Dispatches is a fortnightly e-mail bulletin of the JRS International Office. It features refugee news briefings and project updates from our people in the field.


  Ethiopia: ban on distance education reversed

 
With the government u-turn, JRS hopes to be able to offer all capable refugees an opportunity to attend third level education, Addis Abba, Ethiopia (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)

 
Just as the ban was unexpectedly announced, JRS was set to offer 30 scholarships to Eritrean refugees.  

Mai-Aini, 21 October 2010 – The education ministry has appealed a decree prohibiting the provision of distance education programmes.

Although full details of the decision are not yet available, JRS is hopeful it will able to implement its new distance education programme for young Eritrean refugees in Mai-Aini camp.

The decree, issued on 23 August, followed recommendations by the Ethiopian Education and Training Quality Assurance Agency in an effort to protect national education standards. However, following public condemnation by private education providers, and a series of meetings between the authorities and the affected parties, the decision has been reversed.

The initial decree came as a shock to JRS staff as they worked to ensure that refugees in the northern border camp were offered an opportunity to participate in distance learning courses in Mekelle University, a leading public institute for higher learning

More than 370 refugees registered with JRS to receive a scholarship to undertake courses in Mekelle University. After a rigorous applications process, 98 qualified to take the English as a second language examination. Just as the ban was unexpectedly announced, JRS was set to offer 30 scholarships to Eritrean refugees.

According to JRS staff, the refugees are now hopeful they will be allowed to participate in the course.

Optimism prevails

“Since I signed up for the JRS college scholarship, I have dreamed about reading assigned materials, writing good reports, discussing academic issues with friends”, said Girma, one of the camp’s youth leaders.

In addition to the earlier ban on distance learning courses, the decree prohibits private education institutions from offering programmes related to law and teacher education, and restricts the provision of health science programmes. It is unclear how these courses will be affected by the latest government announcement.

Mai-Aini refugee camp opened in 2008 and currently hosts a population of 11,000 Eritreans who fled an authoritarian regime characterised by political repression, economic stagnation and forced military conscription. JRS began working in Mai-Aini in June 2010 and is currently offering courses in counselling, sports, music, theatre arts and dance to 170 refugees.


Democratic Republic of Congo: women call for action on violence

 
Displaced communities desperately need development assistance and the establishment of the rule of law, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)

 
Sr Caffi paid tribute to the bravery of Congolese women  

Rome, 28 October 2010 – Congolese women are tired of conferences on violence, they want action to get to the root causes of these acts, according to Sr Teresina Caffi, of the Missionaries of Mary, operating in Bukavu, the capital of eastern South Kivu province.

On 17 October, thousands of women marched through the streets of Bukuvu to protest against ongoing rapes by armed groups in the region.

According to Sr Caffi, women have been a major target in the war that has dragged on for 14 years in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It is not just the individual soldier who falls prey to the most brutal instincts and rapes a young woman, she continued, but rather a systematic use of sexual violence to crush the people psychologically.

When women are raped in front of children and family members, the missionary continued, these are deliberate acts to destroy the humanity of a people.

Sr Caffi explained how years of conflict has led to a trivialisation of sexual violence. Children, she said, who witnessed their mother raped 20 years ago are now adults and nobody knows how this violence has affected their emotional balance.

Sr Caffi paid tribute to the bravery of Congolese women who have been able to cope with these horrors with courage and dignity. Many women, after being subject to such violence, are doing everything possible to recover a normal life and take care of their children.

Rebuilding through education

School should be a place that constitutes a protective environment for student learning, especially during periods of war. Instead students face forced recruitment, rape and other abuses.

Access to education has become a luxury only for the wealthy. Thus, in the province of Nord Kivu, only 43 percent of children have access to school, the remaining 57 percent are excluded. The lack of latrines, water points and sanitation systems in general, are other causes that limit access to education, particularly for girls. Moreover, the overall quality of education in DRC is very poor.

