Sudan + 4 more

JRS Dispatches No. 247

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News and Press Release
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(excerpt)

REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS

SUDAN: MORE YOUNG PEOPLE AND WOMEN RETURNING HOME

More than half of the families returning to southern Sudan are headed by single women while 59 percent of all returnees are aged 5 to 17, according to a report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on 24 October. The report points out that women are more likely to return home spontaneously without male heads of household. It also stated that males were more likely to leave women with their children once they have returned, either to go back to the place of displacement or to a secondary place of displacement.

According to the IOM, this situation has been exacerbated by a lack of or limited access to basic services, as well as lack of education and employment opportunities, in places of return.

Approximately 1.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to southern Sudan since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. Between January and June, monitors at Kosti Way Station found that 25 percent of the returnees were aged between 1 to 4 years, while 34 percent were of school-going age (5 to 17 years).

JRS has been assisting the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to improve education services in southern Sudan for the last three years. While staff believe it is positive that many Sudanese feel free to return home after years in exile, the particularly high percentage of returnee children of school- going age is placing huge pressure on the limited education services available in the area. JRS teams have repeatedly called for more resources to be made available to improve the capacity of the authorities to provide quality education services in the future.

In March 2005, the Sudan Joint Assessment Mission estimated that some four million people were displaced from or within southern Sudan by 20 years of conflict.

SOUTH AFRICA: PRETORIA 'REFUGEE REINTEGRATION' GOES ON

The stand-off, between refugees on one side and local government authorities and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) on the other, continues, according to statements by a refugee group on 28 October.

The group of more than 700 refugees living in Klerksoord camp, on the outskirts of Pretoria, hope that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) or the local government will rescue them from this "untenable" situation.

However, both the authorities and the UN agency have insisted that the refugees should be reintegrated into local communities where there was no xenophobic violence. The refugees are adamant they want to be resettled in another country.

The camp leaders have taken a keen interest in the media and have criticised statements by the South African Human Rights Commission chairman, Jody Kollapen, for encouraging refugees at the camp to reintegrate. They made special mention of Kollapen's remarks that if people were resettled in other countries, it would create a bad impression about South Africa.

In the three months since the camp was established in suburban Pretoria, the place has seen numerous transformations. The one portable toilet in the camp has been wired shut. Raids by security guards have left tin pots, blankets and ash scattered and trampled underfoot. Today, pieces of plastic, wire and stripped wooden poles have been added to create the impression of a rudimentary squatter camp.

Few refugees venture outside or down the road to the nearest shop, fearful that the police will remove the few traces of their existence.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: HUMANITARIAN CRISIS UNFOLDS

Tens of thousands of people are on the move in the eastern province of North Kivu, fleeing intensified fighting between the rebel group CNDP and government forces.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), on 29 October, more than 45,000 people fled a camp for displaced persons 10km north of the provincial capital Goma, amongst them 30,000 who had only arrived from another camp a day earlier.

"When they saw the military coming down from the north in the direction of Goma, people began leaving; everybody was going," a UNHCR staff member described the frantic flight. UNHCR further added that 4,000 Congolese had already fled across the border to neighbouring Uganda and more were expected to follow.

On 30 October, JRS Goma told Dispatches that the full scale of the humanitarian crisis was difficult to ascertain. The volatile security situation has prevented humanitarian workers from accessing some areas. Prior to this latest influx, there were already shortages of aid.

Before the fighting recommenced in August, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was already unable to meet all the needs of the displaced populations. As early as last May, WFP had already been forced to cut some rations by 50 percent. According to UN estimates, some 200,000 were displaced in September, bringing the total to between 1.3 and 2 million in North Kivu alone.

During September and the first two weeks of October, 1,200 households arrived in Mungunga I, one of four camps 10km west of Goma. On 29 October, JRS observed a distressing shortage of food and shelter for the newly arrived.

"We met women and children in the camps. When they arrived, they were completely exhausted after walking for days. They had been in the camp for a week and still no food or plastic sheeting had been given to them, not even a biscuit", a JRS employee told Dispatches.

"After so many years of war and impunity in the region, the people of Goma are fed up. They just want a normal life, one in which they do not have to be constantly ready to leave their homes with all their belongings. We urge the international community to take action to stop this war and guarantee their safety now. Every minute counts", the JRS employee added.

On 26 October, the rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda launched a major offensive, retaking an important Congolese military base lost earlier this month. Two days later, the rebels seized Rutshuru and Kibumba, respectively 70km and 30km northeast of Goma. The following day, the rebels threatened to overthrow the capital of North Kivu just before declaring a unilateral ceasefire in the evening, reportedly to prevent the civilian population from panicking. The Congolese government continues to accuse Rwanda of supporting the rebels, an accusation which their Rwandan counterparts strongly reject.

The UN peacekeepers, MONUC, called on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and respect international humanitarian law. They accused both warring parties of hampering efforts to evacuate civilians, as well as condemning the use of camps for displaced persons by rebels to launch military attacks.

The UN has advised all international aid workers to leave Goma and all national employees to stay at home. Like many other NGOs and UN agencies, JRS Goma was forced to suspend temporarily all activities and evacuate the majority of its staff to Rwanda. JRS Goma is committed to support the provision of education services to and accompany the suffering population in North Kivu and will resume activities as soon as the security situation allow.

Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in January, fighting between the CNDP and government forces resumed in late August this year. Nearly 800,000 had been displaced in the previous two years, the UN says. Congo's 1998-2003 war and the resulting humanitarian crisis have caused the death of an estimated 5.4 million people.

