JRS Dispatches No. 104

Report
from Jesuit Refugee Service
Published on 20 Dec 2001
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International office
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

BURUNDI: RESUMED FIERCE ATTACKS AROUND BUJUMBURA

Bujumbura and surrounding areas have been the scene of resumed heavy warfare in recent weeks, as the Burundian army seeks to push the rebel Forces of National Liberation (FNL) out of Tenga. The FNL occupied Tenga forest, 12km north-east of Bujumbura city, on 25 September last year.

Sources reported on 14 December: The advent of Christmas and New Year has not brought good news to Burundi. Fighting started in Tenga three weeks ago and is intensifying each day. The army has said that there are around 250 casualties and 700 wounded from both sides during attacks (20 per cent military).

The army has reinforced its onslaught with heavy ammunition, using among other locations the Bujumbura airport as a base to launch attacks. This has caused much trouble on roads leading out of Bujumbura to Gitega, Cibitoke and Bubanza. There is increased risk of ambush on the roads, insecure because of the frequent movement of the rebels.

The governor of Bujumbura rural has forbidden all food distribution in the province to make sure no food passes into the hands of the rebels. Likewise, all wounded people must be treated in Bujumbura.

President Pierre Buyoya has criticised the rebels, saying they must not take civilians hostage. Sources commented that this lacks neutrality, because both sides take civilians as hostages. The FNL and the other major rebel movement, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) have stepped up attacks since a power-sharing government was inaugurated on 1 November. Sources said the two groups have joined forced but are torn by internal strife.
(see also below BURUNDI: JRS WORKING AMID VIOLENT CLASHES)

BURUNDI: INJURED JESUITS ON ROAD TO RECOVERY

Three Rwandan Jesuits who were the victims of a rebel ambush in Bujumbura on 14 November are recovering well, reports JRS Grands Lacs. Ignace Samurenzi SJ, superior and director of St Esprit Jesuit school in Bujumbura, was seriously injured in the attack and evacuated to Nairobi for surgery. He underwent a second operation on 13 December. JRS Grands Lacs said Fr Ignace is in good spirits and is receiving support through many visits and letters. Gaetan Gatarayiha SJ is also recovering, and the wound he sustained in his arm is healing slowly. And Fabien Gasigwa SJ, who was not injured, has resumed work at St Esprit school.

Eleven people were killed in the ambush, which took place some 500m from the school. Among the victims were four military, two children and three women, including one who was driving the car behind that of the Jesuits.

EUROPE: CONTROLS MAY IMPEDE REFUGEES FROM CLAIMING ASYLUM

Stricter immigration controls being imposed by governments may prevent refugees in real need of protection from getting the help they need. That was the message from JRS Europe director, John Dardis SJ. He was the NGO participant at roundtable talks with government representatives in Geneva, Switzerland.

"You can have the right to asylum. You can have an asylum system. But it will mean nothing unless people are able to get to the territory to claim that asylum," said Fr Dardis. On a purely pragmatic level, stricter controls will not solve the problem of large numbers of people moving, be they refugees or economic migrants. It should not be seen as the way forward. "If you have stricter controls, if you make it harder for people to access the territory, you just drive them underground and into the black economy and illegality," said Fr Dardis. "You have a choice. Make controls stronger and thus drive people underground. Or opt for a different system, develop a proper migration channel where this is less likely to happen."

The talks formed part of a ministerial-level conference held on 12 and 13 December and attended by 156 countries, NGOs and other groups. The States adopted a declaration which committed signatory nations to "implement our obligations under the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol fully and effectively" and hailed the treaty as one of 'relevance and resilience' and of 'enduring importance.'

To see the JRS Europe news release, go to http://www.jesref.org/inf/statemen/eu11214e.htm

EUROPE: WATERFORD DEATHS UNDERLINE DESPERATION

Police in Belgium arrested a lorry driver over the deaths of eight immigrants found dead in a container in Ireland on 8 December. The man, who has not been named, has been charged with conspiring to smuggle humans. A public prosecutor said the man had driven the container from the German city of Cologne to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

The eight bodies, including three children, were found when the container was opened near Wexford in Ireland. Five survivors were treated in hospital for dehydration, hypothermia and lack of oxygen. Most of the group were Turkish immigrants.

