JRS DISPATCHES No. 273, 20 January 2010

Report
from Jesuit Refugee Service
Published on 20 Jan 2010
(excerpt)

1. Sudan: violence puts stability at risk

On 9 January, the UN peacekeeping force in Sudan, UNMIS, voiced concern over the recent escalation of violence in Southern Sudan. In the last two weeks, more than 150 people have been killed, and many more injured and displaced by inter-ethnic violence throughout the autonomous region. The latest outbreak of violence, adding to an already deteriorating situation in Southern Sudan, prompted UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to urge the government and Southern Sudanese authorities to redouble their efforts towards reconciliation and successful implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

According to an International Crisis Group (ICG) report released last December, Jonglei's Tribal Conflicts: Countering Insecurity in South Sudan, some 2,500 people were killed in violent conflict in the region in 2009 and more than 350,000 were displaced. The latest outbreak of violence has deepened divisions among southern communities and leaders, some of whom may be manipulating the conflict to their own ends, added the ICG report.

Inter-ethnic violence and delays in implementing the peace agreement between the north and south risk derailing future elections and referenda processes. According to Ban Ki-moon, considerable process has been made in the implementation of the CPA, which ended one of Africa's bloodiest wars. Nonetheless, this year will be an extremely challenging one, especially as the parties prepare for elections and the exercise of the right to self-determination for Southern Sudan.

Longer-term steps

These challenges require the parties urgently to establish the necessary legal, political and institutional framework for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, referenda and popular consultations, added the UN secretary-general. JRS staff on the ground told Dispatches that the Southern Sudanese authorities lack the means to handle the situation. The autonomous region urgently needs a trained police force to ensure the rule of law, including a well-planned and monitored disarmament process.

JRS works in Nimule, Kajo Keji and Yei counties near the Uganda border. Teams there manage a variety of peace-building projects, including training community members on crisis prevention and conflict transformation, and establishing community peace clubs.

The training empowers community members to be agents of peace. They are taught to recognise how conflict can arise and what can be done to avoid the escalation of violence. The peace clubs help members to promote peace through activities such as dance, theatre, sport and other games within the community. JRS staff also engage in public awareness activities on the CPA, the election process and the need to promote peace in the community.

2. Chad: NGOs scale back activities as security deteriorates

A number of NGOs have reduced and cut services due to the ongoing risk of violence and kidnappings. Towards the end of last year, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and French NGO Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) all introduced reductions in services.

Although security seemed to improve in the southeastern Dar Sila region in December, in the three weeks to 8 January, a number of major incidents were reported in the northeast. In Bahai, aerial bombings by a Sudanese aircraft near Oure Cassoni camp were reported. Fortunately, no one was injured. In addition, shots were fired at a UN refugee agency vehicle, escorted by UN and Chadian security officials; however, UNHCR staff escaped unhurt.

In response to increased security measures in the southeastern border area, no further security incidents were reported. In Koukou and Goz Beida, where JRS teams are based, vehicle movements have been reduced and the system of contact between NGOs and Chadian security officials (DIS) has been reinforced. Moreover, direct travel between the camps has been discouraged by the DIS.

Recent months of insecurity

On 20 December, four plain-clothed armed men hijacked a civilian vehicle at gunpoint on the road from Goz Beida to Koukou. The vehicle was part of a UN logistics convoy travelling with a local security escort.

In December, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) withdrew international staff from Dogdoré camp, 120km east of Goz Beida, in eastern Chad. The camp hosts 27,000 forcibly displaced Chadians. Increased insecurity, a MSF statement read, means certain deterioration in the quality of care offered, including the cancellation of the mobile health clinics.

On 10 November a government official working with Darfur refugees and an NGO driver were killed, and a French agronomist working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), kidnapped on 10 November, has not yet been released. ICRC has suspended most of their activities in the eastern part of the country. Moreover dozens of humanitarian vehicles have been stolen by armed assailants.

ACTED announced, as of January 2010, it will no longer post international staff to Goz Beida, 220 km south of the aid hub town Abéché. Local skilled staff are scarce, consequently, service provision will be limited.

UN agencies and dozens of NGOs provide services to more than half a million refugees and displaced Chadians in the east of the country.

4. Sri Lanka: life for displaced persons still difficult

While 142,570 of the Sri Lankans, of the 278,090 displaced in the final phase of the war, have left have left government camps, many vulnerable displaced persons are still unable to return home.

Even among those who have returned, the situation is frequently extremely precarious. Amputees, widows, children and families of former rebel combatants are among the most vulnerable displaced persons in the country.