COTE D'IVOIRE: HIGH LEVELS OF MALNUTRITION IN THE NORTH

On 20 October, the authorities began an education and awareness campaign on nutrition, targeting local authorities, health officials, and community and religious leaders in the north of the country.

This campaign is a response to findings of the survey conducted by the UN World Food Programme, the UN children's agency (UNICEF) and the government. The survey, conducted in July, found that nearly 18 percent of children from six months to five years old in northern Côte d'Ivoire suffer from acute malnutrition, up from 11.6 percent two years ago.

JRS currently supports a school reconstruction programme in the northern Department of Madinani. On 15 October, it interviewed some 30 students about their eating patterns. On average, children said they ate twice a day. However, several students reported eating only once a day. Families also cited a lack of drinking water in villages as an obstacle to school attendance. Many students are forced to search for water during school hours instead of attending class.

UNICEF stated that the situation is double what is considered a nutritional emergency. Government officials and aid agencies are launching emergency food aid and nutritional training programmes in the region, as well as reinforcing the capacity of healthcare centres to meet basic needs. The agencies have appealed to the UN for additional funding.

Côte d'Ivoire is emerging from years of conflict triggered when a 2002 rebellion split the country into a government-controlled south and rebel-held north. Most public services, including healthcare centres shut down, especially in the north.

While humanitarian assistance has decreased as the conflict wanes, analysts say conditions like these indicate that vast needs remain. According to experts, high levels of malnutrition in Côte d'Ivoire can be mainly attributed to global food price hikes, poor agricultural production, an inadequate healthcare system and a lack of access to nutritious foods. Many of the factors are linked to the conflict.

ETHIOPIA: REFUGEES LEARN PEACE EDUCATION AND CONFLICT MANAGEMENT SKILLS

Between 15-19 September, JRS organised a five-day workshop on peace education and conflict management for 22 refugees living in Addis Ababa.

The workshop, held in the JRS Refugee Community Centre, was facilitated by a Rwandan, Muhoozi Bill, a refugee with extensive knowledge of the causes of conflicts and experience working with forcibly displaced persons from various countries. The objective of the workshop was to build common and constructive understandings of peace and conflict management among refugees.

The themes covered during the workshop included an introduction to peace and conflict management, basic negotiation skills and methodologies, mediation, conflict evaluation and analysis, inclusion and exclusion, prejudice, discrimination, communication, and human rights. The methodology employed during the workshop was highly participatory, involving group work, role play, story telling, as well as lectures and brainstorming sessions.

"Conflict is a natural phenomenon. If handled positively it promotes change. Otherwise, it can escalate into violence, leading to harm to humans and the destruction of property. Refugees should be at the vanguard of peace education and conflict management, as they are living examples of the negative consequences of violence", JRS Ethiopia Advocacy Officer, Dereje Balcha, told the participants at the end of the workshop.

After the workshop ended, the participants expressed their satisfaction with the practical nature of the sessions, which will be useful in affronting the discrimination they face on daily basis. If implemented at grassroots level, some participants stressed, it will also be of value to their communities. They added that similar workshops should be provided to the staff of refugee organisations. The mix of the participants included members of refugee committees, and community and religious leaders, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

COTE D'IVOIRE: LOCAL COMMUNITY RESPONDS POSITIVELY TO JRS EDUCATION PROJECT

Between 15-18 October, JRS Africa Education coordinator, Mr Martin Foss, conducted a monitoring visit to the northern Department of Madinani.

"There is clearly a good working relationship between beneficiaries and JRS staff. Teachers and parents expressed concern for the children's well-being over their own. Local communities play an important role in the project. Families contributed water, sand, and wood towards the physical reconstruction phase which is nearly complete", Mr Foss told Dispatches on 30 October.

However, the lack of qualified teachers continues to be a major problem, Mr Gnanidadio Coulibaly, Madinani Education Supervisor, told Mr Foss during the visit. Other issues raised by parents included a lack of education materials and drinking water.

The JRS project in Madinani comprises four elements: reconstruction of four schools, pedagogic instruction to teachers, school administration training to parents and teachers, and the distribution of didactic material to students. In the near future, recreational and cultural activities will be developed for children, particularly those who are at risk of leaving school early.

A civil war which escalated in 2002 destroyed infrastructure and displaced 700,000 persons, greatly disrupting school systems. Since then, 45% of children of school-going age have not had access to education. The rate is even higher in northern regions which were most affected by the fighting. For this reason, JRS chose to focus its support on the education sector as the country recovers from the effects of the conflict.

Mr Foss, accompanied by JRS regional and field staff, met with representatives of student-parent associations, school officials, and students to assess their needs and involvement in the project.

"Before JRS came, we had no means of rebuilding our school which was badly damaged during the war. Teachers and students could not work or learn in such an environment. Now we have a beautiful place to send our kids to again. People want to be here", remarked one parent.

Among the four schools, there are only seven teachers for 650 students. With the academic year already underway, the schools are still awaiting the arrival of five trainee teachers promised to them by the authorities. In agreement with the State, JRS will offer workshops to reinforce their teaching capacity.

During the visit, Regional Advocacy Officer, Ms Flora Touali, investigated the documentation needs of some 200 families. JRS plans to help them attain birth certificates for their children. The papers, mandatory to avail of education and other basic services, are often difficult and costly to obtain in the region.

JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.386; Fax: +39-06 688 06 418; Email: dispatches@jrs.net; JRS on-line: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian). To subscribe or unsubscribe to Dispatches go to http://www.jrs.net/lists/manage.php