REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
2. USA: CHURCH ORGANISATIONS CALL FOR TEMPORARY PROTECTION FOR HAITIANS
On 1 July, JRS USA issued a statement in support of the Church World Service (CWS) call to grant Temporary Protection Status (TPS) in the US to fleeing Haitians. The CWS, a close partner of JRS, called the US citizens to write US President George W. Bush and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to urgently take action to safeguard the human rights of Haitians in the US.
If granted by the US Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, TPS would permit Haitian nationals to remain in the US for a period of eighteen months and protect them from Haiti's unrelenting political turmoil and the persistent effects of devastation caused by hurricanes and tropical storms. They would also qualify for work authorisation. Eighteen months of TPS will assure their safety until the situation in Haiti is resolved and the present acts of violence are brought to an end and order and security is restored in Haiti.
The United States continues to issue travel warnings advising U.S. citizens of the dangers of travelling to Haiti because of the volatile situation there. At the same time, the U.S. is returning Haitians to a country destabilised by political turmoil, armed conflict, environmental disaster, high unemployment, high rate of kidnapping, and massive starvation. The ongoing violence and the deadly environmental disasters mean that Haitians in the U.S. desperately need the protection of TPS.
According to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service TPS is not an invitation for increased migration, as the regulations do not authorise an alien to apply for admission to, or be admitted to, the U.S. in order to apply for TPS. TPS does not lead to permanent resident status and does not act as a magnet. When TPS expires, beneficiaries revert to the same immigration status they maintained before TPS, unless it has expired or they have received new status. What TPS does is offer an alien reprieve from dangerous conditions back home.
For further information see www.jrs.net/reports
3. HAITI: SITUATION WORSE THAN IN DARFUR
On 30 June, the Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping, Mr Jean-Marie Guehenno said that conditions in parts of Haiti are worse than in Sudan's devastated Darfur region. He expressed concern that even a newly strengthened peacekeeping force may be unable to provide security for upcoming elections in Haiti's lawless regions.
With less than 100 days to go before elections begin, it is an open question whether Haitians can break the long cycle of violence and political failure that has left their country the poorest in the western hemisphere.
The UN Security Council recently authorised an additional 1,000 peacekeepers for Haiti through the election season. That brings the total number of UN troops to nearly 8,500.
Mr Guehenno said that there are no quick fix solutions in Haiti. He described the police as broken: without resources, electricity or phones, and the judiciary as weak. He added that as long as Haiti is without effective and impartial law and order, it will require an international presence.
Foreign donors last year pledged more than $1 billion in development aid for Haiti, but Mr. Guehenno says only a tiny fraction of the funds have been disbursed. He blames bureaucratic obstacles for the delays, and urges donors to make good on their pledges.
UN peacekeepers were dispatched to Haiti after former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted by a popular uprising in February 2004. More than 700 Haitians have been killed since last September, when Aristide supporters stepped up their campaign for his return from exile in South Africa.
4. THAILAND: UNHCR SUBSISTENCE ALLOWANCE TO BE CUT
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency announced that from 1 August, it will cease to automatically provide subsistence allowances to urban refugees, other than Burmese refugees, in Thailand. In addition, the current subsistence rates will be reduced by 30%. Subsistence allowances will hereinafter be provided only to recognized urban refugees who are considered to be vulnerable and in need of financial assistance.
"We are not aware of any analysis of the dependency of refugees (vulnerable or not) in receipt of assistance nor the possible consequences of stopping these allowances. No justification was given. Budgetary concerns seem to have prevailed", Ms Vera Den Otter, JRS Thailand Advocacy Officer told Dispatches on 5 July.
From 1 August, single vulnerable refugees will receive a maximum of Baht 2,500 per month (approximately US $60). There is a ceiling for married couples with four or more dependants of Baht 7,800/family/month (approximately US $190).