Of the more than 28,000 people who have been released from the camps to host families as of 21 December; most come from extremely vulnerable sections of society, such as older persons and individuals with disabilities. Even without this additional burden, many families are already struggling to get by. This tense situation is likely to cause further hardship.

Due to the intensity of war, many people have been wounded badly or have lost their limbs. Those whose limbs have had to be amputated have become a burden on their families. Some are all alone in hospital, soon to be released, or in camps. They are not in a position to live in their home villages, nor are their families in a position to support them.

Without any specific information on the number of amputees, or on plans for their future resettlement, it is impossible to develop specialised care programmes for them. The situation is also dramatic for the thousands of people who have been traumatised during and after the war.

Camp IDPs

For the families of former combatants, the situation is also critical. As of December, there is information only about the whereabouts of approximately 10,000 former combatants including some 2,000 girls, in 13 special camps. Without any indication as to when they will be released, families are worried about their safety. At least 20,000 have refused to return home.

Returning home would make it practically impossible for many families to visit their relatives in detention centres. Unfortunately, the absence of clear procedures regarding movement in and out of the camps makes life extremely difficult.

Returnees

As of 21 December, more than 140,000 displaced persons had returned home, mainly to Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya. Although back in their home towns, many are still living in transit camps, such as churches and schools. They have been provided with tin sheets and thirty euro per family by the authorities.

Although people are happy to be free again, the lack of infrastructure - housing, shops, hospitals, schools, transport - make life difficult to say the least. The lack of employment opportunities, in particular the shortage of boats and nets for fisherman, and military restrictions are making the population dependent on handouts from humanitarian agencies. Moreover, during the war, more than 1,000 schools in the northern provinces were closed, affecting some 80,000 children. Seven months later, nearly 400 remain closed.

6. Haiti: humanitarian agencies struggle to deliver aid

Major humanitarian organisations on the ground in Haiti are still experiencing great difficulty distributing relief supplies to those who need them most. Almost a week after the disaster struck, tension is rising on the streets of Port-au-Prince as the majority of earthquake survivors continue to lack food, medicine and proper shelter.

A bottleneck at the capital's small airport - the main entry point for international assistance - means little help has reached the many people awaiting assistance in makeshift camps on streets strewn with debris and decomposing bodies.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an aircraft carrying a mobile hospital was denied permission to land at the airport on Saturday and diverted to neighbouring Dominican Republic, where it would take a further 24 hours to deliver supplies by road. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel, MSF said in a statement.

According to the UN, thousands of people are leaving Port-au-Prince in order to find help with many heading in an easterly direction in the hope of eventually crossing into the Dominican Republic.

Some progress

On 19 January, there were some signs of progress as international medical teams re-opened damaged hospitals and clinics where injured and sick people had lain untreated for days. Hundreds of trucks carrying aid and guarded by armed UN patrols streamed from the airport and UN headquarters into Port-au-Prince. There were scuffles for food and water as UN trucks distributed food packets and US military helicopters dropped boxes of water bottles and other rations.

"We are responding as best we can to the crisis. The bigger agencies with elaborate logistics structures are now meeting the urgent needs for food, shelter and medical assistance. As the camps are set up, people fall through the cracks. In the post-emergency phase, JRS will target its assistance towards those in the most vulnerable circumstances" JRS International Director, Peter Balleis SJ, told Dispatches on 18 January.

"We are also looking towards meeting longer-term needs such as the provision of education services to the children of Haiti. We were here before the crisis and will stay on well after the emergency phase ends", added Fr Balleis.

Haitian government officials 70,000 bodies have already been buried in mass graves and relief organisations estimate the number of dead as high as 200,000.

For more information on the crisis see http://www.jrs.net/alerts/index.php?lang=en

7. Haiti: international rescue teams work around the clock

International urban search-and-rescue teams continue to work around the clock to find survivors trapped underneath the rubble left by the catastrophic earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January.

By 17 January, more than 70 people had been found alive, a record number for these operations. More than 40 teams, comprising over 1,700 rescue workers and 161 dogs, are working tirelessly under extremely difficult and challenging conditions.

According to the UN Disaster and Assessment Coordination team leader, Jesper Lund, the search for survivors will continue as long as there is any hope of finding people alive.

The 7.0 magnitude tremors have affected one third of Haiti's population of nine million, and the UN estimates that 10 percent of the buildings in the hardest-hit city - the capital, Port-au-Prince - have been destroyed, leaving 300,000 people homeless.

Appeal for reconstruction funds

By 14 January, JRS Dominican Republic was able to bring supplies of clean water, medicine, tents, food and equipment into Port-au-Prince. According to JRS staff, the roads were a "disaster".

