JRS Dispatches No. 101

Report
from Jesuit Refugee Service
Published on 25 Oct 2001
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International office
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

COLOMBIA: MASSACRE BY PARAMILITARY FORCES

Paramilitary forces massacred 22 campesinos (peasant farmers) on 10 October. Three minors and an elderly man were among those killed by the Autodefensas de Colombia (AUC) in the rural zone of the municipality of Buga. A JRS team works there together with IMCA, a local NGO working on sustainable development. JRS Colombia has voiced concern that government security forces did nothing to catch the killers. Possible retaliation from the guerrillas is another worry. As part of an investigation commission into the atrocity, JRS heard how the paramilitaries shut the women in a house and let the children run away, so they would not witness the killing of their neighbours and friends. Then the peasant farmers were made to stand in a row and were shot in the head. Before killing their defenceless victims, the paramilitaries beat and humiliated them. After they committed the massacre, the paramilitaries escaped without being chased by the security forces. The AUC claimed that those murdered had links with the guerrillas, an allegation firmly denied by the members of IMCA, who knew the victims well. "We are grateful to all those who have expressed solidarity following the massacre, the latest to hit the poorest people in Colombian society," said JRS Colombia. "We urge international institutions to help us, so protection measures will be set up for people left behind in the area where the massacre took place, and for those in neighbouring municipalities and zones. These people remain in great danger." (See also below - Updates on JRS projects, Latin America) MOLUCCAS: BLASTING RECONCILIATION ATTEMPTS? The past month has seen frequent bomb blasts and shootings in Ambon. On 9 October, two bombs exploded in Ambon: the first in a building next door to JRS (a textile shop) and the other near Maranatha, a Protestant Church. Explosions and artillery fire continued without let-up over the weekend of 13 and 14 October and electricity was cut. On 22 October, JRS reported that although there had been no explosions on that day, the situation remained unstable. The JRS team is on alert and monitoring the situation closely: they plan to stay in Ambon for now, but may evacuate if security conditions deteriorate much further. Different reasons have been attributed to the motivation behind the blasts. Some say the aim is to deter moves towards reconciliation in a place torn apart by sectarian violence. "Bombs are often planted in areas where trade takes place, because business is an effective means of bringing people together, regardless of religion," said JRS Asia Pacific. "The Catholic Church in Ambon actively promotes reconciliation by having contacts with Muslim people. JRS helps some Muslim tradesmen through income-generating work. "Unfortunately, there are those who do not like such moves towards reconciliation. By planting bombs, they hope to intimidate people into not dealing with those of another religion."

MACEDONIA: SOME DISPLACED WARY ABOUT RETURN

Ethnically mixed police units, accompanied by NATO, deployed 22 October to five villages around Tetovo and Kumanovo in the north-west of Macedonia. The deployment had been postponed several times out of fear that it would re-ignite clashes with the rebels, who still control many villages in the area. But Albanian politicians claimed the return was premature and that it should have been preceded by constitutional reforms granting ethnic Albanians more rights. The Macedonian parliament is currently debating the reforms, following the peace deal signed in Ohrid in August. The debate looks set to be lengthy process riddled with sticking points. JRS Macedonia said many people displaced from the conflict zones do not feel it is safe to return yet. However, the national Red Cross has decided to strike 23,000 internally displaced people off its lists (which originally registered 77,000 people) on the grounds that these people were displaced from areas now considered 'safe'. "The national Red Cross is pushing the internally displaced people to return to the villages before the police and the army. But the civilians still refuse to return because they do not feel secure, and they intend to wait for the police and army to go first. The displaced are now trying to organise themselves into a group to safeguard their rights," said reliable sources. Meanwhile, clashes continued in the north-east of the country, with the army shelling rebel positions until late on 23 October.

MACEDONIA: NO MORE HELP FOR KOSOVO REFUGEES

The Macedonian government has announced that it will no longer give humanitarian assistance to 'old' refugees from Kosovo. JRS Macedonia said: "There are still refugees from Kosovo in Macedonia, most are non-Albanian families (Serbs and Roma) and people in mixed marriages. They do not have the possibility of returning to Kosovo. Now they will no longer be treated like refugees and will not receive humanitarian aid." Since conflict erupted in Macedonia earlier this year, the losses to the national economy are estimated a 1,300 million DM. Thirty-one per cent of the losses were suffered by the farming sector. "Agriculture is the main source of family income for most people living in areas not under government control. These families will be hard hit by the economical damage incurred by the war," said JRS Macedonia.

