REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
1. KENYA: ASSISTANCE TO INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS INADEQUATE
In mid October, human rights activists accused Kenyan officials of violating the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement during the Rudi Nyumbani operation which aimed at resettling people displaced by post-election violence last December/ January.
Ndungu Wainaina, executive director of the International Centre for Conflict and Policy, stated that Kenya neither has a specific policy on internal displacement nor any domestic legislation on protection and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The country has yet to implement the Grands Lacs Process - 10 protocols agreed by countries in central, eastern and the Horn of Africa, stipulating the right of IDPs to protection and assistance and guaranteeing the property rights of returnees.
Since February 2008, JRS has provided support to IDPs from the Rift Valley Province, offering education and psychosocial assistance, as well as support to individuals starting income-generating activities.
"Among the different groups of returnees, those who have no land (the so-called "squatters") are the worst affected by the Rudi Nyumbani programme. They do not have anywhere to return to and are unable to survive long on the 130 US dollar grant from the authorities. Furthermore, some host communities were not prepared to accept returnees from different ethnic groups" Carolyne Savala, JRS Kenya Kitale Project Director stated on 7 November.
"More emphasis needs to be placed on improving protection and security in the camps. Peace-building activities, in particular for young people, need to be organised in areas of return. Until durable solutions can be found specific groups will continue to need assistance", added Ms Savala.
Fatma Ibrahim, member of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, pointed out that even though the government has provided medical, financial and food assistance to the IDPs, they were not given the opportunity of participating in the process. Moreover, IDPs were given only three days in which to leave the camps and lacked information on their rights and entitlements. These, she stated, are clear violations of the Guiding Principles.
In response to these criticisms, government representative, Ali Mohammed, asserted that the authorities fully respected the Guiding Principles, ensuring all resettlement was voluntary. Although there are no laws which specifically provide for displaced persons, he added, they are protected by other pieces of human rights legislation.
2. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC): PEACEKEEPING FORCE EXPECTED TO BE BOLSTERED
On 13 November, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, asked the UN Security Council to approve the extra peacekeepers, a move diplomats believe will be approved.
The Security Council will discuss the reinforcement of the peacekeeping force in DRC, MONUC, on 26 November. The United States and Britain have already issued statements in favour of an increase of 3,000 peacekeepers. However, the US envoy to Africa, Jendayi Frazer said she feared it could take several weeks before the additional troops could be deployed.
The additional troops would bolster the world's largest peacekeeping mission amid reports of escalating attacks on civilians and looting and rape by government troops fleeing rebel advances. Approximately half of the 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo are based in the east, but the UN says they are too few to protect civilians.
On 7 November, the JRS team had called for an increased UN force to be sent to the region to protect the civilian population. The latest international outcry came when some 50 civilians were killed by rebel forces. Following the withdrawal of the government-backed local paramilitary Maï-Maï from Kiwanja forces on 5 and 6 November, the Nkunda forces invited the local population to leave the city. As many as 1,500 people spent that night in Rutshuru parish and more than 30,000 were displaced.
At the beginning of the month, JRS Goma had returned from Rwanda after security conditions had improved. Even though the fighting continued in nearby Rutshuru and Kiwanja, within a week, the team were already involved in the distribution of emergency aid in the Goma area. In the last few days, JRS- supported schools in Goma have re-opened. At the moment, limited recreational services are being offered to the children in an attempt to restore a certain level of normality to their lives.
According to JRS Goma staff member, Jesuit Juanjo Aguado, after the fighting electricity and water were restored in both Kiwanja and Rutshuru, and JRS began planning a food distribution programme in the area. Despite the difficulties, the Jesuit stated that JRS would begin providing classes for the children and supporting the teachers as soon as possible.
Malnutrition rates in Rutshuru, which has seen weeks of fighting between government soldiers and dissident general Laurent Nkunda's rebels, are almost double emergency thresholds and aid workers are battling insecurity to deliver rations. The latest wave of fighting has worsened a humanitarian disaster which began in the 1990s.
More than five million people have died since Congo's last war began in 1998, more than in any conflict since World War II and nearly all from war-related hunger and disease.
On 12 November, Angola announced it would respond to a Congolese government request to send its forces to block, and possibly reverse, advances by the rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, in the east. However, Angola denied it had soldiers already in North Kivu and stressed it would only send troops if called on to do so by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc.
According to eyewitness reports collected by the BBC, Angolan and Zimbabwean troops had been seen on the ground sparking fears of another regional conflict similar to the 1998-2003 Congo conflict involving nine nations. Nkunda had previously warned he would attack any foreign troops entering the conflict.
3. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: CIVILIANS TRAPPED AS MULTINATIONALS PLUNDER
According to aid agencies on 13 November, more than 65,000 civilians who have fled fighting need to be moved. Based in Kibati camp, they are only a few kilometres south of combat lines between rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda and government troops. Relief agencies plan to truck civilians who agree to go to a camp at Mugunga, 10 km west of Goma.
Meanwhile, civilians in Kibati live in fear of attack and, according to the World Health Organisation, of a wider cholera epidemic developing in the Goma zone. Cases of cholera have tripled between early October and early November, because of unsafe water, poor sanitation and the lack of health services.
Nkunda has stated on numerous occasions that his forces are acting in defence of the Tutsi minority in the area, but recently he also called for direct negotiations with the President, Joseph Kabila, to renegotiate the important trade agreement on minerals with China. The Democratic Republic of Congo possesses 80% of the world's coltan, necessary for the production of consumer electronic products such as mobile phones, DVD players and computers.
From the sale of this mineral, the many armed groups in DRC have obtained huge sums of money to finance the ongoing war, hindering the disarmament of rebel groups agreed last January. Many see the interests of foreign governments and multinationals as fuelling this war.
"There are western multinationals interested in ensuring the status quo continues in order to plunder the natural resources of the country" JRS Goma project director, Nicolás Dorronsoro, told Dispatches on 7 November.
4. COTE D'IVOIRE: ELECTIONS OFFICIALLY POSTPONED
On 11 November, officials overseeing the country's peace process called on the electoral commission to set a new date for presidential elections in cooperation with political and civil society leaders. Elections were to be held this 30 November.
Côte d'Ivoire was violently divided between rebel-held north and government-run south in 2002. The question of national identity is believed to lie at the heart of the crisis.
After a meeting on 10 November, the group, led by Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré, declared that polls could not take place on the planned date due to "technical and financial" setbacks. The Cadre Permanent de Concertation or CPC, the committee to oversee the Ouagadougou peace accord, announced that the commission must set a new election timetable by 31 December 2008. President Laurent Gbagbo was elected in 2000. His mandate, to end in 2005, was extended by the UN for one year due to the 2002 crisis. Since then several peace deals and election timetables have seen delays.
"The crisis has been difficult. Implementing the peace accord measures depends on the agenda of those putting it in place. We just want the process to be clear, one Ivoirian woman in Abidjan, the capital, told Dispatches on 14 November. "Politicians can end this crisis if they want to, but there needs to be better communication between them and the population. Ivoirians want the economy to improve. They want peace. They want a real democracy" she added. Côte d'Ivoire is a country of more than sixty ethnicities.
"This is a privilege and a blessing. This was not a religious war. It was a political war. If politicians put themselves first, the country's conflicts will not be resolved", she added.
While JRS believes that planning free and fair elections will take time, it encourages the government to act efficiently and transparently. JRS currently runs a school reconstruction process in the northern Department of Madinani as the country recovers from the effects of the protracted conflict.
5. SOUTH AFRICA: CRISIS IN MAKESHIFT CAMP UNFOLDS BUT NOBODY IS HELD RESPONSIBLE
According to press reports on 10 November, with the beginning of the rainy season, a humanitarian crisis appears to be unfolding at the controversial Klerksoord temporary shelter north of Pretoria city.
Rainfall in the past 10 days has caused flooding in the camp and strong winds have destroyed the makeshift tents of forcibly displaced migrants. Mothers and children are reportedly suffering from illnesses in unhygienic and wet conditions. The humanitarian situation in the camp for the estimated 700 forcibly displaced migrants is said to be worsening every day.
The camp was established in May after 60 people were killed and 30,000 African migrants and refugees were displaced in a wave of xenophobic violence which started in Alexandra, Johannesburg and swept through the province and other parts of the country. In Gauteng alone, the authorities set up seven tent camps to house temporarily those displaced by the violence.
The shelter was dismantled in October after the Tshwane (Pretoria) city council and the Gauteng provincial government gave its residents a deadline to leave and reintegrate into their former communities. The remaining migrants have refused to leave the camp, saying they fear for their lives.
Circumstances deteriorated for the refugees when the camp was dismantled and the tents provided by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) were removed by the Red Ants private security guards in October.
Spokespersons from the migrants stated they were relying on handouts, while a lucky few have been able to find enough casual employment to buy food. Since the tents were removed, they have been living in makeshift shelters made of blankets and cardboard.