Haitian government officials 70,000 bodies have already been buried in mass graves and relief organisations estimate the number of dead as high as 200,000. Although families had begun to bury their deceased, the number of deaths is so high that the authorities are considering resorting to incinerating the bodies.

In an interview with the Washington Times on 15 January, Shaina Aber, JRS USA Associate Advocacy Director, said people also urgently need portable toilets to prevent the spread of disease.

The UN and partner organisations have launched an appeal for nearly $600 million to help the victims of the earthquake, which has left basic services on the brink of collapse in Port-au-Prince.

The funds are intended to assist an estimated three million people over a period of six months, with half that amount being earmarked for emergency food aid, and the rest destined for health services, water, sanitation, nutrition early recovery, emergency education and other key needs.

The earthquake follows a series of four hurricanes which struck Haiti and caused widespread destruction just 15 months ago.

For donations see:

http://jrs.net/donation/index.php?lang=en

http://www.sjrdom.org/spip/spip.php? article1019

http://jrsusa.org/support_donate.php

9. USA: temporary protection offers Haiti a lifeline

On 15 January, JRS applauded the decision by the US government to allow Haitians currently in the US the legal status to remain in the country, to work and to send remittances home.

According to a statement by JRS USA, "offering Temporary Protected Status to Haitians already here will give them a chance to stay temporarily on our shores as they await a moment when they can return home in safety and dignity".

JRS Haiti has witnessed firsthand how few resources are available to address the overwhelming needs facing the Haitian population. Following the recent earthquake, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have been forced from their homes and lack the most basic services and supplies. With schools, hospitals, roads and bridges in ruins Haiti is in no position to offer support to returnees.

Religious leaders who minister to Haitian communities throughout the small island nation report continuing food and water shortages, an increasingly desperate population and the inability of the Haitian government to fill the urgent needs of quake survivors.

Remittances will help reconstruction

Fr Kawas Francois SJ told JRS that "people lack everything including water, food, blankets and tents. They are sleeping on the streets. The dead are in the streets and under the rubble and sanitary conditions are deteriorating."

The US Congress established Temporary Protected Status to grant safety to foreign nationals in just such circumstances as those currently facing Haiti. The destruction caused by the earthquake has made the safe return of Haitian nationals to their country impossible.

TPS will allow Haitians already in the US to stay and work temporarily in the country. Remittances from Haitians granted TPS will allow more than $1 billion in aid to be sent to family members still suffering on the island. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti already depends significantly on remittances. By allowing some 30,000 Haitians to work and send remittances to 150,000 to 300,000 persons in Haiti, the despair of an entire country will be reduced.

UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES

10. Kenya: Jesuit Superior visits refugee camp

"I realise there is an enormous amount of suffering in Kakuma. I am impressed to find people like you working with dedication to heal this suffering", Adolfo Nicolas SJ, Father General of the Society of Jesus, told a gathering of approximately 100 JRS staff members on his recent visit to Kenya.

"The thing that encourages me most is the ability of JRS to work with others whether they be other religious, lay people or members of other faith traditions," Fr General added.

Fr Nicolas arrived in Kakuma on 17 December, accompanied by JRS Eastern Africa Director, Frido Pflueger SJ, and the East African Provincial, Agboukhianmeghe Orobator SJ. Throughout the day, he met local government officials, UN staff and refugee residents in the camp, largely Somalis fleeing the latest wave of violence and instability.

A UN refugee agency (UNHCR) official told the Jesuit Superior that with the latest arrival of 13,000 Somalis from the overcrowded Dadaab camps in north-eastern Kenya, the situation in Kakuma can no longer be considered a situation of protracted displacement but one of emergency.

Dignity

During his visit, the convoy stopped in an area housing newly arrived Somalis. Men and women were busy building houses to replace the white plastic sheet tents erected by UNHCR upon their arrival.

Fr General accepted the invitation of a Somali man to visit his tent. Inside the plastic structure, the space was shockingly bare: a mat rolled up on the ground still soggy after the recent rainy spell, a few books carefully kept from harm's way in a fold of the plastic sheeting and some clothing.

"I am happy to be in Kakuma where I finally feel safe. I hope I will be able to teach in one of the camp schools," the former teacher told Fr General.

The camp tour continued with visits to one of the three JRS day-care centres and the JRS "safe haven" for women and children facing threats to their lives in the community.

Kakuma camp was opened in 1992 for refugees fleeing civil war in Sudan. At present, Kakuma camp hosts more than 63,000 refugees of eleven different nationalities, including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan.