Dispatches is a fortnightly e-mail bulletin of the JRS International Office. It features refugee news briefings, press releases, featured articles and project updates from our people in the field.
Europe: NGOs call on EU border agency to better protect human rights of migrants
A group of new arrivals from Africa in a Malta detention centre. Malta, and other European destinations in the Mediterranean, has seen a drastic reduction in arrivals by sea over the past year or two. (Michael Edström/ UNHCR) December 2009
We expect the work of the forum to be based on practice. We're not just looking to agree on general principles on paper, but rather on concrete standards and mechanisms to guarantee the rights of migrants.
Brussels, 17 October 2012 – The EU border agency, Frontex, has finally put the human rights of migrants square on the agenda with the first meeting of the newly established Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights, held yesterday in Warsaw. The forum, made up of civil society organisations and EU institutions, selected JRS Europe to serve as co-chair with Frontex.
"We can't stress enough the importance of this forum. A considerable number of people have died at the external borders of the European Union. Frontex, as an EU agency, is bound to do all in its power to ensure the rights of migrants entering the EU are respected", said Stefan Kessler, the JRS Europe representative to the forum.
"This certainly has not been happening. We have seen a distinct lack of monitoring mechanisms to identify persons in need of protection, a failure to consider the human rights situation in transit countries to where intercepted migrants may be returned, and an absence of mechanisms to enable migrants to make a formal complaint against Frontex", added Mr Kessler.
In the recent past Frontex has come under pressure from NGOs, including JRS Europe, to ensure their operations are open to public scrutiny and guarantee the protection of migrant rights. These calls were intensified during 2011, when nearly 2,000 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
A case in point was the tragic death of 54 migrants on the journey from Libya to Italy in July this year. Their boat had reached Italian shores but was forced back on the open seas. The sole survivor, an Eritrean, told UN refugee agency officials that everyone on board had perished from dehydration during the 15-day ordeal. More than half of those who died were from Eritrea, a country known for serious human rights violations.
"Our intention is to enable this forum to become an effective and sustainable instrument for improving the human rights situation at the EU external borders, and in the context of Frontex-coordinated forced return operations. If the NGO inputs to the Consultative Forum are taken seriously, it has the capacity to lessen the likelihood of further tragedies", added Mr Kessler.
The Consultative Forum will work together with the newly appointed Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer, responsible for monitoring how migrant rights are safeguarded during border operations.
"We expect the work of the forum to be based on practice. We're not just looking to agree on general principles on paper, but rather on concrete standards and mechanisms to guarantee the rights of migrants", Mr Kessler concluded.
The Jesuit Refugee Service works in more than 50 countries around the world. The organisation employs over 1,200 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of approximately 700,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Its services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.
JRS has offices in 14 European countries, including an EU affairs office (JRS Europe) based in Brussels. In Italy, JRS staff and volunteers serve hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees each week at their soup kitchen. In Malta, JRS meets with refugees and migrants in detention, provides legal and social support and provides care to people who arrive by boat.
JRS Europe is actively monitoring draft EU legislation on the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR). A key concern for JRS, among others, is that the legislation does not propose a specific search and rescue procedure, which is necessary to prevent further migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.
The JRS Europe representative to the forum, Mr Stefan Kessler, is available for interview.
Democratic Republic of Congo: project expands to meet the needs of the most inaccessible displaced populations
A look into the IDP camp of Muhanga, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (Danilo Giannese/JRS)
Mokoto and Muhanga camps are particularly difficult to reach and IDPs living there have more need than ever for protection; this is why we have decided to establish activities in places like this.
Mweso, 16 October 2012 – With the recent expansion of activities to the Muhunga and Mokoto camps, the Jesuit Refugee Service is fulfilling its target of reaching out to internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in the most remote and inaccessible areas of war-torn eastern Congo.
The two camps host more than 7,000 IDPs, most of whom fled the pervasive climate of violence surrounding their home villages. Situated on the hills surrounding Kitchanga, the camps are extremely inaccessible due to the precarious state of the roads, particularly in the rainy season.
This constant insecurity has not only constrained JRS teams from establishing new projects in this area, it has frequently forced them to suspend or limit field activities in the past. But unless humanitarian organisations establish projects here, these IDPs will not receive any other support from outside.
