Twice monthly news bulletin from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office.
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
SRI LANKA: VIOLENCE AND DISPLACEMENT CONTINUES
On 25 April, in response to an attack by a suicide bomber, the Sri Lankan air force began aerial bombing northeastern Sri Lanka. After a brief pause the next morning the bombing continued, this time supported by navy and army ground troops.
The strikes were the first official military action since a 2002 ceasefire halted the two-decades-old civil war and raised hopes of a lasting peace. They followed a string of alleged attacks by the LTTE Tamil rebels on the military, and ethnic riots against Tamils.
According to JRS sources, over 3,000 families have been displaced from small Koonitheevu, Samboor, Illakandai, Anagudu, Santhosapuram, Kataiparichan, Ganeshapuram villages around Trincomalee city in northeastern Sri Lanka. In Pooneri 176 families have been displaced, at Illangaithuraimugam 215 families have been displaced and are living in temporary shelters. At Vupurachenanvali, more than 1,500 displaced persons have been given shelter by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO).
Other displaced persons have not been so lucky. NGOs and aid workers have been unable to reach them and there is a growing shortage of food and other essential items. As the roads to the LTTE controlled areas are blocked,movements of people and goods have been stopped causing untold misery to the people. By 21 April, more than 2,500 families had been displaced by the recent violence. They are being sheltered in school. The government has done nothing to help them", said Paul Newman, Regional Advocacy Officer, JRS South Asia.
On 27 April, at 9.30am, 11 soldiers were killed in a claymore mine attack on an army convoy. The attack was allegedly undertaken by the LTTE.
"Despite these disturbances the only consoling factor was the reopening of the national highway A9, considered the lifeline of the north. The situation is worsening as the attacks by the armed forces continue in an undeclared war clearly violating the ceasefire agreement. If the situation continues to remain the same an all out war is inevitable and the glimmering hopes of peace stand shattered", added Mr Newman.
LIBERIA: LAST OF THE DISPLACED RETURN HOME
One by one the temporary homes built of mud, thatch and plastic sheeting that housed more 300,000 Liberians displaced by war are being dismantled as the government and aid workers help families back to their villages.
Most of the displaced that lived at Salala, the largest single camp for displaced people which at its height sheltered nearly 30,000 people in central Liberia, have already left pulling down their temporary homes as they went.
Government and aid agencies began the resettlement process in November 2004 and since then almost all the internally displaced people (IDPs) living in 35 camps across the country have been assisted with transportation home and supplied with cooking utensils and other basics to help them get back on their feet.
Most of the 314,095 registered IDPs came from counties which saw the heaviest fighting like Lofa, Gbarpolu and Bomi which were ravaged as rebel fighters marched south on the capital Monrovia from bases in Guinea to the north. The 14 years of on-off fighting ended with a 2003 peace deal and 15,000 UN peacekeepers guarantee security nationwide.
The newly elected government has promised to resettle all the country's IDPs before the end of June in its "First 150 Day Action Plan" - a five month development agenda to get post-war reconstruction underway.
But the promises of security are not enough for some people to leave the camps before the end of the June target and government officials have been lending a hand to encourage the stragglers to pack up and go. Some of the IDPs say they would rather remain among the ruins of the camp than trek home and face the mammoth task of rebuilding their war-destroyed villages.
SUDAN: REFUGEES IN UGANDA PREPARE TO GO HOME
According to a report by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on 26 April, a group of 13 refugees from Uganda, including women, elders and young people, left on 25 April for a "Go and See" visit to their home villages in Kajo Keji county, 30 kilometres from the Uganda-Sudan border.
The trip follows a visit to Uganda last week by a Sudanese delegation from Kajo Keji County to encourage Sudanese refugees to return home now that the 21-year conflict in South Sudan has ended. A comprehensive peace agreement was signed in January 2005 by the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
The Sudanese delegation also included other southern Sudan officials, tribal chiefs, elders and students. The visit was organised as part of UNHCR's preparations for the upcoming first repatriation of Sudanese refugees in Uganda to southern Sudan. The visit enabled the refugees to ask questions and raise their concerns about what to expect in their homeland so they can make a voluntary and informed choice about returning.
A large-scale return became possible earlier this month when UNHCR finalised a tripartite agreement with Sudan and Uganda on repatriation. There are some 36,000 refugees in northern Uganda's Moyo district, among a total of over 170,000 in Uganda. Forty percent of the refugees were born in Uganda and it is the only home they know. In Uganda, they have been given plots of land to cultivate and UNHCR and its partners have provided basic services such as health, education and water. For many of the refugees, the moment to return cannot come soon enough. But others are cautious and are waiting to hear what the people on the "Go and See" visit report.