"All refugees are vulnerable people. Urban refugees face different problems and challenges than those in camps or in rural areas. Bangkok is a big city in a high income developing country. Living on $1 or $2 a day, we believe, is impossible.
Over the last few months, oil and petrol prices have increased dramatically, increasing cost of living for everyone, especially in the big cities. JRS Thailand is concerned about the capability of refugees to cope in these circumstances.
Refugees do not have a legal right to work. The new policy risks forcing them to work illegally, or worse, to undertake illegal practices. They risk homelessness or being unable to purchase sufficient food. Refugees are innovative and creative in finding solutions, but forced 'creativity' puts them in a very vulnerable and possibly dangerous situation", said Ms Den Otter.
"JRS is currently the only programme left providing financial assistance to urban asylum seekers on a regular basis. On 1 August, many refugees will have to turn to JRS or some of the local churches for help. We do not have the capacity to assist these people. We do not oppose a screening of (more) vulnerable refugees, but do believe that their already meagre subsistence allowances should not be further reduced, added Ms Den Otter.
"Refugees should be entitled to know what criteria are used to determine degrees of vulnerability and the subsequent rates of payment. Policies need to be developed to ensure that refugees' rights and livelihoods are not put in danger. Support for policies granting them the right to work is essential," urged Ms Den Otter.
6. KENYA: APPEALS FOR FOOD AID FOR THOUSANDS OF REFUGEES
On 28 June According to IRIN, the UN news agency, reported that an estimated 231,000 refugees in camps in Kenya are in dire need of food. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) appealed for US $6.7 million to feed them until the end of 2005.
The WFP said that unless funds were received soon, key rations would start to run out in October. This would leave refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp in the northwest and Dadaab camps in the east with no food for distribution. The agency added that some 11,720 tons of food were needed.
Despite January's peace agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement/Army in January ending 21 years of war in southern Sudan, nearly 5,000 additional Sudanese refugees arrived in Kakuma since January. The newcomers brought the number of refugees in the camp to more than 91,000. Most have fled ethnic violence and limited resources such as food, shelter, schools, health facilities and employment opportunities.
Kenyan law confines refugees to camps in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The isolated and harsh environment around the camps means they are highly unlikely to find jobs or any other means of feeding themselves.
It is common that once the immediate disaster has ended, the attention of media turns to other issues. The many hundreds of thousands who depend on food are often forgotten.
7. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: UN TROOPS SWEEP AREA NEAR PARK TO CLEAR ARMED GROUPS
On 4 July, according to IRIN, the UN news agency, UN troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) launched what commanders codenamed Operation Falcon Sweep to drive all armed groups from a locale in the territories of Walungu and Kabare, close to a national park in South Kivu Province, a UN military spokesman said.
Local Mayi-Mayi militiamen and the Rwandan Hutu rebel groups, the Forces democratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), are said to operate in the area and have been frequently accused of plundering, raping and killing civilians.
The FDLR are among the 8,000 Rwandan Hutu rebels who, MONUC says, fled their country after the 1994 genocide in which at least 947,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu died, according to Rwandan government statistics. Many of the senior rebel leaders have been accused of planning and executing the genocide. Unable to overthrow the Rwandan government, the FDLR are said to have turned, more recently, on the Congolese population.
In June JRS Staff received reports from the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) highlighting horrific stories of abuse of displaced persons in Kaniola, eastern DRC, carried out by FDLR, Rwandan Hutu rebels.
Members of AMECEA spoke of kidnappings, forced labour and gruesome murders of innocent displaced persons in the region. Each family must allegedly give weekly a basket of food and carry out forced labour. People had their arms broken by being beaten with sticks and were burned over their entire bodies. According to this account, they burn plastic and make the liquid fall on different parts of the body. One woman spoke of being kidnapped with her husband. She alleged that she was made to watch while her husband was decapitated and disembowelled and each time she tried to turn away she was beaten and threatened with death.
According to JRS sources, the displaced persons accused MONUC of assuring them that the region was secure before they returned to it.
