JRS Dispatches No. 195

Report
from Jesuit Refugee Service
Published on 16 Jun 2006
(extract)
Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office.
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

1. Indonesia: community solidarity provides hope for fast recovery

"The moment the earthquake struck Yogyakarta city we mobilised our extensive network in the area and began supplying food and other basic essentials to those affected by the disaster. Within no time, local parishes, student groups and just about anyone with something to spare helped out" said Els oolen, Information-Advocacy Manager, JRS Indonesia on 4 June 2006.

On 27 May, an earthquake of the magnitude of 5.9 on the Richter scale killed more than 5,000 people on Indonesian island of Java, and made tens ofthousands more homeless. The tremor was centred just off the Indian Ocean coast near the city of Yogyakarta.

"In response, JRS teams have focused their response on the nearby areas of Bantul and Klaten, the worst affected. Nevertheless, reports of villages which they received little or no assistance continuously arrive, and JRS teams do their best to respond to requests for assistance in remote villages. Even though the international response has been tremendous and the solidarity shown by the local population towards those in need, many areas are in dire need of shelter, medical treatment and food" added Ms Coolen. Initially, JRS teams provided food and medicine to hundreds of survivors. Now, eight days after the earthquake, JRS has established a distribution centre to manage the distribution of food, blankets, tents, hygiene kits and clothes. Two JRS teams will continue to provide emergency assistance, food and other basic supplies, in the Bantul and Klaten areas for the next month. Its field staff will continue to provide direct assistance to people in nearby villages and sub- districts. Consequently, people from affected areas, or their relatives are coming in large numbers to request assistance at the warehouse.

As the number of houses to be rebuilt adds up to more than 300,000 houses with some 1.5 million people homeless, there is a huge need for reconstruction funds. People are rebuilding their houses themselves, through the traditional system of Gotong Royong or community work, and they need construction materials and advice on how to build earthquake proof houses. JRS plans to cooperate with other agencies to assist the local communities in their reconstruction efforts.

For further information see www.jrs.net/reports

2. SRI LANKA: PEOPLE IN A HOPELESS SITUATION

On a recent visit to JRS projects in eastern Sri Lanka, Fr Vinny Joseph SJ, JRS Sri Lanka Director was faced with the aftermath of military air and naval strikes on suspected LTTE rebel bases.

In late April, bombing by the Sri Lankan armed forces caused the displacement of over 40,000 people from their homes and the death of 15 in the east of the country. The attacks followed a suicide attack on the army headquarters in the capital Colombo.

On 2 June, after a visit to the eastern districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa to assess the needs of those recently displaced by the island's spiralling civil conflict between government forces and the ethnic Tamil LTTE rebels, Fr Vinny found "people in a really hopeless situation".

"Seven villages - Senayoor, Sambur, Kattaiparichan, Santhosapurm, Nallur, Koonitheevu and Sudaikuda - were indiscriminately bombed and shelled. After the bombing, people from 22 villages nearby fled... Most people are staying in school buildings, tents, and under the trees. I saw the poor condition of the tents and the pathetic situation of the entire area", said Fr Vinny.

"Some people are staying with poor families who have welcomed them into their homes. Each household has welcomed a few families, which is indeed a generous gesture. In some houses, there is practically no place, but the people's hearts are large enough to accommodate those in need" he continued.

Fr Vinny was touched by the welcome he received in camps for displaced people - most shelter between 800 and 2,000 families - where JRS implementspsychosocial activities and evening classes for children, as well as distributing dry food rations.

But people's generosity could not detract from the gravity of the fast deteriorating security situation. "Never in the last four years have I felt so insecure and helpless," added Fr Vinny.

3. SUDAN: REBEL GROUPS KEY TO PEACE IN DARFUR

Constant attacks, raids and incursions still hamper humanitarian efforts in Darfur, the western region of Sudan, according to JRS project director Fr Bryan Pippins on 2 June.

