DR Congo + 6 more

JRS Dispatches No. 124

News and Press Release
Originally published
(Extracted from JRS Dispatches No. 124)
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office



The two-decade-long war in Sri Lanka has left a staggering 630,000 people internally displaced, mostly in the war-affected North East of the country: after Afghanistan, Sri Lanka has the largest number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in South Asia. Another 330,000 people sought refuge in Europe and India. The fourth round of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is currently taking place in Thailand, with the Norwegians acting as mediators. Thousands of displaced people who have languished in miserable camps for the last decades have already decided to return home in the new climate of peace. Around 120,000 have done so even when there is no official 'rehabilitation package' on offer: the war-torn country has empty coffers and has officially announced that it does not have adequate money to help support all those people who wish to return home. The Sri Lanka Aid Conference, held in Oslo in November 2002, drew a very disappointing response: only 40% of the expected funds were promised - donor countries are wary of giving assistance before a permanent peace is established. The IDPs are returning to areas that are devoid of any sustainable support. Most of the agricultural lands are mined: like most developing countries that chose to use land mines, no proper maps were maintained, turning many of the agricultural lands into potential killing fields for the eagerly returning people. Most of the small towns lie in ruins, many without any electricity. Village crafts have collapsed in an area where the only industry was war and most of the schools were destroyed owing to neglect or bombing. Destroyed houses are a festering wound and a dangerously provocative symbol in a country that is attempting to restore peace.

The conflict has left behind a horrifying death toll: 65,000 civilians killed, 17,000 people missing and 20,000 rebel fighters killed in the war. The Sri Lanka army has not disclosed the number of casualties it has suffered, though it is known to run into thousands.


JRS in Western Africa is confronted with a very serious and distressing situation. Ivory Coast, a country that was considered up until a few months ago to be peaceful, is now faced with a very worrying humanitarian crisis. The group that initiated an armed rebellion back in mid-September has consolidated its position and now the country is divided in two. Currently, two rebel groups are imposing their authority on the country; one in the North known by the acronym MPCI, which is defending the interests of the population of the North whom it considers to have been abandoned by the central government, and another group known as MPIGO, which is supported by elements inside Liberia, and which is operating in the West of the country. Their common objective is to overthrow President Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, though that ambition has so far been prevented by the presence and intervention of French troops.

Ivory Coast has traditionally been a welcoming country for immigrants: before the recent violence, 26% of the population were foreign, mainly from Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea. However, recently two laws were passed; one that excluded those that were considered as immigrants from participating in public life, and another law relating to property which aims at the re-possession of property and plantations, which have been cultivated and managed by people living in Ivory Coast for generations. Both laws have led to serious tensions: tens of thousands of Burkinabes, Guineans, Malians and others have had to abandon the Ivory Coast and in the climate of insecurity people from the south who were living in the north, and vice-versa, were forced to return to their regions of origin. Liberian refugees who were living in the West of Ivory Coast were brought to Guinea or towards the South, and in the southern city of Abidjan many areas that were inhabited by immigrants were demolished, provoking the populations to flee. With these recent events JRS is studying the practicalities of a possible intervention.


Thousands of Congolese refugees have fled to neighbouring Burundi and many more have become displaced following renewed fighting in South Kivu Province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports JRS Grands Lacs. The latest fighting in South Kivu follows closely on the mid-December signing of a power-sharing deal between the Kinshasa government, the main rebel groups and the DRC's political opposition to end the four-year war and pave the way for elections in two years. More than two million people are estimated to have died during the four-year-long conflict, with another two million people becoming displaced from their homes.


East Timorese who fled to West Timor amid the violence that followed the 1999 vote for Independence have, since 1 January, ceased to be regarded as refugees by UNHCR. The decision taken by UNHCR applies to some 30,000 East Timorese who still remain in West Timor: 220,000 of the 250,000 people who took refuge in West Timor in 1999 have since returned home. UNHCR also announced that it was going to phase out its involvement in Timor this year. This will mean an end to repatriation assistance for those who have delayed their return past the deadline of 1 January 2003. JRS in West Timor reports that some of those who have not yet returned are former militia members or attached in some way to the former Indonesian regime in East Timor, and fear for their safety should they return home. Others are civil servants who are waiting to receive their state pensions, while more again are uncertain about reclaiming their properties on return, or simply finding a job in newly independent East Timor. There are also those who simply do not believe that the Indonesian government and the international community will eliminate their refugee status and rights, and are hopeful that they will receive assistance when they decide that the time is right for their return.


A peace agreement was signed between the Government of Indonesia and the separatist group GAM (Free Aceh Movement) on 9 December in an effort to end the 26-year-long conflict that has claimed at least 10,000 lives and led to the displacement of many thousands of people. However, no sooner had the agreement been signed than gunfights between Indonesian soldiers and GAM broke out in East Aceh, leading to the displacement of a further 2,265 villagers. Both parties accuse each other of violating the peace agreement, and confidence is not high among the local population that the agreement will lead to an end to the conflict, reports JRS in Medan. Though some displaced people have already returned to their homes, others have chosen to stay in their places of refuge for fear of further outbreaks of violence. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government, through the minister of social welfare, Yusuf Kalla, announced that it will stop giving aid to internally displaced people because it said that there was no longer any conflict in Aceh. The government had been providing a termination fund of about $800 to each displaced household, aimed at providing the families with the start-up capital needed to help them rebuild their new lives. So far, the number of displaced families who have received the termination fund is 5,884. However, the total number of displaced families is 23.096, leaving a question mark over the termination fund for approximately 17.000 families.



