Angola + 8 more

JRS Dispatches No. 125

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(Extracted from JRS Dispatches No. 125)
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office

REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

SERIOUS FOOD SHORTAGES IN SOUTHERN SUDAN

Over 55,000 people in the Nimule area in southern Sudan are currently faced with serious food shortages with many people having to move to Uganda to work in exchange for food, reports JRS East Africa. JRS Nimule reported that many people in hospitals were refusing to leave because the hospitals provided food. JRS has been affected by the looming hunger, due to the feeding programmes in the 13 primary schools that it runs in the area, with predictions that these schools could register a higher intake of students for the beginning of term in February. A Joint Relief and Rehabilitation Committee (JRRC) in Nimule on 11th January gave the results of an emergency needs assessment conducted in Mugali, Nimule, and surrounding villages. They confirmed the seriousness of the famine conditions in all the areas visited. Reports from Agriculture Extension workers and community leaders examined also indicated that the crops grown in the early season did not do well. Currently, communities do not have basic daily food requirements. The hospital records also suggest that there is a prevalence of hunger related diseases. A number of causes have been identified including: sporadic rain and dry spell at the start of the cultivation season affected germination of seeds; heavy rainfall especially during the months of September, October, and November affected the crops grown in the second season, and; the fact that insecurity caused by roaming LRA soldiers prevented many farmers from going further into fertile farmland resulting in very little area being cultivated.

SRI LANKA: REPORTED DECREASE IN THE USE OF CHILD SOLDIERS

The cease-fire signed last February between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel force Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seems to have led to a decrease in the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Sri Lanka. That is according to a statement released by the international team which has been charged with the task of monitoring the cease-fire and investigating reported violations of the agreement. On an encouraging note JRS Sri Lanka reports that on 22 January, 4 young boys, all aged 14, were returned to their parents by the LTTE in the East of the country after the boys had attempted to join the rebel group. However, JRS also reported that the president of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was very critical of the monitors' statement, dismissing its findings and accusing the LTTE of recruiting more than 10,000 soldiers, including children, since the signing of the agreement. The use of child soldiers has been seen as a persistent problem in Sri Lanka throughout the country's two-decade- long conflict. A UN treaty prohibiting the use of children under the age of 18 in armed conflict entered into force on 12 February 2002. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict has to date been signed by 110 states and ratified by 42.

BURUNDI: GROWING UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT

There is much uncertainty as to the future of a recent cease fire agreement in Burundi, as violent clashes have occurred in many areas of the country throughout the last few weeks, reports JRS Great Lakes. Despite the historic agreement, signed in December 2002 between the transitional power-sharing government and the main Hutu rebel group, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy, (FDD), armed clashes have not come to an end. Since an outbreak of violence on 11 January at Mpanda in western Burundi, clashes between the Burundian army and FDD have escalated dramatically in the province of Gitega, forcing more than 50,000 civilians to flee the area. It is hoped that the impending deployment of an African peace-keeping force will have a positive effect on events in the country, with South African, Ethiopian and Mozambican soldiers expected to arrive shortly in Burundi as part of the force.

DECREASE IN CASUALTIES BUT NOT DISPLACED PEOPLE IN ACEH

Since the signing of a peace agreement on 9 December 2002, the Joint Security Council (JSC) has reported a significant decrease in the number of casualties in the troubled Indonesian region of Aceh, reports JRS in Aceh. Previous to the agreement, an average of 87 people lost their lives in the conflict every month: that monthly figure has now dropped to 11. 12 monitoring teams have been deployed by JSC throughout Aceh to investigate any violation of the peace agreement, and some reported violations have indeed been received, according to local media sources. The JSC monitoring team has also been given the task of establishing the causes of displacement and will undertake visits to the areas from where people have been forced to flee.

The decrease in violence has not yet led to a decrease in the number of displaced people. According to JRS Aceh, the number of IDPs is in a state of constant flux: JRS figures put the total number at 1,861 families or 7,255 individuals, and a further 51 families or 300 individuals displaced by flooding. Based on the interviews with IDPs in Gampong Masjid and Gampong Lhee, East Aceh and in Panga, West Aceh, JRS found that the main cause of displacement was to evade gunfights between the army and the rebel group GAM.

ANOTHER BOMB BLAST IN AMBON, MOLUCCAN ISLANDS, INDONESIA

Two people were injured when their car was set alight by a crowd, following a bomb explosion in the Moluccan capital, Ambon, on 14 January, reports JRS in Ambon. The Moluccan Islands have been plagued by sectarian violence for the past three years - a conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives and displaced tens of thousands of people. A peace treaty was signed in early 2002 between the warring factions, which has resulted in a significant reduction in violence. At least 6,174 people have returned home since, but the majority of displaced people have remained in camps in or around Ambon. Meanwhile, local media sources have reported that the administration plans to repatriate as many as 3,000 families among the estimated 165,000 displaced people still stuck in the camps. The plans are part of a project formulated last year by the central government in an effort to resolve the problems of displacement across the country through repatriation and resettlement programmes.

ANGOLA: MANY CHALLENGES TO BE FACED IN 2003

Many of the difficulties experienced by the Angolan people during 2002 have continued into 2003, reports JRS in Angola. This year, the World Food Programme (WFP), relying on data from a recent vulnerability study, estimates that more than 2 million people will need food support. Reserves are dwindling and donations received after an appeal to donor countries and organisations in October will not be sufficient. Since the end of hostilities, the WFP has been able to enter previously inaccessible areas to provide help to thousands of people there. However, the UN agency has stated that in order to avoid famine it will need an extra six million dollars by the end of March. Meanwhile, the government continues to pay subsidies to former members of Unita and to transport them to the regions from which they originally came. This ongoing process should have been completed by December 2002 but has not been finalised for several reasons, namely because of the condition of the transport network, delays in the process of reintegrating ex-soldiers into society and also because of the conditions in several regions of the country. With regard to voluntary repatriation, several hundred ex-refugees are continuing to arrive at border areas while many more await the start of the repatriation programme - to be carried out by the government in conjunction with the UNHCR - due to start this year.

UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES

UPDATE ON FAMINE CONDITIONS IN ETHIOPIA

Stephen Power SJ, JRS Ethiopia Country Director reports: "A further meeting, co-ordinated by the Ethiopian Government Ministries, to report on the drought situation in the country, was held on 23 January. These meetings are taking place fortnightly and lead to quite good exchanges between Government, UN and NGO bodies. There has been some response from the international community; quite recently a good response from the UK government was forthcoming when Clare Short visited the country. However, the emergency reserve stocks in the country are very low and now they may soon have to distribute food directly from the port to the affected areas, rather than through a more centralised distribution system. Food in the 'pipeline', i.e. that is on the way, is extremely important now. Pledges are all very well but will be much more effective if translated into food on the ground soon. Many people have been concerned around the world and it is because of their/your response and concern that things are moving a little. Here there is now the awareness that other events may soon further monopolise the headlines, especially possible war in Iraq and crisis in North Korea. Then, people will die away from the eye of the media, until they die in sufficient numbers to make it a story again."

To find out more about the present food crisis in Ethiopia, including details of how to make a donation go to http://www.jrs.net/alerts/etlatest.htm

REFUGEE EDUCATION REPORT FROM RHINO CAMP, UGANDA

By Sr. Lolín Menéndez, JRS Refugee Education Resource Person for Africa.

A visit to Rhino Camp Settlement in Uganda in early January found the personnel of the Adult Literacy Program beginning the year with full force. Preparations and enrolment were going on for the opening of the new sessions. All the churches collaborated in spreading the message and supervisors and facilitators spread throughout the camp to make sure that all was ready for the opening day, January 13th. The Co-ordinator of the program, Atanasio Lokuri, has just completed a Draft Manual for the facilitators of the program. The manual is divided into three parts. The first is made up of 31 generative words, chosen by the community as starting points for discussion on the concerns of the community. By the end of each session, participants should be able to identify the problems that they face about the subject of the day, identify root causes and possible solutions, and do some simple literacy and numeracy exercises. The second part deals with themes of everyday life: food, water, personal hygiene, common diseases, HIV/AIDS, human rights, child abuse, violence against women, harvesting and storing crops. The third part is geared to enable participants to profit from Income Generating Activities (IGAs) and Rotational Savings and \Credit Associations (ROSCAS). Two local artists have illustrated the manual, which is written in English, with the literacy and numeracy exercises in vernacular languages. The refugee settlements in Rhino Camp are now typical African villages that blend in totally with those of their Ugandan neighbours. Remembering my days in Rhino (1994-96) and the "seas" of blue plastic tents, I could not but rejoice in the changes and in the way JRS has found ways of filling the holes, of providing valuable services that are needed yet neglected by others.

WEST TIMOR: CHANGE OF REFUGEE STATUS BUT NOT OF SITUATION

"Though the status has changed, the situation remains much the same. We have gone through this deprivation, and it's getting worse each and every day. It's hard to get food, and we have to endure the cold when the rain comes and water swamps our shelters. We want to go back to East Timor, yet the situation there discourages us. Staying here is a lot better cause returning to East Timor doesn't automatically improve our lives. It doesn't mean that we won't return home. We indeed want to go home, but you know the situation in East Timor. It scares us." These are the words of an East Timor refugee residing in Atambua, West Timor, when asked what the cessation of refugee status on 31 December has meant. East Timorese residing in West Timor still do the same daily activities, playing bingo, billiards, gambling, growing crops in the cornfield, going to the market, some going to work or to school. They still live in their simple makeshift huts in the camp though their status as refugees has ceased. Many feel that as long as the government lets them stay they will remain in the camp until the situation in East Timor is conducive for their return. Many don't want to join either the resettlement programme or to settle in Indonesia - they only want to return to East Timor when they feel it is safe to do so. For those who want to return to East Timor, the government still facilitates the repatriation by providing transportation, despite its decision to stop any assistance to the refugees after 31 December 2002. Despite this declaration, the Indonesian authorities did help 9 people to return on 2 January, and 1 other on 3 January, with money incentives, stating that these individuals had registered on 31 December.

LETTER FROM THE FIELD: KAKUMA REFUGEE CAMP, KENYA

By Sr. Christina Mc Glynn, Director of Social Services at JRS Kakuma.

I was happy to spend my second Christmas with our refugee brothers and sisters. After a particularly dry period of more than six months until the beginning of December, making Kakuma unbearably hot and dusty, the rains finally came. With some of our refugee staff, I planned to have our Christmas dinner with our women and children in the Safe Haven - our JRS refuge or contemporary shelter for women and children at risk. Two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) sisters joined us from the little convent in the town so that all together, we were 50 gathered to enjoy the feast. We started with a short bible and Koran reading and then the distribution of gifts, mostly second-hand clothes and toys, which I had found in Nairobi. After some entertainment, we enjoyed a meal of ducks and vegetables from our own projects. Biscuits, sweets and juice completed the 'banquet' and later a lucky dip of gifts concluded the celebration. The Christmas liturgies were very colourful as various groups and sects took part in processions around the camp in multicoloured uniforms and banners, accompanied by drums.

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: dispatches@jrs.net; 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).