"We work in areas where people are forced to flee their homes every day because of war. The needs of displaced communities are great and as JRS we seek to expand our range of activities and reach as many people and areas as possible. Mokoto and Muhanga camps are particularly difficult to reach and IDPs living there have more need than ever for protection; this is why we have decided to establish activities in places like this", said JRS Programme Director in nearby Mweso, Sr Paola Paoli.
Project activities. In an effort to integrate displaced populations into the surrounding community and foster peaceful coexistence, JRS staff works alongside those living in host and neighbouring villages.
As part of the JRS informal educational support, teams have built a training centre in Muhanga and renovated an old convent, donated by Cistercian monks, in Mokototo, where courses in literacy and handcrafts offer men and women the skills to making a living.
In conversations with local and displaced communities in Muhanga, JRS learned there is only one secondary school in the area, forcing students, half of whom are from displaced communities, to attend classes in a local chapel due to the lack of alternatives. Concerns were also expressed about the quality of teacher training and the availability of educational materials. JRS teams have already begun distributing school materials and organising teacher training workshops, as well as making a commitment to building a new secondary school.
In addition, food and other individualised assistance has been made available to IDPs and local community members living in extremely vulnerable circumstances in both Mokoto and Muhanga – including older people, people with disabilities or illnesses, orphans and widows.
IDP testimony. "I have lived in Mokoto camp for the last three years. There is nothing I'd rather do than return home to cultivate my crops so I can feed my family without difficulty. We have nothing here. To make enough to survive we have to work ten hours a day in the fields of local farmers for just 1,000 francs (one US dollar)", said Galilé Karobamura before calling on the Congolese government for assistance.
"I would like the Congolese government to do something to remove armed groups from our land. Only this way will we be finally able to return home".
JRS in Mweso. The activities in the Muhanga and Mokoto IDP camps – formal and informal education, and assistance to those in extremely vulnerable circumstances – form the basis of the JRS approach to reach those populations on the outskirts of Mweso (North Kivu) throughout the past year. Similar services are offered to local communities and IDPs residing in nearby Mweso, Kashuga I, Kashuga II, Kalembe Kalonge and Kalembe Remblais camps, as well as in the surrounding villages.
Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, JRS Great Lakes
South Sudan: spreading the message of peace on-air
The Kajo Keji Peace Radio Show co-hosts in the studio during a live programme in South Sudan. The radio is hosted by the Jesuit Refugee Service. (Sergi Camara/JRS)
The show was a natural and much needed extension to project activities. By putting peace messages on the radio, the entire community could benefit.
Kajo Keji, 18 October 2012 – The community of Kajo Keji will bid farewell this month to the regular Jesuit Refugee Service talk shows. The radio show sought to raise awareness of conflict resolution and peace building over the course of the past four years.
At the end of the month, as JRS closes its projects in the area, responsibility of programming will be handed over to ministry of religious affairs. As most peace activities, including these talk shows, have taken place in close cooperation with the authorities, this partnership will help ensure a positive transition for the future.
Ever since the first community radio station, Voice of Kajo Keji FM, was opened in 2008, the JRS show has been aired twice a month for two hours. Co-hosted by JRS Peace Building and Advocacy Coordinator, Yusto Lasuba, and the County Inspector for Religious Affairs, Gonda Taban Emmanuel, the programme introduced sensitive issues regarding conflict and peace building.
During the last half hour of the show, community members are offered an opportunity to ring in to share their experiences, opinions and comments. According to Mr Lasuba, this is the most popular part of the show. Approximately 10 listeners are put on the air every month. This segment of the show demonstrates where guidance is needed and messages need to be clarified. It makes for a real community-wide conversation.
"The show was a natural and much needed extension to project activities. By putting peace messages on the radio, the entire community could benefit", said JRS South Sudan Assistant Project Director in Kajo Keji, Jamie Dillon.
In Kajo Keji County, peace-building activities are particularly important to the community which comprises former refugees, internally displaced persons and others who have experienced the trauma of war. Conflicts caused by the actions of the Ugandan rebel group, the LRA, and the struggle for independence from Sudan have left deep scars – physical and psychological – on the community.