In response, JRS provides humanitarian assistance, particularly in the area of education and training, to thousands of refugees and displaced persons in DRC. Civilians continue to suffer the consequences of the fighting, especially in the northeast and east of the country.

In 2008, JRS began a comprehensive education and protection programme education in North Kivu, offering training to young persons, primary and secondary education, and services to extremely vulnerable persons, including psychosocial support. In 2009, JRS continued to provide assistance to more than 32,000 internally displaced persons.

Australia: JRS welcomes government move on detention

 
One of the many detention centres in Australia, (JRS Australia)

 
Any effort to remove children and vulnerable families from detention was long overdue.  

Sydney, 18 October 2010 – JRS Australia has welcomed the announcement by the government that it intends to move children and vulnerable families from detention into community-based accommodation.

According to JRS, community and charitable organisations with expertise in this area would be well-placed to cooperate with government in caring for this group of people.

"Our position it that this is a very good initiative, a good response to what we and other asylum-seeker and refugee agencies have been advocating for a while now: we cannot keep people in detention for indefinite periods of time, especially those who are most vulnerable, unaccompanied minors and families with children", said JRS Australia Director, Sacha Bermudez-Goldman SJ.

"This initiative is more in line with the New Directions in Detention policy which the government first mooted in July 2008, and which signalled that keeping people in detention centres would be only used as a last resort and for limited periods of time. It is also a good opportunity for community and church-based organisations to get involved and make their resources available to this vulnerable group", added Fr Bermudez-Goldman SJ

Prioritising the most vulnerable

In its statement, the government announced it would begin moving 'significant numbers' of children and vulnerable families out of detention and into community-based accommodation.

"Although it is difficult to determine the degree of vulnerability when most of those being considered are children, it is clear that unaccompanied minors, alone and without the support of their parents, constitute a highly vulnerable group", continued Fr Bermudez-Goldman.

This change will provide opportunities for unaccompanied minors, who are not currently doing so, to attend school, offering them skills, technical or otherwise, that they will later be able to use in the community if they are granted protection in Australia, or back in their countries of origin if they have to return home.

The Provincial of the Australian Jesuits, Fr Steve Curtin SJ, said any effort to remove children and vulnerable families from detention was long overdue.

"There is substantial evidence that prolonged detention is harmful to the health of people, and the Jesuits are delighted that the government has decided to make this change", he said.


Nepal: one third of Bhutanese refugees resettled

 
Preparing communities for durable solutions, Shanyarima camp, eastern Nepal, (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)

 
It is more than 20 years since more than 105,000 ethnic Lhotsampa Bhutanese refugees fled Bhutan  

Rome, 19 October 2010 – More than 36,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in third countries, according to statistics recently produced by the Nepali government. This is a significant increase on the numbers resettled in the last 20 months. Since January 2009, 28,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled.

Of those resettled, the overwhelming majority, 31,133, have gone to the US, with Australia and Canada accepting some 2,000 each. The remainder have gone to Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and the UK. Another 11, 732 refugees accepted by resettlement countries are awaiting departure.

The current population in the camps as of 30 September is 75,671, down from an initial number of 111,000. The Bhutanese refugee population is expected to drop to 71,000 by next January, 55,000 by the end of the year and 39,000 by January 2013. Based on these projects, JRS expects the resettlement programme to continue into 2014.

The refugees have been divided into two categories – favouring resettlement and willing to be repatriated. According to statistics on resettlement figures up until 30 September 2010, less than 20 percent of the initial Bhutanese refugee population in camps in eastern Nepal have not expressed an interest in moving to a third country. Most of this group continues to hope that some day they will be allowed return home.

Years of waiting

It is expected that the forthcoming mission from Australia in November, Canada and Netherlands in October and the US in November will determine the departure dates for those accepted by the four countries.

It is more than 20 years since more than 105,000 ethnic Lhotsampa Bhutanese refugees fled Bhutan into Nepal through a narrow strip of India which separates the two countries. Indian Security Forces escorted the refugees to Nepal. The remaining refugees live in seven UNHCR managed camps in two districts in eastern Nepal. A much smaller number eke out a livelihood in India.