In a news release issued on 9 December, JRS Europe said: "This tragedy brings close to us the reality that when people are desperate they will resort to desperate and dangerous means. And in this situation they become easy prey for unscrupulous traffickers. Trafficking in human beings is to be deplored. It is the issue which needs to be addressed urgently."

JRS said new government measures tightening border controls in the face of increased immigration gave those fleeing no choice but to resort to traffickers. "This can have fatal consequences. We urge governments to consider seriously this fact," said JRS Europe. "Many measures taken to regulate the migration flow also serve to criminalise, at least in the public mind, those who are fleeing; they are the ones who are caught. But we should remember that those responsible for this trade in human beings, the traffickers, are the real criminals."

To see the JRS Europe news release, go to http://www.jesref.org/inf/statemen/eu11209e.htm

ITALY: JESUIT GENERAL ACCEPTS REWARD FOR JRS

Fr General Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ accepted a reward for JRS from the ICMC (International Catholic Migration Commission) on 19 December. The award was made to mark the fiftieth anniversary of ICMC, which had been created to address the grave humanitarian situation following the end of World War II. The original plan had been to present the award to JRS International director, Lluís Magriñà SJ, as Fr General's representative, at a celebration scheduled to take place in New York on 15 September. For obvious reasons, it would have been inappropriate to continue with such an event at that time and so the President of ICMC, Prof. Stefano Zamagni, came to Rome on 19 December to make the presentation to Fr General in person.

ITALY: POPE CALLS FOR LEGAL PROTECTION FOR REFUGEES

Pope John Paul II urged nations to put in place legal measures to protect forcibly displaced people. In his customary address after praying the midday Angelus in St Peter's Square on 9 December, the Pope said: "I ask that all nations put into practice legal protection for these people, unfortunately extremely numerous, obliged to flee from their own countries, as well as for so-called internal refugees. May the common commitment put an end to the serious violations of human rights, which are at the root of these forced movements."

SRI LANKA: NEW GOVERNMENT, NEW HOPE

After a violent campaign and polls, Sri Lanka elected a new government. The United National Party (UNP), which campaigned for peace and reconciliation, has been voted into power, raising expectations of renewed peace talks. Sources said the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) indirectly supported the UNP coming back to power. Sri Lanka has been torn apart by civil war since 1983.

AUSTRALIA: CHANGE IN ASYLUM POLICIES CALLED FOR

Community leaders, professional groups and human rights organisations have called for a review of the government policy on asylum seekers, reports JRS Australia. Their appeal was made in a report entitled the Australian Human Rights Register, which charges the government with subjecting asylum seekers to acts of violence and intimidation and inciting xenophobic fears. Based on submissions from NGOs, the report calls on the community to put pressure on the government to abandon the so-called Pacific solution and develop a new policy on processing claims for refugee status.

But despite widespread criticism of Australia's 'Pacific solution' (the use of islands for 'processing' asylum seekers), Immigration Minister, Phillip Ruddock, insists the policy is working. Earlier this month, he claimed government strategies are effective because there have been no asylum seekers arrived by boat since 10 November.

The government recently announced that Nauru island has agreed to extend facilities to take a further 400 asylum seekers. Australia will contribute a further $10m to boost the island's resources. Dr John Pace of Amnesty International, who recently visited Nauru where 800 asylum seekers are awaiting processing, said last week: "Diverting boats to other countries for aid and money amounts to a trade in human misery."

AUSTRALIA: DETENTION POLICY SLAMMED

Prolonged detention is likely to have a harsh impact on the mental health of asylum seekers, according to an article published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

JRS Australia reported on 12 December: "The Medical Journal of Australia, published this week, carries an article co-authored by Dr Aamer Sultan, an Iraqi doctor kept in Villawood detention centre since 1999, and former visiting psychiatrist, Kevin O Sullivan. It outlines the effects of detention on a group of long-term detainees and is highly critical of the assessment and treatment of detainees, many of whom were the victims of trauma and torture before coming to Australia. The authors warn that prolonged detention could have severe consequences on the mental health of asylum seekers.