AUSTRALIA: NEW LAWS THREATEN REFUGEE PROTECTION

Seven bills relating to asylum seekers approved by the government late last month are a regression in refugee law and a grave threat to human rights, said JRS in Australia. The government had the opposition's support for the passage of the legislation and ensured that the bills passed into law with a minimum of debate. Among the measures to be implemented are: limiting independent reviews of Department of Immigration decisions regarding asylum seekers; re-defining the definition of a "refugee"; giving only successive temporary protection visas to those who have not come directly from their country of origin. Public opinion has in recent months dramatically shifted in favour of the government, allegedly reflecting support for the tough stand on 'illegals'. "The government has deliberately confused the whole issue of asylum seekers since the events of 11 September,"said JRS." 'Asylum seekers' have become synonymous with 'illegals' at best and 'terrorists' at worst in a beat up that is currently contributing effectively to the government's popularity." JRS Asia Pacific director, Andre Sugijopranoto SJ, said Australia had "crudely used" the recent terrorist acts in the US to defend the obvious shortcomings of the new asylum measures. "When the need to protect refugees and asylum seekers is probably at its greatest as the war on terrorism continues, Australia has taken a major step backwards in its commitment to refugee protection and human rights," said Fr Sugijopranoto.

NEPAL: AMBASSADOR RAISES REFUGEE HOPES

The repatriation process of Bhutanese refugees could start from December this year, according to Dr Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, Nepal ambassador to India and Bhutan. JRS Nepal field director, PS Amalraj SJ, reports that the refugees can talk of little else other than the latest news, revealed as Dr Thapa was speaking during a talk show in Kathmandu on 15 October. But although the refugees, who have lived in exile for the past 11 years, welcome Dr Thapa's words, they wonder whether repatriation could really happen within the time frame mentioned, said the JRS director. The Joint Verification team (JVT) has yet to cover 531 families, a total of 3,804 members, in Khudunabari camp, which would require about 33 working days. "This means verification should be finished by 7 December. But the governments are yet to harmonise their stands on categorisation of the refugees, something they failed to do in the last three rounds of ministerial talks. Talks at secretary level are now planned to follow the verification in Khudunabari: will they bring about agreement?" said Fr PS Amalraj. Besides, Bhutan must approve results produced by the JVT before anything is announced, and it has yet to reveal plans for repatriation. "Refugees are pained and broken seeing that in Bhutan, resettlement on their land by people from the north and the west continues despite talk of repatriation," said Fr PS Amalraj.

EAST TIMOR: RETURNING REFUGEES IN POOR HEALTH

The health conditions of refugees returning to East Timor is generally very poor, according to JRS teams who visit the returnees in their home villages. During September and October, about 2,000 refugees returned to Bobonaro, Covalima, Ainaro, Ermera, Liquisa, Aileu and Dili. JRS returnees project coordinator, Susana Barnes said: "In Suai, we have raised concerns with local and national authorities about the health conditions of returnees and the impact this will have on local health structures. In particular, concern was highlighted for TB patients returning to as yet unaffected communities." Shelter and food during the first months of return was also a problem. "Both returnees and the local community are anxious about the lack of food for three months after return,"said Ms Barnes. All have received the standard package supplied by UNHCR for returnees. In Ainaro district, JRS reports that at this time food supplies are depleted and there is no alternative supplementary food distribution on site for those in need. Refugees from Aileu district have returned to find that their houses were burnt during the 1999 violence. Many are staying on the land they cultivate or making shelters in fields. Despite the problems encountered on their return, returnees told JRS workers they were very happy to be home. Many returnees to Ainaro also spoke about continued intimidation in the camps and expressed their concern for their friends and family still in West Timor.

UPDATES FROM JRS PROJECTS

EASTERN AFRICA

ETHIOPIA: REHABILITATION PROJECT STARTS TO BEAR FRUIT

Outgoing JRS Ethiopia director, Ozy Gonsalves SJ, writes: "The first relocation of displaced families out of Kaliti shelter as part of a JRS rehabilitation project started on 2 October. In a ceremony held at the JRS support office compound, kits and start-up capital were handed out to 32 women who had completed training in tailoring. "The rehabilitation project for displaced people in Kaliti provides assistance to 283 family heads in the shelter. An objective of the project is to provide skills training to help families earn sustainable income and leave the shelter."

SOUTHERN AFRICA

US AND SOUTH AFRICA CONSULTATIVE FORUM

JRS advocacy officer in Johannesburg, Rampe Hlobo SJ, writes: "A group of representatives from eight South African NGOs has just returned from a study tour of immigration in the US. Previously, officials from the Department of Home Affairs attended the study tour; this trip was for NGOs to learn and share experiences with similar agencies and US Asylum Program officials. The trip was felt to be fruitful and there was a commitment to share and apply useful strategies learned in the US."