Many migrants have insisted they be resettled, while UNHCR maintained that resettlement is not an option. Both the council and the UNHCR are on record as having said there was nothing else they could do to help those who have refused to be reintegrated into their former communities.
UPDATES ON JRS PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES
7. SUDAN: JRS TO RESPOND TO FORGOTTEN CRISIS IN THE EAST
Since the early 1990s, the international community has focused largely on refugee emergencies. It has delivered humanitarian assistance to war-affected populations and supported large-scale repatriation programmes in high-profile areas such as the Balkans, the Grands Lacs region of Africa and, more recently, Darfur. Yet more than 60 percent of today's refugees are trapped in situations far from the international spotlight.
Following discussions with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and Sudan's Commissioner of Refugees (COR), JRS carried out a needs assessment in the camps in eastern Sudan in October 2008. The team plans to begin providing services in early 2009, with a particular focus on community services, ensuring that refugees in vulnerable circumstances gain access to basic goods and services.
JRS plans to assist this forgotten population as an implementing partner for UNHCR. Proposed activities will address the needs of the most vulnerable groups, initially targeting separated children and those with psychosocial illnesses requiring counselling. JRS' involvement will then be further shaped and extended according to the needs on the ground.
Today, there is an approximate case load of 147,000 refugees and asylum seekers in eastern Sudan. Of this number almost 100,000 refugees still rely on humanitarian assistance, provided in 12 refugee camps. The majority of the refugees are Eritrean, with smaller numbers from Ethiopia and Somalia. With no improvement expected in the politico-military situation in Eritrea in the medium term, increased numbers of new arrivals are anticipated. More than 12,000 have been registered since the beginning of the year.
"In general, there are limited services and few qualified personnel to assist the vulnerable groups to gain access to basic services or to provide assistance to meet their specific needs. The protracted nature of the crisis, marked by inadequate provision of basic services, has led to an increase in mental and psychosocial illnesses, putting even more pressure on an already stretched community services available to the population in most vulnerable conditions", Linda Fuhrmann, JRS Sudan North Darfur Project Director, told Dispatches on 12 November.
"Too few humanitarian agencies try to care for this forgotten population and mitigate the negative effects of prolonged exile. These efforts are not enough, however. This is exactly the type of situation for which JRS for was set up to respond, to go where people's needs are not being met by others, and 'where it has a special contribution to make', as it says in our organisational guidelines" Ms Fuhrmann added.
10. USA: JRS CALLS FOR AN IMMEDIATE BAN ON CLUSTER BOMBS
On 3 December, representatives of more than 100 governments will meet in Norway to sign a treaty banning cluster munitions. Unfortunately, the US will not be at the meeting and did not participate in the negotiations which led to the agreement.
On 31 October, JRS USA, in support of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines, called on US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, to renounce the use of cluster bombs. According to the US CBL, the US has the largest stockpile of cluster munitions in the world and is a major user, exporter and producer of these weapons.
This call followed a letter sent by a coalition of NGOs, including JRS USA, to the US Senate on 24 September.
"Far too many of the submunitions (5-20 percent for most US systems) fail to explode on initial impact. These unexploded duds become de facto landmines and threaten the lives, health and livelihoods of civilians for weeks, months, years, even decades to come. For example, in January of this year nine children in Laos searching near their village for small crabs to eat instead found an old cluster bomblet dating from the Vietnam War. It exploded, killing four boys and injuring the five other children", the letter read.
"While efforts to restrain the use and trade of cluster munitions have been discussed in Congress, there is currently no domestic law specifically regulating cluster munitions" a JRS USA statement on 31 October read.
Cluster munitions are large weapons which can be deployed from the air or from the ground and release hundreds of smaller bombs, or submunitions. Depending on the type of weapon and how it is deployed, the impact area of one cluster bomb can be up to one square kilometre.
Many submunitions fail to detonate on impact and become antipersonnel mines killing and maiming people - often civilians - long after the conflict has ended. "Cluster munitions stand out as the weapon that poses the gravest dangers to civilians since antipersonnel mines, which were banned in 1997", the JRS USA statement added.
There is no way to map where cluster munitions lie in wait to explode, and soldiers are sometimes killed by their own countries' weapons as they attempt to clear them after a conflict.
A 2007 study published by Handicap International confirms 13,306 deaths and injuries due to cluster munitions. Children are often victims as they are can be attracted by the shape, size and colour of cluster munitions.