REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
MALAYSIA: 42 CHILD REFUGEES IN DETENTION CENTRE
On 27 May, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, 42 child refugees were being held in 14 immigration detention centres in Malaysia.
Of the 39 boys and three girls, the youngest was a child less than three-years-old. Most were between the ages of 13 and 17. The majority are minority Chins from Burma. The longest child resident in the immigration detention centres was detained for nine months.
The UNHCR representative in Malaysia, Mr Volker Turk, said he personally knows of 19 child refugees of various nationalities held at the Semenyih detention centre alone.
Mr Turk said that the detention of the children contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of which Malaysia is a signatory. It also disregards the UNHCR's own Guidelines on Refugee Children, which rules out the detention of children.
According to the UNHCR representative conditions in the detention centres are dismal. The centres were not built for long-term detention but as transit centres for those being deported or resettled in third countries.
This is not the first time these centres have been criticised. In the past human rights groups working with Acehnese and Burmese refugees highlighted the overcrowding, poor hygiene and sanitation, and the food and healthcare provided in the centres.
UGANDA: REFUGEES FLEEING COURTS
Since April, there has been a slow but steady increase of Rwandan asylum seekers arriving in Uganda. According to the East African weekly newspaper, 1,200 asylum seekers crossed the Ugandan border in May alone. The majority allegedly fled the Gacaca community courts. Unnamed official sources claim that majority of those fleeing these courts are returnees that were repatriated from Uganda in 2003/4.
"In JRS, we have continued to receive both ethnic Tutsi and Hutu asylum seekers, the latter being the majority. Some Tutsis claim that they were harassed and threatened for refusing to testify or give information concerning the genocide.
While most Hutu returnees allege that when they tried to reclaim their property, they were threatened and harassed by security personnel. They say they were falsely accused and included on the list of suspects", Ms Juliet Nandawula, Urban Programme, JRS Uganda, told Dispatches on 15 June.
It is significant to note that Uganda has signed an extradition treaty with Rwanda that allows Uganda to return suspected criminals. This has created a lot of concern among human rights organisations and Ugandan MP's. They are urging the government to tighten the extradition procedures to protect refugees and political dissidents and not to send back Rwandan asylum seekers fleeing Gacaca courts.
INDONESIA: SHELTER AND JOBS NEEDED NOW IN ACEH
In late May, the NGO, Refugee International, published a paper on the reconstruction programme in Aceh province highlighting the urgent need to accelerate the provision of housing and employment. On 26 December 2004, the tsunami killed at least 150,000 people in Aceh and it is estimated that the number displaced maybe as high as 600,000.
Thousands of people also lost their homes and livelihoods in the tsunami. The report argued that restoring a sense of normalcy will be terribly difficult whilesurvivors continue to live in tents and other temporary shelters and live on odd jobs and handouts.
The international aid community, the Indonesian government and civil society responded quickly to meet the humanitarian needs of tsunami survivors. Most people are receiving humanitarian assistance but reconstruction seems stalled.
Most of the displaced are living with relatives or host families, an arrangement that is growing less and less comfortable as time goes on and families desire their own housing. Many of the displaced are living in shanty towns of tents that seem to be everywhere. Others live in government-constructed barracks which, according to officials, are a temporary solution for up to two years to meet housing needs. While a few thousand new houses have been built for the displaced, according to organisations on the ground, it is all happening too slowly.
A recent study by the International Organisation for Migration reported that only four percent of the people had received assistance to help them earn a living. The majority in Aceh were fishermen, farmers, or small merchants. While many merchants are rebuilding or repairing their shops through informal credit mechanisms and fishing boats are being built in many small shops, little is being done to help farmers replant their lands.
While some land was washed away or is still flooded. Many crops are salt resistant and even many rice paddies can be reclaimed and replanted as salt leaches away in heavy rains. Few international aid agencies are working at the farm level to restore agriculture, a failing that could be corrected immediately. The farmers need seeds, tools, and technical assistance to overcome problems caused by the tsunami.
ANGOLA: NUMBER OF CASES OF MARBURG FEVER DROP FURTHER
On 9 June, IRIN, the UN news agency, reported that the world's deadliest outbreak of the Marburg virus had reached its peaked.
Although good progress is being made, the World Health Organisation has refused to say that the epidemic was over. The number of new cases has declined significantly. However, for the epidemic to be officially declared over there should be no new cases for 42 days - twice the virus' maximum incubation period.
As of 5 June, the Angolan Ministry of Health reported that 357 people had died, out of a total of 423 cases of Marburg infection in Angola's northern province of Uige.
"Since late April the disease has been localised in Uige province, with most cases in Uige city and the nearby Bungo municipality. Many of those in Bungo were infected by Marburg when they went to funerals in Uige. In fact, one of the JRS students is among the cases. She was infected at her mother's funeral", said Sr Marlene Wildner, JRS Angola Director.
The worst is over but it is clear that the effects of the virus will continue to be felt for some time. The UN Children's Fund, the UNICEF, said it was particularly concerned about hundreds of children who had lost one or both their parents to the disease.
Some children, particularly in the early stages of the outbreak, had been denied access to their locked homes, or had seen them burned or destroyed after their parents had succumbed to the disease.
JRS Angola continues to operate in the area. As well as its planned education activities, JRS is also participating in radio programmes, distributing pamphlets and providing workshops to raise awareness among the local population on Marburg fever.
"Unfortunately, this tragic outbreak also caused the suspension of vital education programmes. We hope to extend our projects to the end of July to give the beneficiaries time to benefit from the classes and attain a level of literacy that will help them improve their lives", added Sr Wildner.
UGANDA: TEACHER TRAINING TO ASSIST CHILDREN
A five-day special needs education workshop was conducted for 54 teachers from 2-6 May 2005 in Adjumani, northern Uganda. It sought to enhance the capacity of teachers to cater for the special needs of local refugee children. Two teachers per school were provided with training, after which they will act as trainers and advisors to the rest of the teachers in their respective schools.
"In most schools in northern Uganda, the teachers are given general training in the teacher training schools and are unprepared to cope with children with complex learning needs and difficulties" said Fr Frido Pfleuger, Adjumani Project Director, JRS Uganda.
The workshop provides the teachers with an introduction to the concepts and terminology used in special needs education and informs the teachers of government policy towards children with special needs. The teachers are assisted with guidelines on how to identify children with various different types and degrees of learning difficulties, from visual impairment to autism. The course provides the teachers with insights into preparing learning aids, and assistance with classroom management and the design of special activities. Attention in the workshop is also paid to helping to improve teachers' guidance and counselling skills.
"Ongoing refresher courses will be needed for these teacher trainers to enable them to continuously provide for an inclusive education in all the camp schools, as well as in southern Sudan when they return home", said Fr. Frido Pfleuger, JRS Adjumani Project Director.
JRS DISPATCHES is from the International Office of Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.386; Fax: +39-06 688 06 418; Email: email@example.com; JRS on-line: www.jrs.net; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Aldo Pigoli (Italian).