He said that even though a peace accord has been signed with one of the major factions in the conflict, the other two smaller factions are key to the agreement, without which prospects of peace are remote.

JRS programmes based in El-Fasher are unstable he said; citing the adult education programme which is in higher demand and can no longer be supported, adding that they have now set strict guidelines to regulate the intake for future classes. And the teachers training programme has since been halted due to lack of a trainer.

The death toll is still rising and villages continue to be burned, he added, pointing out that for the Janjaweed forces to be disarmed, the threat from separatist movements has to be resolved. Meanwhile the long drought spell in the region has caused prices of many basic commodities to be high.

For more than three years, Sudan's remote west has been in the throes of a revolt which has forced 2.5 million people from their homes and killed tens of thousands. Rape, murder and pillage continue as part of the violence the United States calls genocide.

Living in tents in the vast desert region, around 7,000 AU troops monitor a shaky May 5 truce. According to sources from the African Union, the military force in Darfur needs an extra 5,600 troops.

4. HAITI: MIGRANT WOMEN MOST VULNERABLE

"They walk many kilometres by nights, through the woods, trying to fool the Dominican military. They are guided by smugglers that are not interested inkeeping their promises to bring them to their destination point in the Dominican Republic. Once paid, the smugglers use the slightest pretext to escape", Wooldy Edson Louidor, Communications and Advocacy Officer, JRS Haiti, told Dispatches on 2 June.

Meyak, a Haitian border town with a population of about 7,000, from where about 1,000 irregular migrants and refugees travel into the Dominican Republic each week. They enter the Dominican Republic with the assistance of Dominican and Haitian smugglers, principally in the search of a better life. In Meyak, they contact their smugglers openly in the day, and impatiently wait around until nightfall to go.

During this dangerous adventure, many end up being caught and treated violently by the military and deported home immediately through an official orunofficial border point. Others possess a little money to pay off the military and continue their journey.

Nevertheless, according to witness accounts from the inhabitants of Meyak, during these illegal journeys, it is the women who are most often the victims.They are often the object of physical and sexual abuse by the military, the smugglers and even fellow migrants.

The Dominican state also repatriates Haitian migrants to Meyak. Despite their poverty, it is the local population that provides support to their deported compatriots. They offer them accommodation, food and some financial assistance so that they can return home.

5. USA: NGOs urge us senate to hold hearings on "material support" for refugee admission

In a recent letter to Senator Arlen Specter, the Chair of the US Senate's Committee of the Judiciary, JRS USA joined members of Refugee Council USA(RCUSA) in urging that hearings be held this summer on the unintended consequences of terrorism-related restrictions to refugee admissions to the US.

RCUSA noted that thousands of vulnerable refugees are currently being denied a chance to resettle in the USA because of language in the 2001 Patriot Act that bars admission to the USA for anyone who associated with or provided any "material support" to any armed group - even if the group is supported by the USA, and even if the refugee was forced at gunpoint to provide the support.

The refugee coalition pointed out that, although President Bush set a goal of admitting 70,000 refugees this year, the US State Department expects to admit only about 40,000 refugees in large part due to the inadvertent consequences of these restrictions to admission. Those denied a chance to resettle include Vietnamese Montegnards who supported US troops during the Vietnam War, Cubans who joined anti-Castro movements supported by the US, and thousands of Burmese refugees fleeing persecution by the incredibly repressive and brutal ruling military junta.

For further information see www.jrs.net/reports

6. Côte d'Ivoire: the need for identity papers crosses all sides

"We fled our village when the soldiers came. I left my papers in the house and when we came back, everything was destroyed and burned," recounted a 27- year old Baoulé woman living in the North of Côte d'Ivoire.

National identity and the question over who is Ivorian are central to the origin of today's crisis. Narrower definitions of citizenship and limited political representation were the main causes of fighting among the country's diverse population in 2002. The descendants of northern immigrants claimed they were being denied the right to citizenship because they lacked proper identity papers. Yet, ironically, due to the conflict's destruction, many of the so-called native Ivorians, as Baoulés are considered, now find themselves in the same predicament. They do not have any identity papers like the descendants of immigrants. Both communities suffer from the same problems: striking poverty, lack of proper documentation and harassment by armed men, while the politicians on both sides are moving too slowly towards peace.

