Centro Astalli/JRS Italy (Italian).