Ethiopia + 4 more

JRS Dispatches No. 128

(Extracted from JRS Dispatches No. 128)

No. 128 =AD 17 March, 2003 Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office



While some may say that the worst scenario for drought and subsequent famine in Ethiopia has not materialised, the situation and timing remain critical, reports JRS Ethiopia. The government reports that in this month of March, only 60% of the relief needs will be met, compared to 90% in February. This is because pledges of relief have not materialised in terms of items at the port. In any case, all the pledges that have been made so far only address needs until June. Now is the time for the Belg (small) rains to begin. There has been some rain in parts of the country already and the hope is that the rains will be good. This will be another critical determinant of the state of food later on in the year. JRS has willingly passed on donations received so far to the Missionary of Charity Sisters who are conducting relief distribution in several areas of Ethiopia. Recently, JRS visited the Sisters in Alamata, South Tigray, where they are helping to feed 900 children in 6 centres. The worst cases of malnourished or sick children are brought to the main house (40-50 at any one time). The Sisters note that the conditions have not, so far, been quite as bad as feared. We can thank the individuals and institutions that have offered help so far and the government departments who have organised a somewhat effective relief distribution system. We would ask for prayers and practical support to ensure that the situation for about 10 million people in Ethiopia continues to be addressed. To find out more about the present food crisis in Ethiopia, including how to make a donation, go to


total of 400 people in Lhok Nibong, East Aceh, returned to their homes in Julok on 4 March, having been displaced for more than two years, reports JRS Medan. Some of the returnees had already been through several "returns", though this time they moved on their own initiative and have decided to go home for good. In discussions with JRS and the People Crisis Center, a local NGO that has been accompanying the internally displaced people (IDPs), they spoke of their efforts to secure assistance from the local authorities and the discouraging response they received. JRS facilitated a dialogue with the JSC (Joint Security Committee), and the latter agreed to accompany the IDPs on their return and monitor the conditions in the home village once a month. Not willing to wait any longer the IDPs managed to secure 11 trucks to take them on the 30km, 3-hour trip back home and the local authority head gave funding for the transportation, which was used for fuel. The last 18km was a dusty and bumpy road so the trucks moved very slowly through military posts, rubber plantations and small villages green with bananas and pinang. They arrived safely in the afternoon, and soon gathered at the co-ordinator's house to obtain their food supplies. JRS monitored the general conditions and talked to some of the returnees about their plans. There was a significant number of damaged properties, mostly because the wooden houses had been abandoned for two years. Where this is the case, people are staying with relatives in the same village, or have occupied empty houses that have been abandoned. Several people spoke with anxiety about their own security. As they told JRS, before the displacement, the village was used as a "logistics base" for the guerrillas, some of whom occasionally came to the village, provoking army patrols and clashes.


It has been over 70 days since the East Timorese living in Indonesia lost their official status as refugees, though there still hasn't been any significant change to their situation. Many of them still live in miserable conditions in muddy camps, continue to suffer from diseases in this wet season, and still have no documents or clear information about local re-settlement programmes. This is despite the fact that the Indonesian government stated that all those who stayed in West Timor after 31 December 2002 would be regarded as Indonesian citizens. Since the arrival of East Timor refugees in 1999, the Wemer area has suffered much from deforesting. On 6 March, a group of people, led by the Bishop of Atambua diocese, Mgr. Anton Pain Ratu, took part in a re-planting exercise. Convoys of trucks, buses and wagons carried people from all parishes in Atambua diocese and also 17,000 seedlings. About 3,000 people gathered in Wemer where 219 East Timorese families reside in their makeshift houses. The activity was opened with a mass, followed by a declaration from religious leaders, a dialogue, and then the planting of the seeds. In his sermon, the Bishop asked those gathered to give thanks for nature and asked them to prevent further deforestation. After the mass, the bishop also urged the local government to prevent further destruction of the forests, and to relocate the 219 refugee families from Wemer forest immediately. A refugee representative said that they support the diocese movement for reforestation, and that they were ready to move, asking the government to relocate them as soon as possible.