KENYA: FLOODS KILL BOY, RENDER REFUGEES HOMELESS
On 27 April, three people died, several homes were destroyed and more than two thousand refugees were rendered homeless in northern Kenya after massive floods caused by heavy rains destroyed shelters.
Two of the deceased are local residents of the Turkana tribe. The other one is a one year, six month-old baby boy who slid into a deep hole full of water in Zone 5, Group 58, of Kakuma refugee camp, the worst affected area. The baby was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. His distraught mother is one of the JRS Alternative Healing Programme staff, and the local team is doing what it can to assist her at this time.
At least 270 shelters were reported collapsed or had been washed away and recently distributed food was destroyed by floods at Kakuma camp, where some 90,000 refugees mainly from Sudan live.
There is now fear of an outbreak of water-borne diseases as the torrential rains, which started on 26 April, have caused pit latrines to collapse and children were playing in the stagnant water.
Refugees were being told to move to higher grounds within the camp and some had taken shelter in churches and schools. Unfortunately, movement within the camp was hampered by impassable roads.
On 28 April, over 50 refugee homes had been confirmed destroyed and those families have sought shelter in primary schools, currently closed for holidays. The number of homes destroyed could rise to 100 as reports are still coming in. In Kakuma camp the refugees live in mud-brick houses.
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
KENYA: JRS RESPONDS TO THE FAMINE
After three years of drought, Kenya is in the grips of famine. The Kenyan Government has called on the international community to come to the aid of 2.5 million affected by the famine and JRS has pledged their support for the relief efforts.
Fr John Guiney SJ, JRS East Africa Regional Director, has been in contact with the Dioceses of Marsabit and Lodwar in Eastern and Rift Valley Provinces respectively. While there is no immediate need for food aid, the main problem now is in getting the food distributed effectively and quickly.
"What the Dioceses have said to us is that they may need some rehabilitation/recovery assistance in the future - e.g. replacement of livestock and sinking of water bore holes. JRS will maintain contact with the Dioceses to ensure the assistance we give is appropriate, practical and comes at the right time and in the right way", said John Guiney SJ, Regional Director, JRS Eastern Africa on 18 April.
Meanwhile food, non-food items and money have been gathered by both JRS Kenya and JRS Eastern Africa. It is being channelled through a local body which is co-ordinating a public donations drive in Nairobi. JRS awaits confirmation from the two Dioceses as to what recovery/rehabilitation assistance it can offer and respond appropriately. It is also funding a research project by the Hakimani -Jesuit Faith and Justice Centre in Nairobi - into the causes and responses to the current drought and famine.
"These are important initiatives. We are very happy to receive contributions into this office from those who would like to support the rehabilitation effort in the affected areas and will ensure that any and all contributions are channelled to the correct way", said John Guiney SJ, Regional Director, JRS Eastern Africa.
10. LIBERIA: JRS MOVES FROM MONTSERRADO TO BOMI COUNTY
In April, JRS closed its projects in Montserrado county, west Liberia and moved to Bomi county, further west, to develop new activities. From November 2003 until November 2005, JRS managed a school and provided literary and vocational training courses in four camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Montserrado. In November 2005, when the land was repossessed by its owners, JRS decided to rebuild the damaged local schools.
Br. Domino Frank SJ, and Br. Jacobus Too SVD, who have been in charge of the project, were particularly impressed by the commitment of local communities. Their great involvement was always motivated by the importance they give to the rebuilding of the school in their town or village.
"For them, the school is the centre of their community, the centre of life which had disappeared during war. I was especially impressed by the activity that the reconstruction of the schools brought back. Now, many houses are being built around the schools", said Br. Too, reflecting on the 5-month JRS project.
Now that the IDPs are going home, JRS is going with them. JRS established its latest projects in Bomi county, one of the Liberian counties from where a great many of the 300,000 IDPs originate. JRS will establish two projects in Suehn- Mecca District. The first is an education project, which will consist of rebuilding 3 schools, supporting income-generating agricultural activities in 4 other schoolsand providing furniture in 5 schools. The project will benefit appropriate 1,000 students and 2,000 parents.
While this first project is intended for everyone regardless of their religious beliefs, the second project focuses on the pastoral accompaniment of the small catholic communities of Suehn-Mecca. It seeks to support the community leaders to up-date their knowledge about Catholic Church and the liturgy, as well as to motivate them to be active in church life. To begin with JRS organised a 3-day workshop for Catholic community leaders at the end of March and celebrated Easter festivities in April.
"The idea is to accompany returnees to their communities of origin and to give them the opportunities to start a new life", declared Br Domino Frank SJ, who is in charge of this new project.
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), Alessandra Pettrella (Italian).