JRS Dispatches No. 184
REFUGEE NEWS BRIEFINGS
1. ETHIOPIA: NEW WAR SEEMS MORE LIKELY
On 8 December, according to British newspaper The Times, the Eritrean government expelled United Nations peacekeepers from the border it shares with Ethiopia. In an area where almost a quarter of a million soldiers face each other a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea seems ever closer.
In recent weeks Eritrea and Ethiopia have moved extra soldiers to what is the most militarised border in Africa. Between 1998 and 2000 they fought a war there that killed more than 70,000 people.
The expulsion order will affect about 160 of 3,794 staff of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), including nearly half the observers on the Eritrean side. Combined with earlier restrictions, it will make it nearly impossible for the peacekeepers to continue their work in Eritrea.
The source of the tension between the neighbouring countries is Ethiopia's refusal to recognise the ruling of an international commission demarcating their 621-mile mutual border, despite a prior undertaking to abide by the result. The commission was established as part of the peace deal that ended the previous war.
A new conflict would make little sense for Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. Desperately poor and with a population of only 3.6 million, it would stand little chance against sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous country. But there is a mutual enmity between the two countries' leaders that could override any logic.
2. KENYA: VOLUNTARY RETURN PROGRAMME TO BEGIN
On 17 December the voluntary repatriation of 300 Sudanese refugees from Kakuma camp in northern Kenya is set to begin.
The repatriation programme is one of many organised by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, for Sudanese refugees living in countries neighbouring Sudan, including Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya.
On 30 November a "go and see" mission was arranged for a small number of refugees in Kakuma camp. The small group of Sudanese from the ethnic Bor community, accompanied by UNHCR officials and a camera crew from Film Aid International, flew from Lokichogo in northern Kenya to Kapweta in southern Sudan. They visited the reception/ processing centre which was still under construction but when finished will provide temporary accommodation and support to returning refugees.
Prior to the return of the refugees they will pass through a departure centre in Kakuma where JRS Kenya plans to expand its Social Service Centre to ensure that those refugees who wish to will be given access to two community counsellors.
"There is undoubtedly an air of haste surrounding this inaugural repatriation exercise. UNHCR themselves have admitted the urgent need to get the process moving as refugee inflows into Kakuma are being attributed to rumours in southern Sudan of a generous "repatriation package"", said Mr Mark Lawler, JRS Kenya.
"UNHCR staff hope that this first group will prove to those in Sudan that no money is being handed out by agencies for repatriation. At the same time, the hope is that information flowing from repatriated refugees back to Kakuma will encourage more to volunteers to go home in the New Year", added Mr Lawler.
In the UNHCR's own assessment "by the end of 2006 an estimated 10,000 refugees could have returned from Kakuma to Southern Sudan. The vast majority of Sudanese refugees, however, remain sceptical for now.
3. COTE D'IVOIRE: NEW PRIME MINISTER CONFIDENT ON 2006 POLLS
On 11 December, according to Reuters
news agency, the new Ivory Coast Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny is
confident that he could help guide the troubled
West African state to new elections next October.
Prime Minister Banny told reporters after
meeting South African President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria that he was optimistic
about setting up the new polls and
disarming Cote d'Ivoire rebels.
Banny, formerly governor of West Africa's
central bank, was named Cote d'Ivoire new interim prime minister earlier
this month by Mbeki and Nigerian President
Olusegun Obasanjo, who had been mediating the crisis on behalf of the African Union.
Banny is due to have an expanded mandate
under a UN backed deal giving him powers to carry out disarmament and electoral
reforms with the aim of organising
presidential polls by the end of October next year.
Cote d'Ivoire has been torn into a rebel-held
north and government-run south since a 2002 civil war which sprang out
of a failed attempt by the rebels to topple
President Laurent Gbagbo.
Presidential elections in the world's
top cocoa grower set for last 30 October were delayed but a Security Council
resolution voted the same month kept Gbagbo in
place for up to one more year after his official five-year mandate ended.
After weeks of negotiation, government
and rebel forces agreed on a new prime minister as part of an African Union
peace formula endorsed by the UN Security
4. ZAMBIA: UN PROVIDES FOOD AID TO REFUGEES
On 9 December, the United Nations World Food Programme announced that it will provide 17.9 million US Dollars to Zambia to feed refugees facing shortages in the southern African country.
Some 80,000 refugees will be provided with food in 2006 and a further 67,000 refugees in 2007, Home Affairs permanent secretary Peter Mumba said. A majority of the refugees targeted by the funding were from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zambia itself faces severe food shortages and the government declared a national food emergency to attract more donor support to save people on the brink of starvation. It says 1.7 million people need food handouts because they are far too poor to afford commercial purchases.