Dispatches is a fortnightly e-mail bulletin of the JRS International Office. It features refugee news briefings, information from our people in the field, policy issues, JRS vacancies and spiritual reflections.
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
COTE D'IVOIRE: DISARMAMENT CEREMONY A SIGN OF OPTIMISM
On 19 May pro-government militia in the country's western region burned small fire arms, old rifles and military uniforms. However, analysts described the ceremony as symbolic. They pointed out that previous disarmament attempts had failed due to a lack of political will.
The reconciliation process began with the 4 March Ougadougou Peace Accord, calling for disarmament and reunification of the country, divided into a rebel held north and government controlled south following a 2002 coup d'état. Now all signs point to the political will being in place. Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader, was recently appointed by President Laurent Gbagbo as Prime Minister. However, many observers believe the established timeline for recovery is too ambitious since the situation has yet to be normalised.
President Gbagbo claims that 1,000 weapons have already been collected from the 15,000-member pro-government militia. The three collection sites are situated in the western villages of Doke, Ziaglo, and Blolequin where militias from both sides are most highly concentrated.
Officials report that while disarming is a necessary step forward in the peace process, there is little evidence to suggest that all the pieces are in place for full disarmament. Militia leaders are demanding large sums of money in return for their weapons. Those financing the militias, both government and rebel, do not trust the other side enough to disarm. Thus displaced persons still do not feel it is safe to return home. Lack of security is directly linked to the presence of militias on both sides.
Still, in areas under the joint control of government and rebel forces brigades do what they are told by political leaders and people are returning.
"Disarmament of militias is an important step in securing the region so that thousands of refugees and displaced Ivoirians can return home. This ceremony is a positive sign of the political will to go through with the process but it appears the country needs more time before the real work begins in earnest", JRS West Africa Advocacy Officer Ashley Gagne told Dispatches on 30 May.
BURUNDI: STABILITY BOOSTED AS REBELS REJOIN CEASEFIRE TEAM
On 28 May, Burundi's last remaining rebel group gave a boost to peace prospects in the tiny central African nation by rejoining the ceasefire monitoring team.
Last month, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL) quit the team monitoring the ceasefire signed in September, stating government forces had not withdrawn from FNL-controlled areas as agreed.
In a public statement, the FNL explained their decision to rejoin the ceasefire monitoring team was taken after receiving assurances from the South African mediator, Charles Nqakula, that issues raised by the movement would be addressed in a forthcoming meeting between FNL leader Agathon Rwasa and President Pierre Nkurunziza.
The FNL are seeking new negotiations over what role they would expect to play in the armed forces and government institutions. They are also looking for the release of FNL political and war prisoners.
The agreement between the Nkurunziza government and the FNL stirred hopes of lasting peace in Burundi, where some 300,000 people have died in conflict and approximately 450,000 fled the country since 1993. But wrangling over the deal has prevented the return of stability to the landlocked, coffee-growing, nation of 7.5 million.
"JRS beneficiaries highlight the continual financial harassment and robbery in areas controlled by the FNL and express the hope that implementation of the peace agreement will help to restore law and order", JRS Grands Lacs Regional Advocacy Officer Nicolas Clemesac told Dispatches on 30 May.
JRS began working with groups displaced by the civil war in 1996. Its teams currently provide skills training and assistance in starting small businesses to internally displaced persons and returning refugees.
PANAMA: SECOND ARSON ATTACK IN CURUNDÚ
Fire, panic and confusion arrived with the dawn in a largely refugee and migrant settlement in Panama City on 21 May.
The second pre-dawn arson attack in two months in the neighbourhood of Curundú left at least 355 persons homeless, many of them Colombians displaced by the on-going conflict in their homeland who had sought refuge in Panama's capital city.
The Colombian residents of the district come mainly from the Chocó region of Colombia, a region largely populated by country's often marginalised indigenous and African-descent populations.
This Panama City neighbourhood has become a target of gangs, now believed to be responsible for the two recent early morning fires.
