The JRS Great Lakes region was set up in 1995 in the aftermath of the
Rwandan genocide and other widespread ethnic violence. The first team
was dispatched to Bukavu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
and the JRS presence quickly spread to other parts of the Congo,
Burundi and Rwanda. Since then, JRS teams have accompanied people
uprooted by violence that is largely due to the exploitation of ethnic
identity and/or the struggle over precious resources.
Today one of the greatest challenges in the region is endemic sexual
violence in eastern Congo, a consequence of chronic armed conflict. This
area has been a major focus of JRS activities in recent years, with
education, vocational training and support for those who are vulnerable,
offered in IDP camps and areas of return. The most recent JRS
initiatives in Rutshuru, Masisi and Mweso, North Kivu, give preferential
attention to women.
In the past, JRS has run other projects in the DRC, in Kinshasa,
Lubumbashi, Uvira and Goma, including a programme for the reintegration
of former child soldiers. Projects have opened and closed depending on
the ebb and flow of conflicts in the region, and the consequent
displacement and needs created. There is one long-running exception: in
Rwanda, in two camps in Byumba and Kibuye, JRS serves Congolese refugees
of Rwandan origin who fled Masisi and Rutshuru in 1996. There, JRS has
offered education and support for vulnerable refugees since 1997.
In Burundi, JRS is gradually closing down its remaining projects as
the country recovers from a lengthy and devastating civil war. At the
height of the war, JRS had many projects serving IDPs in the capital and
elsewhere, which were scaled down or handed over as peace returned.
Support for returnees – nearly half a million have returned from 2002
onwards – has been provided, especially to enhance food security; these
projects are gradually being phased out too.
The JRS teams often work amid great insecurity. A tragedy that
underscores the volatility of the region was the killing of JRS worker
Antonio Barggigia in Burundi on 3 October 2000. A Brother of the Friends
of the Poor from Italy, he was shot dead in the street in an armed
Great Lakes Africa
+257 78991302; +243 (0)821778696; +250 782000940
JRS Great Lakes Africa is one of 10 geographic regions of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization sponsored by the Society of Jesus. The regional office coordinates the delivery of education, housing, psychosocial and recreational services, as well emergency assistance and support to become self-sufficient, to vulnerable refugee and other displaced populations in Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2009, nearly 60,000 forcibly displaced persons were assisted by JRS in the region.
Africa: African IDP Convention comes into force
Rome, 20 December 2012 – With the coming into force of the latest international treaty on 6 December last, African states are in a leading position when it comes to the establishment of a framework for protecting and helping internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is the first legally binding instrument to offer protection to the millions of Africans, who although forced to flee their homes, never cross an international border.
On Assignment in Burundi
JRS projects in the forgotten backcountry of Burundi aim at responding to the all-important larger issue of ensuring lasting food security for returning refugees. Fr Tony Calleja SJ, the JRS Great Lakes Director, has had long experience with Burundian refugees, having spent years working with them in Tanzanian camps. He poignantly described the plight of these returnees: “When they come back, it is a joyful occasion. But they come back with nothing. They have nothing.”
Burundi: repatriations below UN target
On 27 January 2006, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, announced that last year less than half the number of refugees expected to return to Burundi in 2005 did so, mainly due to political developments in the country.
Tanzania: refugees returning to Burundi
According to IRIN, the UN news agency, the number of Burundi refugees returning home from camps in western Tanzania has almost tripled since July, an official of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Tanzania said on 12 September.
Tanzania: repatriation underway
'The security is restored, and I am going back very soon I am going to a place I do not know, and that is a big challenge for me', says Miriam, a brave 18-year-old lady. Like many others, she has weighed the risks of repatriation and decided to return to Burundi.
Papua New Guinea
Democratic Republic of Congo
Katanga Province, DRC
United States of America
Central African Republic