A tool for peace building. The shows provide an important outlet for community members to construct a foundation for sustainable development in the county.
"Without peace, no other programme can be implemented", as Mr Lasuba put it.
In a region with limited mobile phone coverage and no locally-printed newspapers, the radio provides an essential means to reach out and raise awareness in the community.
The shows are presented in the local dialect, Bari, so that to maximise their impact in the community. This ensures the broadcast "speaks to every last person in the village, provided they have the opportunity to listen", said Mr Taban.
In addition to issues of peace building, the shows also promote civic education. For instance, one of the shows in 2011 discussed important historical events in South Sudan. For many listeners living in exile, this was their first comprehensive history lesson – tailored for local ears.
During the national census and referendum, before the birth of South Sudan, JRS raised community awareness on these important events and encouraged grassroots participation. The high rate of involvement of Kajo Keji County, especially in the referendum, is partly attributed to these efforts.
Recent shows have also focused on human rights and inter-ethnic relations. Representatives from community, peace facilitators and local leaders have been invited to share their views. Having these guests live on-air means "that these people truly own the message", Mr Taban explained.
Since the shows began, "local mobilisation and participation have increased", added Mr Lasuba.
Community members have been much more willing to attend meetings and perform leadership roles. There has also been a strong reduction in mob justice, as people become more educated on the concepts of peace building and conflict management.
At the end of 2012, JRS will close the project in Kajo Keji after 11 successful years. The activities will be transferred to the local council to manage. It is hoped that the JRS legacy of educational and peace-building support will ensure Kajo Keji residents continue to develop and foster long-term peace. More than 12,000 people directly benefited from JRS activities in Kajo Keji in 2011.
Latin America: adversity on the Colombia-Venezuela border
According to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, the actual number of people who have been internally displaced by the Colombian conflict since the mid-1980s surpasses five million. In addition, more than 600,000 people have crossed the border into neighbouring countries as refugees. (JRS Venezuela)
This comprehensive support goes all the way from an initial interview, to granting a provisional document, locating and providing housing with the help of the International Organisation for Migration, and providing access to education, health, micro-credit, legal counselling, and follow up each case.
Bogota, 12 October 2012 – Last month the Jesuit Refugee Service Latin America and Caribbean office began the project, Prevention of violence and restoration of rights of displaced persons and refugees on the Colombian-Venezuelan border; the project is supported by the Alboan Foundation and the Basque government of Spain.
This project aims to continue the work undertaken previously by JRS in Barrancabermeja, San Pablo and Cucuta, in Colombia, and Ureña and El Nula, in Venezuela. In these areas, JRS provides comprehensive accompaniment and support, from a bi-national perspective, to thousands of displaced or refugee women, men, boys, girls and adolescents.
According to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), the actual number of people who have been internally displaced by the Colombian conflict since the mid-1980s surpasses five million. In addition, more than 600,000 people have crossed the border into neighbouring countries as refugees.
According to figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 54,965 refugees, mostly from Colombia, live in Ecuador. In Panama, there are 15,000 people in need of international protection. In Brazil, the number has grown by 300 percent in the last two years, and in Venezuela, there are more than 200,000 people in need of international protection.
In Venezuela, one of the protection gaps is the denial of refugee status or difficulty accessing the determination process. In Colombia, displacement continues and people are not able to access durable solutions that would allow them to live in dignity. This project aims to strengthen the capacity of these people to advocate for and exercise their human rights before the relevant authorities, supported by strong grassroots organisations.
Another problem present in the region is the risk of children and young people becoming involved in different manifestations of the armed conflict, which often results in them dropping out of school and in the loss of family structure. Having identified this problem, the project will also be implemented through community education.
In addition, there will be regional research and advocacy activities that, combined with awareness-raising, communication and education activities, will raise awareness of the daily hardship facing victims of conflict, facilitate their integration into host communities, and prevent violence.
A look back. The first phase of the project took place from 2010 until 2011. During this time, refugees and displaced persons learned about their rights, as well as ways in which they could demand their enforcement.