According to Osiris Ábrego, a member of the JRS Panama team, the neighbourhood's residents reported the most recent fire began following a shoot-out between two warring Panamanian gangs. Ábrego pointed out that these recent destructive acts highlight the physical insecurity faced by the Colombian refugee population in Panama, insecurity that the Panamanian government seems unable or unwilling to mitigate.
The fire two months earlier, on March 21, left more than 500 people homeless over half of whom were children - and three children dead.
JRS Panama works closely with residents of this Panama City neighbourhood because of its majority Colombian refugee population. Local JRS teams are monitoring the situation in Curundú and advocating for immediate relief on behalf of victims of the attacks. They pointed out that fires have had a devastating effect on the already vulnerable refugee and migrant community.
JRS has been working in Curundú since 2006.
NEPAL: TWO REFUGEES KILLED IN RIOTING OVER RESETTLEMENT
On 28 May, the Nepalese government extended a curfew to cover all seven refugee camps as a second Bhutanese refugee died in a day of clashes with Nepalese police.
Police said 20-year-old Bhutanese refugee, Purna Bahadur Tamang, died after being struck by a rubber bullet during rioting in Beldangi camp in Jhapa district, about 800 kilometres east of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. A 16-year-old refugee youth was killed by the police during the first day of rioting.
The clashes began on 27 May in Beldangi II refugee camp in the eastern Jhapa district between groups of refugees with differing opinions over third country resettlement.
One group favours the return of the refugees to Bhutan but is open to the possibility of being resettled in a third country if return is not available, while other sees repatriation back to Bhutan as the only solution to the crisis. The government had imposed an indefinite curfew on Beldangi refugee camps which was later extended to cover all seven refugee camps in two districts in eastern Nepal.
In April, the US agreed to resettle more than 60,000 refugees beginning from July. Australia agreed to resettle a further 5,000. Other core countries - Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Netherlands and Norway - are expected to announce the numbers they would be able to resettle shortly.
For further information see www.jrs.net/reports
SRI LANKA: DISPLACED BEGIN RETURNING TO THEIR VILLAGES
On 25 May, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) in Sri Lanka - a grouping of UN agencies and NGOs - welcomed government efforts to resettle some 90,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Batticaloa West, in the east of the country.
The group called on the government to ensure such returns are 'wholly voluntary and take place in safety and with dignity'.
The IASC statement also urged the government to speed up access to the villages in West Batticaloa for international aid agencies so they can monitor conditions and carry out relief and early recovery programmes aimed at sustainable return.
The return process began on 14 May. According to statistics provided by the Sri Lankan government, by 21 May 19,336 IDPs from 6,040 families had been resettled.
However, in a message echoing concerns raised by JRS Sri Lanka in the past, IASC warned agriculture-based livelihoods and sustainable food security will pose challenges so the government should expedite mine and munitions clearance to ensure safety for children and farmers.
The IASC cited the importance of IDPs being fully informed regarding resettlement plans. It also suggested the need for 'Go and See Visits' for IDPs who have anxieties about returning home, a civilian grievance redress mechanism to address returnee complaints and greater information-sharing by the government.
JRS, through its membership of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, participates in IASC.
TIMOR LESTE: CRISIS CONTINUES
"The crisis in Timor Leste shows no sign of an early resolution. There are an estimated 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) scattered across 51 camps in the capital, Dili, while another 70,000 have moved to the districts where they are staying with extended family or in small camps. Although this represents a reduction in overall numbers, it has nevertheless placed great pressure on the small country's barely developed infrastructure" JRS Australia Director, David Holdcroft SJ, told Dispatches on 30 May.
In March 2006, disaffection by elements of the military led to violence and a near breakdown of law and order. Over 2,000 Australian, New Zealand, and Portuguese police and peacekeepers were deployed to Timor Leste in late May. Many of these were later replaced by UN police officers.