In a joint statement with International Rescue Committee, Refugees International and US Committee for Refugees, JRS USA called upon the international community to respond to the risks of severe malnutrition and increased mortality faced by refugees in Africa. "Drought in Africa has created life-threatening food shortages for 38 million people. Refugees are among the most vulnerable in this group because their displacement has weakened their capacity to deal with food shortages", reads the statement. The statement, issued on 10 March, voices alarm at recent statements by donors acknowledging that refugee food assistance is being cut to meet other emergencies. Due to specific vulnerabilities of refugees and their absence of coping mechanisms, it is imperative that refugee food needs not be sidelined, diverted or ignored. Already, food rations in many camps have been slashed up to 50%. Specific vulnerabilities of refugees include: -Food shortages within refugee camps make circumstances ripe for sexual exploitation and violence of the most vulnerable; -Refugees have few income generating options inside their camps and often are not permitted to work outside the camp; -Refugees don't have the freedom to move to areas where food may be available -Most refugees are not permitted to grow food or herd livestock, and have meagre, if any, assets to convert to cash to buy food; -Continued reduced food rations for refugees may lead to conflicts between refugees and host communities, and can result in host country governments forcibly repatriating entire refugee populations. To read the statement in full go to


By Lolín Menéndez, JRS Education Resource Person for Africa. The JRS education projects in two corners of Zambia, Meheba and Nangweshi, are different in every aspect of the programme implementation, except for the courage and dedication of the JRS personnel. The education project in Meheba has perhaps the most difficult history of any JRS project I know. In 98-99, all JRS activities were geared towards an imminent repatriation to Angola. Portuguese language was stressed in the schools. Instead, large numbers of new refugees arrived from Angola. In 2001, the goalposts shifted again: emphasis on English, and moving education toward the Zambia Open Community Schools system. Now, since the death of Savimbi, the perspective has changed once more, and the JRS education programme has adjusted to this new reality, A recent survey revealed that 70% of the refugees would like to return to Angola this year, 23% in 2004, and 7% would like to remain in Zambia. (Some refugees are third generation Zambian) Special permission is being sought so that secondary school students can finish their education; JRS must also keep in mind that refugees from the Great Lakes countries (about 5,000 among the 60,000) still want education in English. I was very impressed by the way the team is trying to respond with very serious constraints on funding (cut drastically because of the belief that the refugees will no longer be there by the second half of the year) and numbers. Now, many more people are sending children to school because they realise that it may be the last good chance. JRS is supporting 20 schools for about 1,100 children of primary school age, and providing literacy classes for about 800 adults. The 20 teachers are with the young children in the morning, and with the adults in the afternoon.


By Lolín Menéndez, JRS Education Resource Person for Africa. JRS was the implementing partner for primary education in Nangweshi until May 2001. Now, UNHCR is asking JRS to take charge of the programme on Mine Awareness for the whole camp and education for Peace and Reconciliation is also a need to which JRS wishes to respond. The situation of the refugees in Nangweshi is very different from that of Meheba. All the refugees come from Angola and the majority does not wish to be repatriated before 2004, but want to bide their time and see how the government deals with UNITA soldiers and supporters already in the country before going back themselves. At present all JRS programmes are directed towards the vulnerable people in the camp. Most of the beneficiaries are amputees from bullet wounds or landmines. Few are women. JRS has extended the services to children with congenital defects or polio, since there are workshops where prosthesis and crutches can be made, and persons trained in physiotherapy. Nangweshi is a very different place from the camp I visited in 2000. I had a sense that the development of physical structures, the air of a "large village", spoke strongly of people trying to live with dignity in exile. The entire JRS team, the dedication and the creativity with which they answer the needs of the refugees, be they physical or unspoken, impressed me enormously. The disabled themselves are in charge, giving a silent witness that stepping on a mine and surviving is not the end of life. It is very moving to see amputees making crutches and prostheses. Others give physiotherapy sessions, teach Braille, sewing, English and Portuguese, and even radio repair to paraplegics. There is a small class for hearing impaired children, who enjoy their lessons as much as the swings. The Library is well frequented, and is also the venue for topical discussions. The surroundings are pleasant and peaceful, filled with flowers and with purpose. The JRS compounds are indeed places where the vulnerable are welcomed, made to feel at home, and assisted to live lives as close as possible to normal ones, especially with a view to a future return to Angola.


Renovations of the JRS assisted primary schools in preparation for the new term are still on-going, with the Parish assisting with the transportation of bamboo. A meeting on the development of nursery schools was held on the JRS compound on 8 February and the primary schools opened on 10 February with food being transported to the schools on 14 February. The JRS team started firing the bricks for a new office and community centre and it was noted that the population in the schools is increasing. Norwegian People's Aid asked JRS to assist with a workshop on diarrhoea since the number of recent cases has increased dramatically. JRS met with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Field Co-ordinator to discuss problems with the school-feeding programme on 24 February and the suggestion was made that the CRS food monitor could assist in monitoring the programme in the schools. A security officer from the UN agency, Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) flew in on 1 March. Lobone has remained relatively peaceful during the reported period with the security indicator once again set at Level 2.

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:; JRS on-line:;

Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: Hugh Delaney;
Translation: Ignacio Echaniz (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Centro Astalli/JRS Italy (Italian).