Over the years, Nepal and Bhutan have engaged in successive rounds of bilateral negotiations to resolve the issue. The results of the process, made public in June 2003, only offered four percent the right to unconditional return, while a further 71 percent was offered the possibility of return subject to the fulfilment of stringent conditions, such as passing language tests, living in special housing etc. Following subsequent unrest in some camps, the Bhutanese government, citing security concerns, suspended the process.


Sri Lanka: NGOs refuse to participate in reconciliation commission

 
Justice is an essential element of sustainable peace and reconciliation, Mannar, northwestern Sri Lanka, (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)

 
The lack of any provision for the protection of witnesses is extremely worrying  

Rome, 20 October 2010 – A group of international NGOs – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group – have refused a government invitation to appear before Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), describing it as lacking credibility.

The organisations, in a public letter to the commission, have stated they would welcome the opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, indicating that the LLRC falls far short of such an effort.

According to the human rights organisations, the LLRC not only fails to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries, but is proceeding against a backdrop of government failure to address impunity and continuing human rights abuses. Despite a litany of reports highlighting violations in the country, Sri Lanka has made no progress since the end of the war in addressing the concerns detailed in these reports.

In addition to such failures, the NGOs described the LLRC as deeply flawed in structure and practice. Despite its mandate to investigate all credible allegations of human rights violations by both rebel and government forces, particularly during the latter stages of the conflict, the LLRC has not shown any genuine interest in investigating allegations against the armed forces.

Lack of independence and protection

A fundamental requirement for any commission of this type is that its members are independent. The membership of the LLRC, as the letter states, is far from that, having recruited senior government representatives who have publicly defended the conduct of the military against allegations of war crimes.

In addition, the lack of any provision for the protection of witnesses is extremely worrying, particularly in a scenario where government officials label as "traitors" persons making allegations against government forces.

Moreover, even though the war is over, the country is still operating under a state of emergency, with laws that criminalise political speech and where there is no meaningful investigation of attacks on government critics.

This clearly undermines the Commission's ability to conduct credible investigations of alleged violations of international or national law. Until effective protection of witnesses can be guaranteed, no organisation or individual can responsibly disclose confidential information to the Commission.

For a full copy of the letter see http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2010/asia/sri-lanka-crisis-group-refuses-to-appear-before-flawed-commission.aspx


Haiti: cholera, elections and the new earthquake hazard

 
The terrible conditions in which too many displaced persons live increases the likelihood of epidemics, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Sergi Camara/JRS)

 

Port-au-Prince, 26 October 2010 – A month before the presidential and legislative elections in Haiti, scheduled for 28 November, the cholera epidemic in the country is the focus of national and international media attention.

The disease has cost the lives of approximately 380 people and led to the hospitalisation of a further 3,600, according to the health authorities which stated that the situation has stabilised since 25 October.

However, according to Nigel Fisher, the UN Deputy Special Representative for Haiti, the situation is critical and it would be irresponsible not to prepare for further and more serious epidemic outbreaks. Fearing an even greater increase of the epidemic, many analysts question whether the election campaign should be stopped to avoid risks of further contamination.

The latest humanitarian outbreak comes after a year of disasters: the 12-January earthquake, 24-September hurricane and now the cholera epidemic. In addition, a group of experts from Purdue University in India have suggested that the January earthquake was due to a fault-line in Leogane city in western Haiti, and not as previously thought in neighbouring Dominican Republic.

Need to address the causes of vulnerability in Haiti

According to JRS Latin America Communications Officer, Edson Louidor, there is an urgent need to address these risks to prevent or at least reduce the impact of disasters due to natural phenomena.

"The consequences of these disasters are not natural. The vulnerability of the population is primarily caused by a set of socio-economic, political and even cultural factors that affect persons' or groups' capacities to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of an extreme natural event", added Mr Louidor.