In total 2,574 refugees and displaced persons were identified, treated and supported in five towns. 1,856 people (62 percent women) received emergency humanitarian assistance, legal counselling and psychosocial care. More than 1,235 people (52 percent women), including both community leaders and RDP, participated in 95 capacity-building workshops and coordination meetings to strengthen protection mechanisms, promote their rights and support the local integration processes.
"Our support to families was integrated and comprehensive in order to ensure sustainability in Venezuela. This comprehensive support goes all the way from an initial interview, to granting a provisional document, locating and providing housing with the help of the International Organisation for Migration, and providing access to education, health, micro-credit, legal counselling, and follow up each case", said Ingrid Bournat, a psychologist in charge of the JRS team in Tachira, Venezuela.
JRS provided information to public entities regarding the status of refugees and other displaced persons to focus their assistance, helping to ensure it is based on identified priorities. JRS also provided training and technical assistance for public servants on the design and implementation of policies, plans and programmes for victims of forced migration.
The results of this first intervention allow JRS to track protection gaps and the available capacity to act in humanitarian situations on the border. Additionally, JRS conducted 75 actions to inform public opinion about the various issues affecting refugees and displaced people.
At all times, the refugee population was the driver of the development of all activities. Their willingness, support (many offered their homes to provide services and workshops), and guidance on new or unforeseen situations, catalysed the formulation of new proposals or changes in existing interventions.
The objective is to empower refugees to defend their rights and ultimately improve their own standard of living.
Jordan: when education is more than just learning
Grace, a JRS volunteer, enjoys the limelight with her younger students and their mother at a social gathering at the school which offers more than a chance to learn, but also a safe-haven where community spirit can be cultivated.
It is an opportunity to mix with children of different nationalities who have had similar experiences to them and to engage in positive activities as a community.
Amman, 15 October 2012 – For eight months former Jesuit Refugee Service volunteer, Grace Benton, worked in a team of volunteers trying to offer refugees and their children the support they need to build a future. The courses went from strength to strength; but as she learned, the results were about more than learning curricular subjects, they were about building community and making refugees safer.
It all began when she gave a nonchalant response to an unexpected question.
Grace's experience. "Hey, we need someone to teach the kid's class. Can one of you do it?" Without thinking, I nodded.
Not having any inkling of what to expect, I slung my bag over my shoulder and shuffled over to where a cluster of Sudanese and Somali children, aged 5 – 15, were huddled, chatting nervously amongst themselves. When I put my bag down in front of the class, ten pairs of eyes turned apprehensively toward me and the chatter stopped. Little did I know that this would prove to be one of the most challenging, and rewarding, experiences during my year in Jordan.
From small beginnings. My road to the children's class began while living in Jordan as a Fulbright Scholar and volunteering with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) as part of my extracurricular activities. JRS began assisting a Sudanese refugee community living in Amman. The community leaders immediately expressed a desire to learn English. JRS organised a group of volunteers to teach English a few nights a week in the house of some of the refugees. Soon another house requested lessons, and then another.
Demand became so great that it was decided to shift from classes in refugee homes to a centralised location where all the students could attend the night classes at the same time. The demographic of the informal education project also expanded to include Somalis, Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis. Although JRS manages an informal education project during the day, many Sudanese and Somalis work as manual labourers and are only able to attend at night.
With the commencement of the classes at the Jesuit centre in Jabal Hussein, a lot more women began to attend classes. They brought their children with them, and so began the children's class.
Challenges of teaching. Many of the challenges of teaching at Jabal Hussein – maintaining discipline and enthusiasm, although no different than teaching children elsewhere in the world – eluded me for some time. What little experience I had was limited to relatively well-behaved high school students and adults; teaching children proved more complex.
Fortunately my father, a veteran middle school teacher, imparted his wisdom one day over Skype:
"You've got to trick them into learning, put together activities disguised as games that will secretly leak some knowledge into their brains."
My co-teachers and I took his advice to heart. By incorporating music, dance and art into our lessons we were able to expend energy and teach English at the same time.
Other challenges were more contextual. During my second week of teaching, a fight broke out between a Somali boy and a Sudanese boy, each around 12 years old. After pulling them apart, I discovered that some racial comments had been made to prompt the brawl.