"Many expected those displaced by the violence would promptly return to their homes after the political crisis last year. Now, the government and the NGO sector have realised that the causes are more complex and far deeper than originally thought. Solutions to long running inter-generational property disputes, as well as poverty and high levels of unemployment, need to be found", added Fr Holdcroft.
Many families have been left with neither a home nor property and will need some kind of resettlement. Displacement to outlying districts has placed immense pressure on small communities and risks causing further conflict and displacement.
JRS worked in Timor Leste from 1999 until 2001, assisting refugees in West Timor to return home. JRS is currently looking at the possibility of sending a team to assist displaced persons in the country.
For further information see www.jrs.net/reports
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
CHAD: SCHOOLS OPEN IN IDP CAMPS
On 18 May, a primary school was opened in Habile 3 camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the eastern Dar Sila region of Chad. For most of the 511 students, this will be their first opportunity to attend school.
JRS provided the IDPs with the materials to erect temporary schools and, with the assistance of parents, distributed school materials to the students. Staff also provided training to the three community teachers, themselves IDPs, and helped parents organise a parents' association representing all the villages in Habile 3. The inauguration of the school was attended by the local education inspector.
Habile 3 was established in April after the nearby villages of Tiero and Marena were attacked by opposition rebels. For many of the inhabitants in Tiero and Marena, it was not the first time they have been displaced.
Historically, the rate of school attendance in Dar Sila is low, less than 10 percent, compared to other regions in Chad. Violence has worsened the situation and destroyed an already fragile school system.
"The number of children in school is still extremely low. The lack of teachers, in particular qualified teachers, makes it difficult to improve the teacher/pupil ratio and the school attendance rate. Since widespread violence broke out a year ago, the few teachers who worked here have left the region or are now working in well-paid jobs for NGOs", said Gonzalo Sánchez-Terán, JRS Dar Sila Project Director.
In the coming weeks, JRS will open schools in Gassire and Aradib IDP camps, also in the Dar Sila region. The first module of the teacher training programme is currently being provided in all the IDP camps; the second and third modules will be developed during the 2007-08 school year.
"Only decisive government action prioritising education services for those living in displacement-affected areas will alter the current trend. If we are to build a functioning education system in Dar Sila, we need more qualified teachers and must ensure that those already working here receive decent salaries", added Sánchez-Terán.
The three IDP camps in Habile (1, 2, 3) host more than 25,000 IDPs over a vast area. Conditions in the camps are harsh. Both food and water are scarce, and during the rainy season, no agricultural work can be undertaken.
SUDAN: PILOT PROGRAMME TO INTEGRATE REFUGEE TEACHERS
In mid-May, the authorities in southern Sudan announced the establishment of a pilot project to enhance the return and integration of refugee teachers in Jonglei and Eastern Equatorial states.
JRS and other implementing NGO partners will work with the local education authorities assisting them in the development of a policy for the recruitment, selection, placement and reintegration of refugee teachers in southern Sudan.
At a three-day forum, hosted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in southern Sudan, the International Rescue Committee and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Rumbek from 8-10 May, the return and integration of teachers and students was discussed. Refugee teachers, from camps and settlements in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, raised issues such as teacher and student accreditation.
Based on their experience of managing schools and providing teacher training, JRS will assist education officials in Nimule and Lobone (Magwi county) to assess the 'long-term educational needs' of the population and strengthen their capacity to build a unified education system serving equally the needs of 'returnees' and the local population.
Without adequate attention to long-term educational needs and the strengthening of civil society and local authority capacity, return will remain a turbulent process liable to destabilise a precious and precarious peace. The system must be able to ensure the reintegration of the displaced, their acceptance by those who stayed and the sustainability of the return process.
From experience JRS staff know that this process of return is not a simple one. Many JRS beneficiaries have remained in northern Uganda and elsewhere for a variety of reasons, such as the desire not to disrupt their children's education, uncertainty regarding the security situation and unwillingness to leave an established community network.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org; JRS on-line: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian).