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.


  Africa: African IDP Convention comes into force

 
Displaced woman in Muhanga IDP camp, eastern DRC (Danilo Giannese/JRS)

 
If implemented well, it can help states and the African Union address both current and potential future internal displacement related not only to conflict, but also natural disasters and other effects of climate change, development, and even megatrends such as population growth and rapid urbanisation.  

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.

Even though the number of IDPs – more than 11 million – vastly outnumbers that of refugees in Africa – approximately 2.8 million – the rights of refugees are protected under the 1951 UN refugee convention and a similar instrument introduced 18 years later by the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union (AU).

Displaced within their own countries, IDPs have frequently relied on ad hoc support from the international community and national authorities, but without the right to such assistance. The 2009 African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) also known as the Kampala Convention, seeks to put the rights on a statutory footing, that is, the process whereby states agree to be legally bound by the terms and provisions of the convention.

Implications for the lives of IDPs. While the 1951 UN refugee convention only applies to those at risk of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, the IDP convention offers protection to those internally displaced fleeing armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, human rights violations or natural and man-made disasters.

The convention also sets out the obligations of states and other non-state actors, such as armed groups, relating to humanitarian assistance, compensation and support in finding lasting solutions to displacement, as well as accessing the full range of their human rights.

Further, it establishes a legal framework for the prevention of internal displacement, as well as requiring states to recognise that IDPs have specific vulnerabilities and must be supported. It goes further than international human rights and humanitarian law treaties in other aspects, for example, in the rules it contains on safe and voluntary return, and on access to compensation or other forms of reparation.

Given the relationship between instability and major displacement, this convention has the potential to bring stability to affected countries.

In the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Chakola Beyani, if "implemented well, it can help states and the African Union address both current and potential future internal displacement related not only to conflict, but also natural disasters and other effects of climate change, development, and even megatrends such as population growth and rapid urbanisation."

Challenges. The crucial challenge now is the same one facing international law in general – ensuring that the convention is actually implemented and respected. States must now take concrete steps to implement the convention into their own national legislation and regulation systems, and develop plans of action to address issues of displacement.

However, there is some question regarding the extent to which non-state actors and armed groups called upon by the convention to protect IDPs can be bound by its provisions. Progress requires member states to demonstrate greater political will to implement the convention and address concerns surrounding sovereignty and enforcement. Resolving issues of displacement in Africa requires political solutions.

It is now an opportunity for NGOs and international intergovernmental organisations, such as the AU, to use the convention as a benchmark to encourage African states – even those which have not ratified it – to implement its principles. On a positive note, since the document was agreed, non-signatory states, like Kenya, have already borrowed from the convention in developing a national policy. The challenge is to ensure we continue moving in this direction, and maybe one day extend the provisions to other parts of the world.

India: livelihood training programmes promote self-sufficiency among Chin refugees

 
JRS has been working with the Chin people since the office moved to New Delhi in 2010. The tailoring, computer and English courses will continue next year for a new group of women (Molly Mullen/JRS).

 
You too have taken something simple – cloth – and turned it into something beautiful. We hope you take this and make more beautiful things for your family and community.  

New Delhi, 2 January 2013 – Twenty women graduated from the first JRS-sponsored Chin women's tailoring course receiving not only new sewing machines for Christmas, but the know-how to make use of them in the new year.

All 20 women – JRS staff and representatives from the Chin Refugee Committee and the Burmese Women's Department, community-based organisations that assisted in arranging the seven-month course – attended the ceremony.

The Chin people, many of whom are Christian who fled religious persecution in Burma, welcomed everyone with smiles wishing them Merry Christmas. In the tailoring centre, located on the outskirts of Delhi, hung the garments they had made, baby's dresses, Indian curtas, skirts and frocks, they now plan to sell in the neighbourhood.

Standing in front of a small Nativity scene made of stones and pebbles, Stan Fernandes SJ, JRS South Asia Director, spoke at the ceremony of taking something ordinary – like a rock – and making it into something beautiful, like the scene of the first Christmas.

"You too have taken something simple – cloth – and turned it into something beautiful. We hope you take this and make more beautiful things for your family and community", he said through translators to the women and their children.

Of the 21,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in India, nearly 10,000 are Burmese. Without the legal right to work, most Chin women make a living cutting cloth in tailoring factories, earning roughly 2,800 rupees (US 50 dollars) per month. But children, security concerns and health problems prevent some from working enough to earn a living. Now, they can work from home.

"I like this class very much. This will hopefully help my family with finances. I live with seven people and we need work", said one mother of three, who has been living in Delhi four years.

JRS has been working with the Chin people since the office moved to New Delhi in 2010. The tailoring, computer and English courses will continue next year for a new group of women.

"There are many tailors and companies in this area. We're sure they can get a job in their own neighbourhood after this class. We took a monthly deposit of 200 rupees a month from each participant. Now they've completed the course, we'll give it back to them along with the machines so hopefully they can start something of their own", said Fr Thomas Job, who has been assisting with the tailoring, English language and computer courses JRS offers to the Chin.

Molly Mullen, communications consultant, JRS International


Haiti: prioritising human rights for the displaced

 
In the last three years JRS has accompanied displaced people in seven camps in Port-au-Prince and in Haitian communities in Fonds-Parisien, Anse-à-Pitres and Los Cacaos through a wide range of programmes. Automeca camp, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Peter Balleis/JRS)

 

Learn more about these Jesuit Refugee Service projects in Haiti:

• Water project highlights recovery efforts in Haiti

• Pre-school nutrition program benefits young Haitians

• Three schools rise in rural Haiti

• New school provides hope for future in Haiti



 

Bogotá, Rome, Washington DC, Port-au-Prince, 14 January 2013 – Three years after the 12-January earthquake that struck Haiti, approximately 400,000 displaced people continue to live in vulnerable situations and without protection in camps in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the surrounding areas. The Jesuit Refugee Service expresses great concern, because the rights and appropriate guarantees for protection of displaced persons, as defined in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, continue to be ignored.

Twenty-one percent of the displaced population faces a constant threat of expulsion by owners of the land where the displaced were housed in camps after the tragedy. In addition, many other problems affect this population including: cholera, food insecurity, flooding and mudslides during hurricane season and precarious living conditions.

The Jesuit Refugee Service expresses great concern, because the rights and appropriate guarantees for protection of displaced persons, as defined in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, continue to be ignored. Thus, displaced persons in Haiti are amongst the most vulnerable group and have a growing need for protection.

On the third anniversary of the earthquake, JRS urgently calls on Haitian authorities, donor countries and agencies, humanitarian organizations and other actors in the international community to prioritize the human rights of displaced persons, principally their right to life, security, food, education, health, and housing.

JRS urges the Haitian authorities and competent international agencies to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to all displaced persons, especially for those most vulnerable such as pregnant women, youth and the elderly. Similarly, JRS invites them to work with this displaced population to quickly establish the conditions and mediums for reintegration into society, as established in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

The tents can withstand nothing. After three years, it is intolerable that so many people remain in tents within camps and in temporary housing. The deplorable living conditions of the displaced persons in camps are incompatible with respect to their dignity as human beings.

In Automeca, one of the biggest camps of the Haitian capital where 1,307 families still live, "all of the tents are in the worst conditions, they can withstand nothing", said Wismith Lazard SJ, director of the JRS projects in seven camps in Port-au-Prince.

"It is true that there have been several attempts to relocate the camp population; but, so far no definitive solutions to the problem of the closure of all the camps and housing in general have been agreed on. Everything appears to indicate that the closure of all the camps and relocation of the displaced to permanent housing will not come tomorrow", said the Haitian Jesuit.

Programmes must be structured based on local needs. Despite the enormous problems displaced people face in the camps, they are struggling to rebuild their lives. In the last three years JRS has accompanied displaced people in seven camps in Port-au-Prince and in Haitian communities in Fonds-Parisien, Anse-à-Pitres and Los Cacaos through a wide range of programmes. We have been witnessing the creativity of the local communities and their capacity to rebuild their own destinies if the windows of opportunity are opened up to them.

The key is to accompany local communities and listen to them in order to find out how to help them respond to their own needs and demands. Programmes must be structured based on local needs, and not on what outsiders think may be necessary.

Forgetting is a great threat for Haiti. As time passes, Haiti fades from the international agenda.

"The international non-governmental organisations are increasingly abandoning many of the camps or reducing their projects and action plans for lack of funds, while the situation of the country has not substantially improved and the outlook is still sombre for the displaced persons", said Merlys Mosquera, JRS Latin America and the Caribbean Director.

"Forgetting is a great threat for Haiti", said Mosquera.

The third anniversary of the earthquake should be a stop along the way to remember Haiti, intensify solidarity with the Haitian people and focus international cooperation with this country on the human rights of the displaced people affected by the earthquake and other successive natural catastrophes.



Thailand: voices from the factory

 
JRS has been working with migrants, like Rose*, in Mae Sot since 2006 to assist with livelihoods for vulnerable communities. (JRS)

 
I really want ... better conditions and higher pay, but if I quit, my parents will have no place to stay.  

Mae Sot, 17 January 2013 – Thailand is home to hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers, more than 100,000 of whom work in Mae Sot's factories.

Rose*, 28, originally from Taunggyi, Shan state in southern Burma, was brought to Mae Sot by her father when she was 12 years old. At the age of 13, a broker took her to Bangkok to work in a noodle shop where she earned 1,000 Thai baht, or 34 US dollars, per month.

Three years later, after getting married and becoming pregnant with her first child, Rose returned to Mae Sot to escape the anxiety of being arrested that undocumented migrants face daily in Bangkok.

Rose's experience is not unique. Poe Poe*, 18, from Phyu township in eastern Burma, has worked in a garment factory since the age of 13.

Long working hours without breaks or sick leave, the struggle to save money, and the absence of proper safety standards and labour rights characterise the experience of Rose, Poe Poe, and thousands of other migrant workers in Thailand.

Work conditions. Rose currently cleans the garment factory in exchange for 150 baht per day for more than ten hours of work. For every one hour the workers are late to their shifts, they are deducted three hours of wages. Similarly, the consequence of missing one day of work is three days of work without pay.

Yet Rose is grateful for her job.

"I like to work here because I [receive] good payment", she told JRS Mae Sot staff. But she admits that economic difficulties are a constant source of stress.

"I still need money to pay my children's education …. I once paid an agent 4,500 baht to bring me back to Bangkok by walking through the jungle [so I could find a higher income job]. We were cheated and left in the middle of nowhere", she says, disappointment brimming in her eyes.

But Rose is one of the lucky ones who has never felt in danger in the factory. Her work place maintains a sound reputation of good management.

"I never felt unsafe although [cleaning floors and tables] is not a comfortable job", Rose affirmed.

Poe Poe, on the other hand, works in a different garment factory and feels unprotected in the dormitory, as there are not any separate lavatories and showers for women. Although she has never been physically attacked, Poe Poe feels unsafe when taking a shower as she is often watched by men.

In addition, the equipment in the factory is not always safe for the workers as the older sewing machines used to make the garments are dangerous, according to Poe Poe.

"The owner doesn't care, but we're really afraid to use those machines …. The new workers handle the old machines because they have no choice", she said.

Labour rights. In 2012, JRS Mae Sot supported two group discussions lead by the Overseas Irrawaddy Association for migrant workers on labour rights.

"Our rights are not fully respected because we're not given enough breaks", said Rose.

Poe Poe sews for more than ten hours per day without stopping.

"We don't have enough rest. It's not fair at all", she said.

Although she wants to find another job, she feels trapped because her parents live with her in the factory.

"I really want ... better conditions and higher pay, but if I quit, my parents will have no place to stay", Poe Poe said.

Both Poe Poe and Rose hold onto dreams about returning to their hometowns in Burma to farm.