On Christmas Day, JRS-Ethiopia Country Director Stephen Power SJ and JRS Eastern Africa Regional Director John Guiney SJ launched an appeal for displacement prevention and relief needs in Ethiopia, where an estimated 11 million people are currently at risk. Displacement of hunger-affected people has already been observed: the risks include violent confrontation over scarce resources, disruption of food distribution efforts, and future problems arising from the fact that people are out-of-place for the next planting. During the famine in the 1980s, approximately one million people died of hunger and disease in Ethiopia. While JRS Ethiopia is not involved in food distribution, it can forward contributions to church communities and other organisations working in this area. To find out more about the appeal go to http://www.jrs.net/alerts/etlatest.htm


JRS has been involved in the clear (army controlled) and un-cleared (rebel controlled) areas in Sri Lanka for the last five years, though our work has been heavily hampered owing to the economic blockade and the suffocating restrictions on the movement of workers. With the cease-fire agreement, these hurdles have been removed. JRS has also been able to appoint an experienced worker as the new country Director, and he has toured extensively the war- affected areas and has initiated rehabilitation measures. With a strong focus on education, JRS has already initiated educational assistance in the relief camps, war affected villages and resettlement areas. With the collaboration of the local church, JRS helps supplementary education centres in Jaffna, Mannar and Mullaitivu areas - training of teachers and supporting the regular schools are other means of reviving the educational system. The JRS programme has identified families affected by war and distributed business assistance, with further plans to bring more families under this scheme. Attempts to bring war- affected youths back into the mainstream of society are also being made. Soon, skill schools will be started for men and women. In Jaffna, with the collaboration of OMI, JRS has initiated a shelter programme. This is an area where there is a great need, involving many NGOs - unless the people have a home, other programmes might turn out to be meaningless. Another major work initiated recently is Human Rights training in the Mannar Diocese. The huge number of disappearances makes a mockery of any attempts at normalisation in the island. There is no peace without justice. To achieve this, JRS has been training the Mannar clergy and the people in human rights education and documentation.


The work on a school that JRS is helping to renovate for displaced people in South Buru on the Moluccan Islands is almost finished. Even though the work is not quite complete, it already functions well as an elementary school, with four classrooms in use, and two more in the final stages of renovation. This school has got four teachers and fifty students, some of whom have moved from the local state school. Because of the new school, the displaced people who were sheltered in mountain areas are now re-locating to Masnana village, where the structure is located. JRS established a presence on the Moluccan Islands in 2000 to provide services to the people who had become displaced due to the Islands' sectarian conflict.


By Fr. Romy Cagatin SVD, JRS Tanzania Country Director

I had mixed feelings the first time I celebrated Christmas in the refugee camp of Nduta, in Tanzania. I still feel a bit of it right now, but I have come to accept the reality. I know for a fact that refugee camps are not the ideal places to celebrate Christmas, but it inspires me to see the refugees having the spirit to celebrate life. Despite the difficult lives they are living, there is joy and happiness on their faces. They can laugh and smile: surely there is nothing which can hinder them from celebrating the birth of our Redeemer. I feel privileged to have this chance to celebrate life in another environment, state and condition. I also feel that, in a particular way, Christ is intimately close to each one of them since he himself was a refugee in Egypt.


As a person involved with peace-education, I am committed to teaching positive conflict management. I use daily life examples of non-violent behaviour in my training of people to positively manage conflicts. In the refugee camps in Ngara and in Kibondo through NGOs and of course through JRS, I have trained several ordinary lay people as well as church leaders, community representatives and counsellors. I see peace education as a means of equipping people with non- violent means of solving their conflicts. Positive conflict-management transforms human beings. This is a logical consequence of the fact that conflict is inevitable and inherent in human life. Thus, to preserve quality in life, and relationships, people should learn how to live and positively solve conflicts. Most people consider conflict as bad, to be avoided at all costs. Some Burundians address questions of conflict just with a view to solving the present civil strife in Burundi. It is as if they do not see conflict at the grass-roots level, in their midst, in their day- to-day lives. Non-violent means of solving conflict is not always very well accepted. Burundian refugees express a concern about non-violent means of conflict resolution: "Is it something created to keep us blind so that we accept domination and exploitation passively? Are the perpetrators of the conflict getting the same formation too?"

Education is a process, thus a matter of time. Behaviours are formed early - to change them is a slow process, just as boiling water is not instant. Peace-education is a programme to be taught to all people, in all countries. It must be universal, becoming a way of life. At the very least, at the micro-level, conflict in our personal lives can be managed and positively transformed.


Refugee Women

Oh White men
Oh Black men
Look at the woman
Tired, hungry baby
Clinging to her back
And she herself so tired
She drags her legs
The firewood, bundled on her head,
Weighs heavily,
But she still trudges on.

Her skin, once smooth and lovely,
Is now muddied and dark,
Her clothes are dusty and torn;
Her feet dirty and cracked
The child cries
There isn't food
With parched throat but gentle voice
She sings a soothing song
She refuses to pity
Her aching, burdened back,
A back that has submitted to the love
For hours on end.

No woman no cry
She is gentle, tireless and brave
When she reaches home
She fetches water from the well
Lights the fire, prepares food
There is more work in the fields
Till the sun sets
Dear God! When will she rest?

by Manirakiza John-Mary Vianey, Kanembwa Camp Secondary School

JRS DISPATCHES is from the International Office of Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.391; Fax: +39-06 688 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).