In an effort to resolve the identity issue, Côte d'Ivoire's internationally-backed peace plan calls for judicial hearings to determine the nationality of an estimated 3.5 million people without identification. A week-long series of hearings between 18 and 24 May in seven localities issued 5,000 birth certificates, in what was considered an overall successful trial run of the official two-month-long hearing process soon to come.

However, the preliminary trial suffered from poor communication concerning its duration, the location of sites, who could participate and what evidence participants needed to provide.

For further information see www.jrs.net/reports

7. INTERNATIONAL: FUNDING SHORTFALLS HIT REPATRIATION

In response to the low initial pledges for its 2006 budget, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) requested in May that all offices worldwide operate on 80% of their projected budgets for 2006. Despite falling number of refugees, UNHCR calculated that to assist all assessed needs this year would cost US$2.4 billion.

"The funding crisis has a huge impact on UNHCR's ability to repatriate people back to Burundi and Southern Sudan. There simply isn't any funding for the repatriation, despite the fact that people are returning spontaneously", Anne-Christine Bloch, JRS Geneva representative told Dispatches on 8 June.

UNHCR is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, with the United Nations regular budget covering only 2.9% of its needs. After three years of donor countries responding positively to the agency's request for earlier commitments, UNHCR received merely US$354 million towards its initial 2006 budget request of US$1.22 billion at the donors' conference in November 2005, a decrease of 12% from the pledges received for the 2005 budget.

As of May 3, 2006, UNHCR had received a total of $634.2 million, 44% of its budget, which is comparable to the portion of the budget UNHCR had in May oflast year.

As of April 2006, funding had surpassed the requested levels for the tsunami response and Pakistan earthquake programme, but the agency had receivedonly 16% of the requested support for programmes for returning refugees and internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"Recent age, gender and diversity mainstreaming (AGDM) participatory assessments carried out by UNHCR have identified many gaps in protection. This approach focuses on developing or strengthening of capacities within the refugee communities themselves to better the protection, but there is simply no additional money to develop such community based approaches, though they could be cheaper in the long run" stressed Ms Bloch.

"The outlook for next year is probably just as bad. UNHCR is in several of its regions budgeting for programmes that only reach out to a fraction of potentialpersons of concern to UNHCR e.g. in Latin America", added Ms Bloch.

8. ETHIOPIA: DISPLACED FAMILIES TRAINED

Between 8 and 19 May, the JRS Ethiopia Rehabilitation Programme team held a workshop for more than 30 displaced families living in the capital, Addis Ababa, to equip them with the skills necessary to start their own businesses.

This workshop was part of an ongoing training project for 173 displaced families in the city, screened from a list of more than 300 families identified as in need of training this year by the Ethiopian government. JRS, in conjunction with the government office responsibility for displaced persons, is involved in programmes for those who leave camps for the displaced.

"Many of these families face hardship. Children quit school to work to help supplement their families' earnings. Even worse, many children end up on the streets. HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent among the displaced communities", Elsa Egzabhier, Advocacy Officer, JRS Ethiopia, told Dispatches on 2 June.

A survey carried out by the local authorities revealed that most of these families suffer from physical and psychological difficulties. These difficulties almostalways developed after their displacement and were generally brought on by loss of family/relatives, property, and financial resources.

The local Ethiopian authorities said that they were committed to supporting the work of integrating displaced persons and asked JRS staff to follow up on these vulnerable cases.

Rehabilitation Programme Director, Ms Freweni Zerai, congratulated the displaced families for eagerly undertaking and completing the business trainingworkshop and thanked the staff of the local authorities for their cooperation and for providing the hall and ensuring a quiet and favourable environment during the workshop.