Colombia + 8 more

JRS Dispatches No. 129

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News and Press Release
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Posted
Originally published
(Extracted from JRS Dispatches No. 129)
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office

REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

LIBERIA: CONTINUING VIOLENCE LEADS TO FURTHER DISPLACEMENT

Once again the diocese of Gbarnha (an area of Liberia, near the northern border with Guinea) has experienced the brutal effects of war, further displacement of the population as well as looting, which have all combined to destroy the reconstruction efforts that have taken place here over the last number of months. The continuing civil conflict in Liberia has led to the exodus of tens of thousands of refugees to neighbouring countries as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people within Liberia itself. The latest attacks in Gbarnha, which began in the middle of March, became so intense that on 16 March a large scale exodus of the population took place, reports JRS in the region. The young students of the pre-school had to be evacuated to the capital, Monrovia, and to St. Joseph's hospital, run by the Brothers of St. John of God. The Brothers also welcomed around thirty sick people who had been evacuated from Phebe hospital, which was forced to close its doors during the attacks. JRS intends to open a new education project for the displaced population in Monserrado County, near the capital city, where the security situation seems to be stable for the moment. A former JRS project director in Kosovo in collaboration with JRS Guinea personnel will be in a position by the beginning of April to create the foundations of a project that aims to assist with the education of 2,500 displaced children.

INCREASE IN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BORDER AREA BETWEEN COLOMBIA AND VENEZUELA

In the border area between Colombia and Venezuela, recorded cases of human rights violations have been on the increase over the last three months, reports JRS in Venezuela. In Guasdualito (Venezuela), the figures detailing the number of unlawful killings is alarming: in the first 65 days of the year, there have been 37 violent deaths. These assassinations, which occur in the border area with Colombia are not included in Venezuela's official national statistics. The most worrying aspect is that these acts go unpunished, and as yet not one person has been charged or brought to justice. Together with this, JRS Venezuela is very concerned at the position taken by certain members of the political opposition, who have used television and radio broadcasts to advocate the "suspension of guaranties at the border", which is basically a call to prevent Colombians crossing over into Venezuela in order to take refuge from the conflict. The purported reasoning behind such demands is that they consider the Colombian people who live in the zone to be involved in drug trafficking and to have links with Colombian rebel groups. While there may be an involvement of a minority of the population in these activities, the vast majority are honest and hard working, and deserve to be treated as such and not as terrorists. JRS is very concerned that the presence of Colombian armed groups on Venezuelan territory has been used to taint and judge the whole Colombian population in Venezuela. It should be remembered that the Colombians who have left their country and sought refuge in Venezuelan have done so to escape conflict and to save their own lives. Any attempts to prevent refugees entering Venezuela would go against the Venezuelan Constitution and the countries' internation obligations regarding asylum.

TIME NEEDED TO ADDRESS A WIDE RANGE OF TOPICS IN SRI LANKA PEACE TALKS

The Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended their sixth round of peace talks on 21 March, reports JRS Sri Lanka. Though no major breakthroughs were reported on key issues, the two sides did discuss ways of strengthening the Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which has been overseeing the truce since February 2002. There was also an agreement to convene a meeting of senior naval and political representatives within three weeks to work out arrangements for the operation of Naval units. This follows the sinking of an LTTE vessel by the Sri Lankan Navy on 10 March, 185 nautical miles off the coast of eastern Sri Lanka. The vessel was suspected of carrying arms and ammunition, and it was feared that the incident might provoke a return to conflict. However, the LTTE announced that there would not be an immediate return to war but that they wanted an assurance from the Sri Lankan government that similar incidents would not reoccur. Recalling that the LTTE was blamed for ending past negotiations, LTTE chief negotiator, Mr. Balasingham is reported to have told journalists that the sinking was "reason enough for us to start a major war, but we have to be patient". The negotiating teams also discussed a framework for political matters and agreed to expand this into a complete plan at the seventh session of talks to be held in Thailand between April 29 and May 2. An official statement read: "the parties recognise that a considerable amount of time will be required to address a wide range of topics, which will include geographical regions and the division of powers between the centre and regions".

THE PLIGHT OF JAVANESE IDPS IN NORTH SUMATRA, INDONESIA

For a long time, Hamzad and his fellow Javanese IDPs (internally displaced people) believed that the whole world had completely forgotten them. In this part of Sei Lepan, in a small piece of land that borders a national park in North Sumatra, a group of 4,000 families have created a home, a village if one might allow it that name. For it has the full trappings of what the residents here might consider their lost villages in Aceh: rows of wooden houses, tin roofs, roofs made of leaves, a small health clinic and a school providing much needed education to their children. During the dry season, the land seethes and burns like a desert, in the rainy season, the sticky mud makes transport and movement unbearable. Water and sanitation is a huge problem because they have been discouraged by the National Park Management from building wells and sanitation facilities since they are technically encroaching on government land. In turn, the IDPs fetch water from a nearby spring, which they have to boil because the water is murky. Two years ago, Hamzad, acting as leader of this group of IDPs, fled the fighting in East Aceh between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian military. The details of their flight are however, more complicated, as one 'witness' after another noted that it was specifically the members of the Free Aceh Movement who ordered them to leave their homes. The orders came in the form of a letter imploring the villagers to leave their homes or suffer the consequences. The perpetrators came in broad daylight; six armed men watched, while four young men, roughly aged 14 or 15, burned at least seven homes. The resolution of historical and social enmities between the Javanese and the Acehnese, two groups whose very ethnicity and position in Indonesian society have been exploited by the key players in the conflict, is critical to the resolution of the underlying problems that plague the province of Aceh. To read this report from JRS Asia Pacific in full go to: http://www.jrs.net/inf/reports/id030226en.htm

REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

JRS IN WEST AFRICA LOOKS TO FIRST PROJECT IN IVORY COAST

JRS participated in a seminar to examine the situation of nearly one million displaced people, who have recently fled to Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. The displacement has been caused by a continuing wave of violence that broke out in September 2002. Despite the signing of a peace agreement at the beginning of this year, many of the causes of the civil conflict have yet to be resolved. The Association of Major Superiors in the city, who organised the meeting, had invited JRS to participate in the session in order to share our experiences of working with people who had been displaced by war. At the end of the exchange of views, a committee of ten Religious was established and several congregations decided to support the work of JRS by providing personnel. This first JRS team in Ivory Coast is currently involved in conducting a thorough census of the displaced population, aimed particularly at establishing the food needs of the very youngest children as well as identifying the difficulties faced by children of school age, which are preventing them from receiving an education.

TERTIARY EDUCATION FOR REFUGEES IN RWANDA

By Michael Muhirwa, JRS project co-ordinator:

Before fleeing their own country in 1997, some young Congolese had already completed their secondary education while others were attending higher education institutions in the DR Congo. When they arrived in Rwanda, they lost the opportunity to pursue their studies because of a lack of sponsorship. In response, JRS has, since October 1999, been implementing and evaluating a scholarship project which currently assists 18 young refugees. The scholarships are known as DAFI (Deutsche Akademische Fluchpings Initiative), which is a fund provided annually by the German Foreign Office to UNHCR. The purpose of this fund is to support needy refugee students who qualify for academic studies in their country of asylum. JRS activities include regular visits to students, supervision of their studies, reporting to UNHCR about students' performance and organising workshops in collaboration with UNHCR. On 12 April 2003, there will be a workshop on refugee rights and duties. As refugee leaders in the future, students would like to know as much as they can about their legal status. They would like also to have enough information on the issues of refugees world-wide. The workshop will be organised by the Protection Department of UNHCR in Kigali. Ideally, refugee students who finish their studies should go back to their respective camps and help their brothers and sisters in their everyday struggle for life. How can JRS convince refugee students to go back to the camp though they would like rather to be resettled in richer countries? This is one of the challenges faced by JRS as we assist with tertiary education.

REGISTRATION OF STUDENTS AND BEGINNING OF NEW TERM IN NIMULE, SOUTHERN SUDAN

By Celestino Dumo, JRS Nimule:

The first week of February was used to visit the primary schools in Nimule to monitor the preparations for the start of the new term. The findings were disappointing, as renovations and construction of new classes had not been completed, with the community citing hunger as the hindering factor. The education team interviewed and selected 15 teachers to replace some of those who had been in the system without proper certificates and qualifications. JRS is supporting this category of out-going teachers should they wish to continue their studies in Fulla Secondary School in Nimule. In the second week of February, registration of pupils began. The exercise picked up slowly and teaching was underway by the third week of the month. The regular visits of the supervisory team to the schools has had a positive impact on the teaching and learning. The registration of secondary school students for the year also started in the second week of February, lasting for almost two weeks with actual teaching beginning during the last week of the month. The registration took so long because many of the students had travelled far during the holidays. Others had difficulty raising the registration fees as there was a shortage of food in Nimule and the priority was food and not education.

ASSESSING THE NEEDS OF SCHOOLS NEAR KAJOKEJI, SOUTHERN SUDAN

By Gamal Batwel, JRS Project Director:

A two-man JRS team visited Mangalatore and Kerwa camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) on 12 & 13 March. The camps are in Liwolo Payam and are 30 and 45 km from Kajokeji, (southern Sudan) respectively. The purpose of the visit was to assess the needs of the community-initiated schools in the two camps and to investigate the possibility of JRS involvement in the project. We arrived at Mangalatore at 10:00 am and were warmly welcomed by the Camp Field Supervisor, who assured us of their co-operation and support for JRS in its activities here. There is only one school in the camp, which is not receiving support from any NGO. However Humanitarian Assistance for Southern Sudan (HASS), a local NGO, together with the indigenous people, is supporting other schools around the camp. We also visited Liwolo secondary school. The school was formally supported by HASS but the support ceased when HASS built their own private secondary school. Although the school lacks scientific equipment and scholastic materials, it prepared two groups of students for the Ugandan Certificate of Education (UCE) in 2001 and 2002. On the 13 March, we reached Kerwa and received a similar reception and assurances to that in Mangalotore from the field supervisor there. This camp also has one community initiated primary school and no support from any NGO.

JRS DISPATCHES is from the International Office of Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.390; Fax: +39-06 688 06 418; Email: dispatches@jrs.net; JRS on-line: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: Hugh Delaney; Translation: Ignacio Echaniz (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Centro Astalli/JRS Italy (Italian).