From a focus group with some Sudanese mothers, I later learned that racist remarks from the host population and other nationalities are a daily reality for some refugees. In a city awash with refugee populations, they are viewed as intruders trying to take work from Jordanians.
As time went on, the children began to open up about these issues. Many of them suffer from daily instances of name-calling, ostracising, and other forms of discrimination. Almost all of them live in poor and rough neighbourhoods, and others face abuse at home.
And yet, despite these exhausting and demoralising challenges, many of the children attend classes regularly. Some come with their parents or older siblings, but a significant number come alone, indicating a remarkable level of motivation for such young children.
Education is a stabilising factor. The JRS English teaching programme provides a crucial opportunity to students to supplement their limited English education, while also offering a safe-haven from the painful teasing that permeates their daily school experience.
It is an opportunity to mix with children of different nationalities who have had similar experiences to them and to engage in positive activities as a community. Programmes like these are all-too-often underestimated and underfunded, yet their capacity to rebuild communities and instil newfound hope is huge.
Grace Benton, former JRS volunteer, October 2011 until June 2012
The night class programme has since been relocated to the Greek Catholic School in Ashrafiyeh, with classes twice a week. Enrolment is currently at 200 students. Classes on offer are kindergarten, children's classes, literacy and varying levels of English proficiency for the older teenagers and adults. The programme is staffed entirely by volunteers like Grace.
Ethiopia: Dollo Ado, one year on
Refugees receive support at Melkadida refugee camp on the border of Ethiopia and Somalia in 2011, Dollo Ado, Ethiopia (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
Young refugees, with little to occupy their days, became highly involved in the football and volleyball leagues. JRS activities and regular football games quickly became part of their daily routine, and our team felt a real sense of accompaniment.
Dollo Ado, 11 October 2012 – The deeper we travelled towards the southeastern Ethiopian-Somali border, the hotter it became. Our tents became excruciatingly hot during the day; and when it rained, they flooded. This was the challenging reality of a Jesuit Refugee Service team member in Melkadida camp when the Dollo Ado project first began operations in November 2011.
A year ago, Dollo Ado was on the front pages of newspapers and headlining on major TV channels. The drought, ravaging the Horn of Africa, hit Somalia particularly hard, leading to an influx of Somali refugees, mainly to Kenya and Ethiopia.
The crisis captured the attention of millions around the world and humanitarian agencies started arriving to work in the refugee camps located within the common border triangle of Somalia-Kenya-Ethiopia.
In early October 2011, I headed to Dollo Ado to assist in the process of setting up the new JRS project. After three days travelling by road from Addis Ababa, I arrived in the remote town of Dollo Ado, a few kilometres away from the Somalia border.
The long trip was an adventure with rough, dusty, hilly roads and arid weather conditions. As we got closer to the drought-affected areas, it was heart-breaking to see animal carcasses lying on road sides, abandoned by their owners as they sought refuge elsewhere.
Amazingly, soon after my arrival, the skies opened up and rained, saving the animals from the agony of death. This almost felt like the seasonal launch of our new project.
A one-year journey. The impact of the JRS youth programme was felt immediately. Young refugees, with little to occupy their days, became highly involved in the football and volleyball leagues. JRS activities and regular football games quickly became part of their daily routine, and our team felt a real sense of accompaniment.
Soon afterwards, the psychosocial programme began supporting families distressed by experiences of civil war and forced exile. Then, JRS developed adult literacy classes to boast the confidences and skills of many refugees previously denied the right to an education by years of war.
Working without permanent shelter from strong winds, extreme heat and frequent dust storms was a constant challenge.
The recently completed JRS complex – equipped with running water and satellite dish – has not only helped to relieve these challenges, they have allowed the team to operate more efficiently.
The completion of recreational facilities, a training centre and a primary school is already making a difference in the lives of refugees. The mood of the refugees has been improved as they congregate at the JRS centre, eager to make use of the new facilities.
It has been a short time, but our experiences and recorded achievements have proved valuable. As we look towards year two, we are planning for increased accompaniment, service and advocacy for the refugees of Melkadida.