"What are the causes of vulnerability in Haiti?" This question should be at the centre of the reconstruction process and the electoral debate.

Disasters affecting the country because of vulnerability could and should be an opportunity to lay the foundations of a new democratic and inclusive Haiti. Unfortunately, attention has focused on humanitarian emergency and immediate action in response to each disaster, without considering preventive measures.

Only a month before the election, candidates have failed to provide concrete proposals to meet the country's problems, including disaster prevention, land reform, decentralisation, social policies (education, housing and health), unemployment and deforestation.

Silence prevails when hard questions are raised regarding responsibility for setting national priorities, meeting the needs of affected and displaced populations and ensuring Haitians are protected against looming seismic and other threats.


Belgium: NGOs call to keep asylum seekers from unsafe states

 
Migrants live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at Pagani detention centre in Lesvos, Greece (MSF)

 
National and European courts have prevented them from returning asylum seekers to Greece.  

Brussels, 21 October 2010 – The Belgian Foreign Minister, Melchior Wathelet, has decided to no longer transfer asylum seekers to Greece, a country which does not respect the rights of refugees. Belgium will process their asylum applications instead.

Amnesty International, CIRE, the Belgian Committee for Support to Refugees, JRS Belgium and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen have all welcomed this decision.

Above all, JRS and the other NGOs have demanded a review of the Dublin Regulation which authorises the return of refugees to states which do not sufficiently guarantee their protection. This decision demonstrates the need to reassess this regulation.

According to the Dublin Regulation, the EU state where the asylum seeker first enters is responsible for the examination of their asylum application. This has put serious pressure on EU border states.

This regulation should be replaced by a just system, both for asylum seekers and for states. The introduction of a temporary suspension mechanism would be a first step in the right direction. It should be applied in cases where a state is faced with a significant influx of asylum seekers or where the refugee determination procedure does not respect European and international norms.

The return of asylum seekers to such states could then be temporarily suspended while the EU calls on them to respect their obligations and take concrete steps to rectify the failures. At the moment only a few states have suspended transfers to Greece. A suspension mechanism would oblige all EU states to adopt the same measures.

Courts protect asylum seekers

The decision of Melchior Wathelet has been long expected. Greece is one of the principal entry points into the EU and is considered the asylum seekers' worst nightmare. They are forced to live on the streets or are locked up in cramped and unsanitary detention centres. The asylum procedure is a failure.

An Iraqi has almost no chance of being granted protection in Greece, whereas in the Netherlands, for instance, 77 percent of Iraqis are recognised as refugees. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) recently described the situation in Greece as a veritable humanitarian disaster.

Over the past few years, JRS has urged EU states to stop the return of asylum seekers to Greece. Since then, Iraqi and Afghani refugees live in constant risk of being returned to their countries of origin.

Norway, the UK and the Netherlands have recently made the same decision as Belgium. These states, however, have not acted on their own initiative. National and European courts have prevented them from returning asylum seekers to Greece.

Belgium is currently at risk of being condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in an emblematic case: in 2009, Belgium returned an Afghan asylum seeker to Greece. Today he is living on the streets without the right to access a fair asylum procedure.

The proposed revision of the Dublin Regulation is currently on the table at European discussions. The European Commission has submitted a good proposal for recasting the Dublin Regulation. It is up to the Belgian Presidency to use its full political weight in the negotiations to ensure this revision pushes reform in the right direction.


USA: JRS welcomes new director

 
Fr Michael Evans SJ becomes the sixth JRS USA Director, Washington DC, (Christian Fuchs/JRS)

 
They [refugees] have dared to hope for a better future, and it is in our power to offer them a new life and new hope.  

Washington DC, 18 October 2010 – Fr Michael Evans SJ has become the sixth JRS USA Director, succeeding Fr Kenneth Gavin SJ who next year will become International Assistant Director, based in Rome.

