REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
UGANDA: GOVERNMENT AND REBELS SIGN PHASE TWO OF THE PEACE DEAL
On 2 May, the government of Uganda and the rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) signed an accord to extend the ceasefire and agreed phase two of a peace agreement. The previous ceasefire ended earlier this year on 28 February, creating instability and raising anxieties among the population in northern Uganda.
"News of the extension of the ceasefire brought relief to most, including the NGOs assisting internally displaced persons (IDPs). More IDPs will be able to return home or at least to resettlements closer to their homes, and NGOs will be able to move about more freely", Donna Cimafranca, JRS Kitgum Project Director, northern Uganda, told Dispatches on 11 May.
Two items on the agenda are said to have been concluded by negotiators in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, and three have yet to be agreed. Government sources described the accord as a significant breakthrough, signalling that this could take some time. Negotiators also agreed to resume talks in the southern Sudanese city of Juba on 11 May.
Phase two of the deal seeks lasting political solutions to the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the war, including helping refugees to return home. It also tries to address some of the grievances of northerners that helped fuel one of Africa's longest wars. Phase three is believed to deal with issues surrounding accountability for war crimes.
Peace talks between the two sides started in south Sudan last July and produced a ceasefire in August, raising hopes of an end to a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and displaced 1.7 million in northern Uganda.
Talks have frequently stalled, most recently in January, when the rebels walked out, citing security fears. In March, the new UN envoy for Uganda's conflict, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, met and reassured LRA leader Kony near his eastern Congolese jungle hideout.
LRA leader Joseph Kony and four other commanders are wanted by the International Criminal Court over allegations of killing civilians, rape and child abduction.
ZAMBIA: VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION PROGRAMME FOR CONGOLESE REFUGEES
On 3 May, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) launched its voluntary repatriation programme to assist Congolese refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The agency expects to assist as many as 20,000 refugees to return this year.
The initial convoy, carrying 414 refugees, arrived in Congo's Katanga province two days later on 5 May.
While governments are not forcing refugees to leave, UNHCR considers that conditions in many areas of DRC are now conducive to return: accessible roads, landmine free and the availability of basic services.
Returnees will spend the first days back in the DRC in a reception centre where they will get landmine awareness training, HIV/AIDS information and any necessary medical assistance. Before leaving for their home areas, refugees are given food rations, blankets, soap, kitchen items, buckets and a construction kit to assist in rebuilding homes. Later in the year, they will receive seeds and farming tools to help them become self-sufficient.
In Zambia, there are 43,854 Congolese refugees in the camps of Mwange and Kala in the far north of the country, Meheba and Mayukwayukwa in the west and northwest, and 2,113 in urban areas. The rest have settled outside the camps.
In addition to Congolese refugees, Zambia currently hosts about 40,000 Angolans who did not repatriate before the end of the Angolan repatriation programme, and nearly 17,000 refugees of other nationalities.
Since 2004, some 103,000 Congolese refugees have returned home, but nearly 340,000 remain in neighbouring countries.
SRI LANKA: GOVERNMENT TOLD TO REIN IN PARAMILITARIES
A senior US official, Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs who began an official visit to the war-torn island on 8 May, is believed to have given the government a blunt message: address human rights abuses and rein in paramilitaries.
Official sources say he reminded the government of their responsibility for law and order in areas under their control and of the need to make changes to address accountability in the security forces. It has long been believed that the dissent Tamil group, under the command of former LTTE rebel leader Karuna, is being assisted by the government.
Nordic truce monitors and a UN envoy have accused elements of the military of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions of children to fight in the ranks of the Karuna group.
However Boucher's visit comes amid near-daily land and sea clashes between the military and Tamil rebels, the LTTE, and a day after the air force said it had bombed a rebel training camp near their northern stronghold, which is southwest of Jaffna.
"The deterioration in the security situation is having a catastrophic effect on substantial sections of the civilian population, particular in the north and east", JRS Sri Lanka Director, Vinny Joseph SJ told Dispatches on 12 May.
Fr Vinny also expressed concern about recent government plans to hand over responsibility for policing in the north and east to the army.
"This move comes at a time when threats, abductions, disappearances and murders on journalists and humanitarian staff are ongoing. It is sending out the wrong signal", added Fr Vinny.
In April, JRS Sri Lanka provided shelter and education services, as well as food, to more than 9,153 displaced persons.
About 70,000 people have died in the war since 1983. The rebels are fighting for a separate state for minority Tamils.