"In an attempt to force an immediate review of the treatment of asylum seekers, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has advised its members to think carefully before accepting jobs in detention centres. The chairperson of the New South Wales branch, Louise Newman, said the college was advising medical practitioners to consider their ethical obligations before working in a centre run by Australasian Correctional Management .

"One of the authors of the article, Dr Sultan, has just received an award from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for his work on problems faced in detention centres. He was not allowed to receive it in person. Dr Sultan fled from Iraq in April 1999, after he was discovered treating rebels fighting against Saddam Hussein. He flew to Sydney with false papers and immediately applied for political asylum. He was detained at Villawood and his application and appeal were denied for reasons that were never disclosed.

NEPAL: VERIFICATION COMPLETED IN FIRST CAMP

The verification of the refugees in Khudunabari camp was completed on 13 December, reports JRS Nepal. As on 12 December, 11,645 refugees had been verified, and a remaining seven families in the camp were verified the following day. The formal process is expected to come to a close by 21 December, following verification of some refugees who could not attend the interviews. It is said 503 people could not attend the verification due to illness and other valid reasons. These will probably be interviewed in the week starting17 December, explained JRS field director in Nepal, PS Amalraj SJ.

However, the refugees are not likely to learn the verification results for a while. The joint verification team (JVT) may have to wait before proceeding with work on the documents gathered at Khudunabari, because Nepal and Bhutan have not yet harmonised their stands on categorisation of the refugees. Resolving differences about what category the Bhutanese refugees will fall into after verification is essential to reaching a solution to their plight.

Joint ministerial level talks (JMLT) on harmonisation will not take place before the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit, scheduled for Kathmandu in early January. We need to wait and see what would be decided by the JMLT. It appears that the JVT will not proceed with verification in other camps until the Khudunabari work is completed, said Fr PS Amalraj. The people of Khudunabari await anxiously to know the verification results. We hope the expected JMLT will also consider verification in the other six camps and will come out with a schedule based on the many proposals made earlier, for verification within a speedy time frame.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: MILITARY OBSTRUCTS HUMAN RIGHTS WORK

Members of the Dominican armed forces are obstructing a monitoring group of the Jano Siksè Network for the Defence of Human Rights from carrying out its work in the north-east border zone of the Dominican Republic. JRS Latin America said the network had decided to set up a group to gather information about constant abuses allegedly committed by soldiers at the border. Since the beginning of this activity, the group has come under constant harassment by members of the armed forces, including threats to expel members of the Network.

Some 900,000 Haitians are currently living in the Dominican Republic. Most are considered illegal and some are forcibly repatriated by security forces. JRS Latin America said repatriation operations have resumed in some border zones and this has motivated the network to stand firm in its resolve to monitor the army's actions and to promote respect for human rights.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: VIGIL FOR THE RIGHT TO CITIZENSHIP

More than 1000 children and teenagers of Haitian origin participated in a vigil on 22 November, calling for the right to citizenship. The aim of the activity was to draw attention to the legal limbo they are living in, because the government of the Dominican Republic denies them the right to Dominican citizenship. The vigil was held in the Eugenio María de Hostos Park in Santo Domingo.

The vigil was organised by the 'Red de Encuentro Dominico Haitiano Jacques Viau' (Jacques Viau Network for Dominican-Haitian Encounter), of which JRS forms a part. It is one of several activities organised by the network as part of a campaign for the right to Dominican citizenship, the 'Campaña por el Derecho a la Nacionalidad Dominicana'.

The children and teenagers are excluded from social and political life, treated as stateless people although they belong to the Dominican Republic. In refusing to recognise their right to Dominican nationality, the state is acting contrary to its Constitution, which states that 'all people born within the territory of the Republic are considered Dominicans, except for the children of foreigners resident in the country with diplomatic status, or of those who are in transit.

POLICY

CHILD SOLDIERS: RATIFICATION OF PROTOCOL SIGNALS COMMITMENT

The tenth ratification of a new UN treaty prohibiting the participation of children in armed conflict marks an important milestone in the campaign to end the use of child soldiers.

In a recent press release, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and New Zealand were the latest states to ratify, joining Canada, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Andorra, Panama, Iceland, Vietnam and the Holy See. A further 77 countries have signed the child soldiers ban and more ratifications are expected shortly.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which prohibits the participation of children under 18 in hostilities with government forces and armed groups alike, will now come into force on 12 February 2002.

"The tide is finally turning against the exploitation of children as soldiers," the coalition said. "The Optional Protocol reflects the strong international consensus against this abuse and lays the foundation for a global ban on child soldiers." The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has been campaigning since 1998 against all forms of military recruitment and use of under-18s. More than half a million children under 18 are believed to be in service with armed forces, paramilitaries and armed groups in 85 countries worldwide.

UPDATES FROM JRS PROJECTS

GRANDS LACS

BURUNDI: JRS WORKING AMID VIOLENT CLASHES

JRS Grands Lacs reports: In our projects in Buterere and Kiyange (suburbs of Bujumbura), we hear bomb blasts and shooting. At times, the shooting frightens us so much that we just want to hide under the table. Our projects are located between the airport and the combat zone, and our work is carried out amid bombing, shooting and helicopters flying above our heads.

SOUTHERN AFRICA

SOUTH AFRICA: MARKING HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

JRS worker in Johannesburg, Paulin Mbecke, writes: The commemoration of International Human Rights Day served as an occasion for the Johannesburg Refugee Network to launch its constitution and to start its activities officially. An activity was organised in Soweto on 8 December, a famous township near Johannesburg. Rampe Hlobo SJ, advocacy officer with JRS South Africa explained the history of international human rights. Cathy Murugan, JRS director in Johannesburg and chairperson of the network urged the participants, especially South Africans, to respect African culture and prioritise on human rights. The aim of the activity was to exhort South Africans to acknowledge the presence of African refugees and other foreigners who contribute positively to the economy and development of the country. This friendship between South Africans and refugees is to be encouraged and nourished with much emphasis on the respect of every human being's rights, no matter his origin, said Mr Hlobo.

SOUTH ASIA

INDIA: NGOS EVALUATE NGO WORK

JRS South Asia reports: NGOs involved in refugee work in Tamilnadu, southern India, have initiated an evaluation process at district level. Led by the Bishop of Kottar, who is national secretary for migrants and refugees of the Indian Bishops Conference, the first meeting was held in Nagercoil district. The outcome of the meeting was satisfactory, with NGOs choosing formation programs as a priority for the camps.

An estimated 70,000 refugees from Sri Lanka live in small camps scattered around Tamilnadu.

INDIA: MANUAL FOR LEADERSHIP TRAINING LAUNCHED

JRS South Asia reports: Fr Elias SJ, who has been involved in leadership training of refugees for the last four years, has produced a training manual entitled THE YOU in you . The project was supported by the Indian UNHCR. In a ceremony attended by academics, refugee leaders and refugees, Agustine Mahiga, UNHCR India chief, launched the book on 12 December.

RECRUITMENT UPDATE - Bema Solis FI informs of the following vacancies:

  • Financial and Project Administrator (Nairobi, Kenya);
  • 3 Pre-School Teachers (Lukole Camp, Ngara, Tanzania);
  • Radio Kwizera Project Director (Ngara and Kibondo, Western Tanzania);
  • Radio Kwizera Team Leader (Ngara and Kibondo, Western Tanzania);
  • 6 Pastoral workers (2 in Nimule, South Sudan; 2 in Rhino Camp, Northern Uganda; 2 in Kibondo, Tanzania);
  • Project Director for Kiyange I and II (Bujumbura, Burundi);
  • Project Director for Buterere I (Bujumbura, Burundi).
For full details about these job opportunities, write to bema.solis@jesref.org or fax +39-06 6879283.

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: Danielle Vella; Translation: Edith Castel (French), Centro Astalli (Italian), Nieves Delgado (Spanish)