Melkadida is one of five camps in Dollo Ado on the border of Somalia. Of the 41,000 refugees who reside there, JRS will have supported more than 12,500 by the end of this year.
Neway Alemayhu, JRS Ethiopia Programmes Officer
Syria: amidst upheaval, the scope of services expands
Schools are no longer used for learning; a young girl sits outside at desks that have been removed from the classrooms in order to create more space in the school for people to take refuge from the violence, Aleppo, Syria (Avo Kaprealian & Sedki Al Imam/JRS)
Our focal point at the moment is activities which support children. They suffer from displacement and disruption, but also from the terrible situation, the events they witness and the trauma in their families when they are not themselves the direct victims.
Amman, 12 October 2012 – Like many other places throughout the country, JRS staff and buildings have not been spared from the violence of the conflict. Movement is constrained, goods deliveries are delayed and buildings are destroyed and evacuated. Yet despite these setbacks, JRS and local networks of solidarity have continued to provide emergency support.
Aleppo. Last month, the JRS Deir Vartan, located in disputed territory of Midan, served as a battle ground for rebel and government forces. The field kitchen was relocated to new premises where 10,000 hot meals could be distributed daily to displaced Syrians. Consequently, Deir Vartan is partially destroyed and, for the moment, inaccessible to JRS staff.
According to the OCHA, 600 schools across Syria are being used as shelters. JRS has taken responsibility for five of the 30 in Aleppo, also providing food, non-food items and cash assistance to 4,000 people. However, as winter approaches temperatures will significantly drop and the displaced Syrians without access to shelter leaves cause for concern.
Damascus. A spate of large explosions in recent days has heightened tensions yet again amongst the local population. The academic year has restarted, but according to JRS staff in Damascus, functioning schools are overloaded and transportation costs to and from classes are prohibitive.
In an effort to alleviate this problem, JRS provides nearly 500 children educational support, cash assistance for transport costs, sports and recreational services. Opportunities for children to create handicrafts, music and art are offered to the students to encourage self-expression and emotional release from the trauma of conflict.
"Our focal point at the moment is activities which support children. They suffer from displacement and disruption, but also from the terrible situation, the events they witness and the trauma in their families when they are not themselves the direct victims", JRS Middle East and North Africa Director, Nawras Sammour SJ.
JRS is coordinating the provision of emergency assistance in the form of food items, household goods, mattresses, cooking utensils and hygiene products to 900 families in Damascus. An additional 1,000 families in the surrounding areas receive indirect support from JRS through Syrian networks of solidarity working to alleviate the crisis.
Homs. The JRS centres in Homs, Al Mukhales and Al Waer, have shifted from summer activities to remedial classes for students in order to adequately serve the needs of children returning to school. Every afternoon for two hours, 800 students receive educational support at the two centres. Fourteen children with disabilities are also participating in a programme specially designed to meet their needs.
Future plans include supporting a school in the Marmarita valley, which lies near the border with Lebanon. The population of this border region has tripled, bringing the percentage of displaced to 75 percent of the total. Consequently, authorities in the area are unable to meet the education needs of displaced children.
Support for 500 families in Homs and surrounding areas is ongoing, with many residents returning home from other places, because nowhere in Syria is free from the scourge of war.
Neighbouring countries. In Jordan, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates there are 200,000 Syrians; the area of greatest need is education. The Jordanian authorities are in need of assistance and resources to meet the needs of Syrians.
In Amman, the JRS informal education project continues to welcome Syrians, and the family-visits team still maintains contact with200 Syrian families, and provides them with cash and food assistance. The majority of Syrians in Jordan live outside Za'atari refugee camp, where they struggle to meet their daily needs.
Thanks to local coordination with Jesuits in Lebanon, JRS has begun undertaking visits to Syrian refugee families there, looking to see what individualised support can be provided. A more in-depth needs assessment is currently being carried out.
NGOs, including JRS, are still unable to gain access to the camps along the Turkey-Syria border as they are under the sole responsibility of the local Red Crescent.
How can you help? Below is a list of items that people in Syria urgently need as we head towards the harsh winter months. With your financial help, we can alleviate suffering of Syrians.