Fr Evans served from 1990 through 1996 as the JRS Eastern Africa Regional Director and from 2000 through 2010 as Development Director and Treasurer of the Jesuit province of Eastern Africa. Fr Evans' broad experience and knowledge of JRS will serve him well and will ensure a smooth transition as he helps lead JRS USA into a future of continued accompaniment, service and defence of refugees in need.

Fr Evans still recalls the letter Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, wrote to Jesuits in 1980, asking "every Jesuit worldwide to consider how his personal life, his actions, his institutional apostolate, etc. could begin to address the world-wide refugee crisis."

Former US director to move to JRS International

In 2003, Fr Kenneth Gavin SJ joined JRS USA. He had served as Jesuit Provincial in the New York area from 1996 to 2002.

As vice-chair of the Refugee Council USA in 2006, Fr Gavin gave compelling testimony to the US Senate's Judiciary Subcommittee on the importance of the country's refugee programme saying, "they [refugees] have dared to hope for a better future, and it is in our power to offer them a new life and new hope."

Fr Gavin continued the JRS focus of accompaniment through pastoral service to non-citizens in detention, and expanded that mission to the care of deported migrants through JRS USA's unique partnership in the Kino Border Initiative.

Fr Gavin has worked to increase the impact of JRS USA by advancing advocacy outreach on multiple international issues. This includes raising awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, increasing US State Department assistance to Colombian refugees, flagging protection concerns affecting the Tamil people throughout Sri Lanka, and focusing on the plight of urban refugees throughout the world.

"In addition to all the treasures of supportive friends and co-workers, at this moment my mind focuses on all the refugees and forcibly displaced people whom I have met and accompanied during the past seven years. Like many before me in JRS, my life has been transformed by them," said Fr Gavin.


International: JRS commemorates 30 years, putting refugees first

 
Thanks to the intuition of Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, former superior general of the Jesuits, JRS has be able to assist millions of refugees over the last 30 years, (JRS)

 
Worldwide, JRS provides primary, secondary, third level and vocational education services to nearly 280,000 children, young people and adults.  

Rome, 29 October 2010 – On 14 November 1980 – in a world dominated by ideology and repression – Jesuits moved to meet the humanitarian and education needs of the Vietnamese boat people, and JRS was born. Today, the number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide has increased from 16 to 45 million.

To commemorate 30 years of service to refugees, three Jesuit organisations – JRS, Centro Astalli and Magis – are organising a number of events next month. On 9 November, former JRS International Director, Mark Raper SJ, will give a talk: The world mobilised, The Jesuit Response to Refugees, in the Pontifical Gregorian University.

On 13 and 14 November, two masses followed by concerts featuring Sonidos de la Tierra, will be held in Jesuit churches, the Gesú and San Saba respectively.

The orchestra, comprising a group of 40 young musicians from marginalised communities, some of whom are displaced, will play modern and traditional music from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. The theme, overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers, is a testimony to the dream of a world at peace without borders.

Maintaining the depth of the JRS mission

Thirty years since the initial vision of its founding father, and former superior general, Pedro Arrupe, JRS, an international humanitarian organisation with projects in 51 countries worldwide, has dramatically increased the scale and scope of its services – education, emergency assistance, healthcare and human rights protection, serving more than half a million refugees.

Although JRS provides a range of services to combat displacement, we specialise in education, offering refugees hope for the future. Worldwide, JRS provides primary, secondary, third level and vocational education services to nearly 280,000 children, young people and adults.

Over the last 30 years, JRS has remained true to its mission: going where the need is greatest and leaving only once the refugee challenge has been resolved. Working in cooperation with all people of goodwill, with a non-proselytising presence, JRS welcomes people of all traditions to share and help in its mission.


  JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Borgo Santo Spirito 4, 00193 Rome, Italy. Tel: +39-06 68977468; Fax: +39-06 6897 7461; Email: dispatches@jrs.net; JRS online: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian).

JRS Dispatches No. 289
Editor: JRS Dispatches