8. UGANDA: REJECTION OF RWANDAN REFUGEES
According to a statement on 3 July from the Uganda Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), 90% of Rwandan refugees have been rejected and will soon be asked to leave the country. This follows an influx of between 1,300-1,500 refugees from Rwanda into Uganda in April and May 2005, most of whom were confined to living in the Nakivale settlement in Western Uganda without a decent place to stay, or food to eat. The Ugandan government alleges that by confining refugees to this one site, it would prevent double registration.
The Refugee Eligibility Committee (REC) of Uganda went to Nakivale settlement and interviewed close to 1,000 Rwandans. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the OPM is preparing to interview Rwandan refugees in Kampala early this month. It also appears likely that the government will reject most Rwandans in the coming months.
Interaid, a local NGO which processes asylum claims for UNHCR, confirmed that they had not received any new Rwandan asylum seekers. They said that they were awaiting the government's response on what to do with those whose registration was already underway. However, the OPM claimed that all new Rwandan asylum seekers will be registered in the normal way: though the police, Interaid, and finally to OPM office. Their asylum applications will then be determined by the REC, a process that usually takes rather long.
For further information see www.jrs.net/reports
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
9. UGANDA: WORLD REFUGEE DAY CELEBRATIONS HIGHLIGHT GENDER VIOLENCE
On 20 June, over 2,000 people attended events organised by JRS in different centres within Adjumani, northern Uganda, to mark the fifth World Refugee Day.
In Magburu centre, where JRS was the lead agency, the local JRS team worked closely with members of the local refugee population to ensure that the events were a success. The majority of those who attended were children and young people. The attendance and participation in various activities by the school children was quite good.
The participants expressed their courage, through song and traditional dance, in coming to terms with situations they have faced in their years in exile. The havoc brought upon them by the rebel group, the Ugandan Lord Resistance Army (LRA), was a common theme throughout the day. Many talked of how the communities have faced this constant danger with courage. Many of the participants also urged those in their community to continue the fight sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).
The Primary Education Coordinator, who represented the JRS Project Director, Fr. Frido Fleuger, challenged the Office of the Prime Minister, the Police, teachers, parents, religious leaders, the UNHCR and others working for the refugees to intensify their efforts to eradicate SGBV in the refugee community. He placed particular emphasis on the need to protect children from being abused.
The UNHCR Focal Person for SGBV and HIV/AIDS urged the refugees to see SGBV as a menace to the refugee community.
10. USA: SPEAK OUT AGAINST MILITARIZATION IN GOVERNMENT
In an open letter on 28 June to the US House of Representatives, JRS USA called on the public to speak out against the campaign of militarization in Colombia, funded largely by US funds under "Plan Colombia," which is set to expire at the end of 2005.
A recent UN study reports that there are 3.2 million internally displaced persons in Colombia and hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safe haven outside Colombia's borders in Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. Within the past month there has been armed violence in the provinces of Putu-mayo and Nariño, in areas populated largely by indigenous peoples, in which civilian men, women and children were murdered. It has been alleged that the murders were perpetrated by Colombian military forces trained by US military personnel. UN Under- Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, calls this "the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere."
JRS USA recognises the right of each state to defend its sovereignty against all threats, external or internal. But military aid brings Colombia no closer to peace. What is really needed in Colombia is more aid money for development. JRS USA would welcome the writing of a new chapter for Plan Colombia and the Colombian people wherein 100% of funding under the plan went to socioeconomic development. We hope that US citizens will pressure their government to rewrite this new chapter, which would be certain to bring relief and hope to a nation torn by conflict and economic distress. Alternatively, a reallocation of funds from the military aid package (currently 80% of aid) to funds for development (20% of aid) would make a significant impact on the lives of the Colombian people.
For further information see www.jrs.net/reports
JRS DISPATCHES is from the International Office of Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.386; Fax: +39-06 688 06 418; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; JRS on-line: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Aldo Pigoli (Italian).