70 euro: 100 litres of heating oil for winter
80 euro: a basic family kit: one mattress, two sheets, one pillow, two winter-blankets and two towels
100 euro: a food-basket for a five-person family for one month
120 euro: winter clothing for one family (pullover, jacket, trousers, shoes)
160 euro: one month's rent of an apartment for a displaced family
4,000 euro: one day support for the families sheltered in the schools in Aleppo
4,000 euro: cost of providing food for 10,000 people for one day
8,000 euro: the installation cost of the field kitchen
Many children have not been able to attend school for nearly one year due to the conflict, JRS provides educational activities for these children to help restore normality to their lives, Aleppo, Syria (Avo Kaprealian & Sedki Al Imam/JRS)
As a result of the fighting, few places are safe in Aleppo and many people are isolated. With winter approaching, which is particularly harsh here in Aleppo, and their houses destroyed, where will the families find sufficient shelter?
Amman, 11 October 2012 – Stray bullets frequently land on the floor of the recently relocated JRS kitchen in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, but despite increased security concerns JRS teams have been able to expand its small, but concrete, assistance to those caught in the crisis.
"Our field kitchen is back up and running. We had a surprisingly smooth first day", enthused fellow JRS volunteer and Syrian national Sami in a rare online chat while speaking of the kitchen that was relocated after closing down briefly in late September.
Perhaps a blessing in disguise, the relocation meant that the operation, which originally provided 5,000 hot meals daily, could be moved to a more spacious location and increase the number of meals provided to 10,000 per day allowing for decreased stress levels during distribution hours. In addition, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the UN World Food Programme have fortunately been in a position to provide support for the kitchen allowing for increased capacity.
Shelter. During the summer, official permission was granted to use schools as temporary shelters causing an influx of thousands of IDPs who moved from public parks, where they previously sought safety, into 30 schools in Aleppo. However, these facilities can no longer house the rising numbers of vulnerable persons in need of shelter today.
"We're experiencing a sharp increase in internal displacement. Over the past ten days, the parks are filling up again", said Sami in an effort to explain the situation on the ground.
Just last week, one of the five shelters (former schools) for which JRS is currently responsible was evacuated by security forces, leading to the displacement of people who had already been forced out of their homes.
"A section of the main Aleppo ring-road is full of people just wandering around aimlessly", Sami continued.
As the war spreads throughout the city, IDPs are crowding into the few areas not under constant bombardment. In the face of ongoing electricity and water shortages, assisting all those in need is rarely possible and not sustainable in the long run.
"As a result of the fighting, few places are safe in Aleppo and many people are isolated. With winter approaching, which is particularly harsh here in Aleppo, and their houses destroyed, where will the families find sufficient shelter?" asked JRS Middle East and North Africa Director, Nawras Sammour SJ.
Destruction up close. Even JRS has not been spared from the wave of destruction. In September, the JRS Deir Vartan Centre was the scene of fighting between rebel and government forces. A few weeks earlier, JRS had fortunately relocated its services elsewhere due to security concerns. Therefore, no staff were injured in the attacks; but exactly when they will be able to re-enter Deir Vartan remains uncertain.
Once a place where Iraqi refugees and displaced Syrians came to learn and grow together, to rebuild their lives and their communities, much of Deir Vartan has now been reduced to rubble. Even though the building may have been seriously damaged, the enduring spirit of the Deir is within the people.
Whatever happens in the future, the only near certain outcome is that volunteers, like Sami, will continue to work with JRS responding as flexibly and effectively as they can. Our connection to the local Jesuits and informal support networks of Christians and Muslims on the ground help us reach families in need. Unfortunately, this assistance, though essential – is but a grain of sand upon the shore.
As the destruction continues, needs grow. Without a clear sign of any peaceful solution, prospects for security appear grim and the hostility of a harsh winter provokes concern for people displaced from their homes. Regardless of JRS ability to assist these people to find food and shelter, no solution will arise until the environment permits an end to violence and the negotiation of lasting peace.
Zerene Haddad, Communications Officer, JRS Middle East and North Africa
JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, 00193 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39 06 69 868 468; fax: +39 06 69 868 461; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; JRS online: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Nicole Abbeloos (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian), Chiara Peri (Italian).