"I like to stay in Thailand because it's safe and there are many ways to earn. However, if my parents who currently stay in Myawaddy want to go back to Taunggyi, I will go with them. We still have available farmland", said Rose.

"If I can save money, I will take my family back home to do crop farming. There, we'll have a happy life", Poe Poe sighed.

Patcharin Nawichai, JRS Mae Sot Project Director
Dana MacLean, JRS Asia Pacific Communications Officer

*Names have been changed to protect identity.


Jordan: there is a refugee inside each of us

 
The JC:HEM online diploma programme was implemented in June 2012 in Amman. It serves as the first free tertiary education online programme for refugees in the region. The first class, comprising 19 students, attend lessons together daily for three hours, allowing them to learn together – lessons have both online and offline components (JRS).

 
We all identified with Gibran. In our struggles, our fears, our joys. There is a refugee in each one of us, regardless if we recently came to Amman or were born and raised here.  

Amman, 10 January 2013 – Online higher education students in Amman, Jordan, had the opportunity to attend the play 'Rest Upon the Wind', inspired by the life of Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet.

"It was the first time for me to watch a live play. Some scenes touched my soul so much that I felt tears in my eyes. I liked that Gibran was very proud of his Arab culture. I also liked his persistence and patience in order to fulfil his dreams", described Reham Ghanem, one of the students in the JRS-Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) programme.

Eleven other JC:HEM students, from Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia, joined Reham at the theatre.

The JC:HEM online diploma programme was implemented in June 2012 in Amman. It serves as the first free tertiary education online programme for refugees in the region. The first class, comprising 19 students, attend lessons together daily for three hours, allowing them to learn together – lessons have both online and offline components.

"Rest Upon the Wind" features British and Jordanian thespians in a story about Gibran's struggles to pen The Prophet at a time of personal turmoil. It features the difficult reconciliation of his past life as an activist and artist fighting for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. It then discusses his new life as a refugee in the United States where he encounters discrimination and faces the difficulties of resettlement in a new environment.

These issues resonated with Tamim Arif, the on-site facilitator for JC:HEM, "We all identified with Gibran. In our struggles, our fears, our joys. There is a refugee in each one of us, regardless if we recently came to Amman or were born and raised here", he said, "Often we feel displaced in our thoughts, our feelings and our actions. It was exciting to see a true example of heroic leadership in Khalil Gibran's play about a philosopher/writer, his intellectual journey and his bumpy ride. We left the theatre reflecting and associating Gibran's life with our own".

The timing of the play could not have been more perfect for the JC:HEM students. As the inaugural cohort in Amman, the students are concluding the first course in their JC:HEM programme, Bridge to Learning facilitated by Mary Lawrence at Regis University. In this course, the students addressed various topics including self-management, turning points, and leadership in all facets of life. The arts and literature featured extensively in the class-readings and discussions, including passages from renowned authors like bell hooks, George Orwell, Harper Lee and Chris Lowney.

In addition to utilizing these authors for their skilled use of the English language, the students have discussed a variety of challenging topics, including inter-cultural communication and competency, self-awareness and leadership philosophies. Thus, it was no surprise to see the students enthusiastically discussing Gibran's brilliance as an artist, the family and community support system that lifted him in times of failure and rejection, and his reiterated purpose in life despite volatility and violence. As they have done all semester with the assigned readings and in-class discussions, the students related their own life experiences to that of Gibran's and in the process developed compelling insights.

This JC:HEM cohort have proven to be willing and thoroughly engaged students, and as such, they have created an intellectually vibrant class and community. The conversations, analysis and critiques spurred by the play reflect the potential of a gifted group of students who have challenged the facilitators as much as they have grappled with difficult materials. In many ways, "Rest Upon the Wind" was not only an opportunity for student exposure to the arts, but a celebration of how much they have grown since the beginning of the JC:HEM course.

Basil Mahayni, JC:HEM volunteer


  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: dispatches.editor@jrs.net; JRS online: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), and Simonetta Russo (Italian).

Dispatches No. 331
Editor: James Stapleton