MOLUCCAS: FACILITATING RETURNS TO BURU ISLAND

JRS Moluccas reports: "Members of the local Christian population of Buru Island (province of the Moluccas) who had fled to Ambon because of sectarian violence are now gradually returning. The local Muslim population has welcomed the Christians back, but around 500 Muslim families from Ambon who went to Buru do not want the Christians to return. Some 'raja' (traditional leader) families living in Ambon want to facilitate the return process, and they have approached JRS for help. We are eager to support this gesture of goodwill and want to make it happen."

MOLUCCAS: ASSESSING NEEDS OF DISPLACED IN BURU

Two JRS workers who visited Buru Island in September returned to Ambon on 7 October after a month. Anggun and Roni SJ went to Buru to assess the conditions of internally displaced people in Wenalut and Leksula, two predominantly Christian villages located on the shores of the island. Actually, they spent only one week visiting the displaced; for the other three weeks, they were waiting for a boat to go back to Ambon. They eventually returned on a fishing boat rented by a French non- government organisation. While in Buru, Anggun and Roni were unable to communicate with the rest of the team back in Ambon. "Before the violent events that pitted Christians against Muslims, it was easy to travel from Wenalut to Leksula and back. Now even telephone lines are dead. Electricity is only available at night. Schools are closed. A nervous calm pervades the air, broken only by rumours of more riots," they said. Anggun and Roni reported that the displaced people, who live in remote areas, have pressing needs. Prices of food and other basic necessities in Buru are very steep, nearly three times those in Ambon.

COLOMBIA: ASSISTING VICTIMS OF RECENT MASSACRE

JRS Colombia reports: "The massacre by the paramilitary AUC on 10 October has provoked displacement: until 17 October, more than 35 families were reported displaced as the local population said five or six families were leaving every day. "In the neighbouring municipality of San Pedro, where the AUC have their base, 25 families left their homes in the weekend of 13 and 14 October, because they feared retaliation from the guerrillas or clashes between the security forces and the paramilitaries. "The displaced families are not going to temporary shelters because humanitarian assistance there is not ideal. So serving and accompanying them becomes harder. The JRS team is coordinating with the Network of Social Solidarity-mandated by the government to give services to displaced people-to offer emergency and relocation assistance to families of the victims."

MEXICO: ACCOMPANYING THE DISPLACED

JRS Mexico director, Pedro Arriaga Alarcon SJ, writes: "We continue accompanying displaced people in Chenalho, in the diocese of Chiapas, southern Mexico. The number of internally displaced people has decreased by one third following the recent returns of indigenous people who are members of the group 'Las Abejas' to their communities. "We are now planning to reformulate our work of pastoral accompaniment, to continue serving the people of Chenalho, Acteal and Polho, especially an estimated 6,500 people within our parish boundaries. We need prayers and support: in Chiapas, there is still impunity despite promises of justice made by the local authorities, promises as yet unfulfilled. Humanitarian aid is still very much needed in Chenalho." Note: Chenalho is a community in the southern state of Chiapas. For several years now, armed conflict has raged there, due to marginalisation and injustice suffered by indigenous people at the hands of large landowners and governmental authorities. Paramilitary groups harass families who have been linked to demands for justice. The displaced people continue to resist and to call for justice to return to their communities.

NORTH AMERICA

US: HOUSE OPENED FOR HOMELESS FORMERLY DETAINED REFUGEES

JRS project director, Will Coley, writes: "JRS US announces the opening of 'Wayfarer House' in Newark, New Jersey, a project to assist formerly detained refugees who have been released from immigration detention and have no community contacts or anywhere to stay. JRS has also recently hired a new social services coordinator, Subhash Kateel, to coordinate the program. "At present, Wayfarer House consists of a two-bedroom apartment within a building owned and operated by New Community Corporation. The apartment will house four people for a maximum of 90 to 120 days. The apartment will also be available for former detainees who need somewhere to stay temporarily before travelling elsewhere in the US. To assist individuals in rebuilding their lives in the US, JRS will assist in locating 'next step' housing and refer program participants to job training and placement programs, medical care, counselling, English classes and other services. Since there is only space for four people in the facility, we cannot guarantee housing in Wayfarer House but we can assist in locating other housing if necessary."

RECRUITMENT UPDATE - Bema Solis FI informs of the following vacancies

  • Nurse/health educator, Luena Angola
  • Priest pastoral workers, Meheba, Zambia & Luena, Angola
  • Administrator, Meheba, Zambia
  • Educationalist, Angola
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: Lluis Magrina SJ; Editor: Danielle Vella; Translation: Edith Castel (French), Francesca Campolongo (Italian), Nieves Delgado (Spanish)