ECUADOR: NGOS SUBMIT REGULARISATION PROPOSAL
On 3 May, a coalition of refugee and migrant NGOs, including JRS Ecuador, presented a proposal to the government to regularise the legal status of up to 500,000 Colombian refugees and migrants.
At the meeting, the representative of the National Secretary on Migration, María Fernando Espinoza, undertook to establish a committee in cooperation with the ministry of foreign affairs to analyse the proposal.
The proposal outlines the steps necessary to bring Ecuadorian migration policy in line with national and international obligations, based on principles of respect for human rights and anti-discrimination. Based on reciprocity, it also seeks to treat non-nationals the same way as Ecuadorians would like to be treated abroad. It proposes to quantify the number of non-nationals in the country and establish a process of social and economic integration.
In the proposal, the NGOs urged the government to grant visas to undocumented Colombians residents who have been in the country for more than one year, except those who have committed serious crimes against public security, peace and human rights. The group called for an exclusion order to be applied to those individuals.
The proposal also recommends that the cost of the visa be reduced and that requirements on Colombians to prove residence in the country be lessened. The principle of family unity should also be respected, the document stated.
The whole process, according to the NGOs, should be monitored by representatives of an independent group, comprised of civil society organisations, the Church, the United Nations and the Community of Andean Nations.
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
ETHIOPIA: A LIFESAVING WORKSHOP
"The prevalence of HIV/AIDS, high risk groups, changing behaviour, voluntary counselling and testing, and life skills, were the issues discussed at the annual JRS workshop on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ethiopia.
"It is an opportunity for asylum seekers to increase their understanding of risky practices. They are helped to identify coping mechanisms that lessen the impact of the disease", JRS Ethiopia Emergency Needs Programme Social Worker Mulugeta Yesus told Dispatches on 12 May.
The workshop, held between the 25 and 27 April, sought to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among the Somali and Congolese asylum-seeking population in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. It began by reviewing the conclusions of a similar workshop held last year, which also looked at the broad demographic aspects of HIV/AIDS.
During his visit to Ethiopia, the outgoing JRS Eastern Africa Regional Director, John Guiney SJ, got an opportunity to participate in the workshop for a short while. Speaking to the participants, he urged them not to stigmatise and discriminate people living with HIV/AIDS.
Mr Yesus described the event as a great opportunity for asylum seekers to get access to information on HIV/AIDS. Everything in the local media is broadcasted in the local languages and in English, which most asylum seekers do not understand. This type of outreach is invaluable training. They can use the information to protect themselves and their loved ones, he said.
BURUNDI: BATWA MINORITY RIGHTS DEFENDED
"After an awareness-raising campaign and letters to the media and public representatives, today it is rare to see a truck dump waste here", JRS Regional Advocacy Officer Nicolas Clemesac told Dispatches on 11 May.
For the last three months, JRS has been working with two local human rights NGOs representing the displaced Batwa community, Action Batwa and United for the Promotion of Batwa (UNIPROBA). Since 1988, JRS has worked in Buterere, a marginalised suburban district of the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. The place where the Batwa community lives reflects the discrimination this population is forced to endure. It is also used as an illegal refuse dump.
Before the arrival of thousands of internally displaced persons, this marshland was completely uninhabitable and very unhygienic. Among those forced to live in these desperate conditions, JRS works with members of the Batwa community who live segregated from the main displaced population of Hutus and Tutsis.
In late March, JRS and the two partner NGOs decided to take action. They contacted local officials and representatives, as well as the national press. National newspapers and radio stations reported on the negative health consequences, and politicians visited the site where the Batwas live.
"Action was taken by the local authorities and those involved in illegal dumping are now fined", added Mr Clemesac.
The Batwa community forms approximately one percent of the country's population. They are often victims of discrimination and suffer human rights abuses. They are forced by the dominant Hutu and Tutsi communities, to adopt different lifestyles and have been taken hostage during interethnic conflicts in which they have continuously refused to participate. Members of the Batwa community face ongoing discrimination accessing healthcare, education and employment.
"We will continue our work until the site is developed and the sanitary situation improves. More importantly the government and the mayor of Bujumbura must act to put an end to the discrimination faced by the Batwa.
Most war-displaced persons arriving in Buterere were coming from Cibitoke and Bubanza in the northwest and from Bururi in the south. They were fleeing fighting between Hutu rebel group, the FDD, and Tutsi government forces. The majority of them never thought they would ever return home. Many have lived Buterere for 10 years. They did not even know if their land had been confiscated by other families during their long absence. Above all, they rebuilt their lives in Bujumbura and tried to forget about the traumatic experiences they lived though during the war.
For further information (in French) see www.jrs.net/reports
JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the 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: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian).