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.


  Nepal: seventy-fifth thousandth refugee leaves camp in search of a bright future

 
Adult English education prepares families to move from the Bhutanese camps in southeastern Nepal to resettlement countries. One student adorns guests with a flower garland and traditional bindi to welcome them to the adult English language course closing ceremony (Molly Mullen/JRS)

 
I feel happy that we're able to make a living and not depend on charity. However, we do miss the social network and feel like we are compromising our cultural festivals and rituals.  

New Delhi, 24 January 2013 – As the camp population decreases and the international resettlement effort continues, JRS celebrates the mass resettlement from Nepal. Six-year-old Yagandra Kami recently became the seventy-fifth thousandth Bhutanese refugee to leave Nepal for a new life with her family.

After experiencing years of cultural conflict and government oppression in Bhutan, the Nepali-speaking families began fleeing to Nepal in the early 1990s, and for many, their dream of a new life is only now beginning to be realised.

"This is the dream of JRS and Caritas coming true. We're really happy to see them off and see the camps closed", said PS Amal SJ, JRS Nepal Director.

More than 63,000 refugees have been resettled to the United States, with others going to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Europe.

"Our first night in Nepal, I burst into tears. Imagine, there was no bed, no mattress, no quilt, no pillow and above all we didn't feel safe. We slept on wooden planks. Imagine having to wait until others finished cooking and eating before you could borrow their utensils. We felt like beggars", said Prahlad Dahal, former Caritas employee, who was resettled with his family in Australia.

Challenges. Before he left he was nervous about leaving his social network, his career and his standing in the community. While he is happy for his family to be resettled, life in a new country, so different from Nepal and Bhutan, comes with its challenges.

"I feel happy that we're able to make a living and not depend on charity. However, we do miss the social network and feel like we are compromising our cultural festivals and rituals", he said. 
 
Staying behind. According to Fr PS Amal, there are still currently 39,000 people in the camps, of whom more than 80 percent have applied for resettlement. By 2015, those who have applied will have been resettled, and those who choose to stay in Nepal will have to continue living in the camps.

Kezang, principal of Marigold Academy in Belangi Three camp, said family responsibility keeps her from applying for resettlement, even if that means remaining in Nepal without a clear framework of rights and protection for refugees like her.

"If I stay here I'd really need to have citizenship, but I know I won't get it. Yet I have my father here; he's very old and doesn't want to leave. I have to respect his feelings. So we'll see…" she said.

Fr PS Amal said while there is no plan for refugees who choose to stay in Nepal, JRS and other partner agencies are working together to see what can be done. For instance, some advocacy groups are working with the Department of Education in Nepal to ensure refugees access to local schools and universities.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has offered to fund a new community-based development programme, offering a combination of vocational training, grants and small loans, to assist refugees in becoming self-sufficient; but it is still awaiting government approval. Once UNHCR suspends operations in Nepal, JRS will remain to assess how the needs of the remaining refugees can be met.

"If necessary, we'll continue assisting the remaining refugees to cope with the new situation", added Fr PS Amal.


Kenya: civil society group urges government to end abuse of refugees

 
A Somali refugee family in their residence in Nairobi, Kenya. More than fifty percent of refugees in Africa live in urban areas (Peter Balleis/JRS).

 
Worryingly, the harassment and abuse are perpetrated not only by criminal gangs but also by the very law enforcement officials who are supposed to protect everyone in this country  

Nairobi, 24 January 2013 – A number of civil society groups, including the Jesuit Refugee Service, strongly urged the Kenyan government on Tuesday to end police harassment and abuse of refugees and protect the basic human rights of all refugees and Kenyan citizens.

"Since the Kenyan government announced in December that all refugees and asylum-seekers in Nairobi should move to Dadaab and Kakuma camps, we have seen a dramatic increase in attacks on refugees and Kenyans of ethnic Somali origin", said Lucy Kiama, Executive Director of the Refugee Consortium of Kenya speaking on behalf of the Urban Refugee Protection Network (URPN), an umbrella organization of agencies promoting human rights of refugees in Kenyan cities.

"Worryingly, the harassment and abuse are perpetrated not only by criminal gangs but also by the very law enforcement officials who are supposed to protect everyone in this country", Lucy Kiama added.

"We have also seen an increase in police-round ups, arbitrary arrests and harassment of refugees and persons of specific ethnicities by security officers in Nairobi. The URPN has documented reports of extortion, physical abuse and loss of property".

URPN said these incidents were sparked by the government's 18 December order for all Somali refugees and asylum seekers to move to Dadaab Refugee Camp northeastern Kenya, and for all other refugees and asylum seekers in the country to move to Kakuma refugee camp in the northwest of the country.

The groups also voiced concerns about media coverage which they said links refugees to insecurity without producing evidence.

"This has aggravated xenophobic attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers who are law-abiding people seeking protection from persecution and conflict in their home countries", said Solomon Wasia, Programme Coordinator on Forced Migration, Kituo Cha Sheria.

"Refugees and asylum seekers are not a threat to national security".

At the same time, URPN said it condemned all acts of terrorism and that it remains committed to helping the Kenyan government to build a strong asylum system – which would exclude criminals from refugee status, as is the practice in international law.

The group also raised concerns over the instruction from the Ministry of Provincial Administration and Internal Security to the Ministry of Special Programmes to offer humanitarian assistance during the relocation as this sort of activity is not an emergency but a deliberate action and holding refugees at Thika Municipal Stadium amounts to arbitrary detention.

The URPN calls on all security officers to respect fundamental human rights and for all members of the general public to be tolerant of all persons regardless of nationality as we strive to work towards efforts for collective security and protection of human rights for all.

The Urban Refugee Protection Network (URPN) is a coordination forum comprising of agencies working on protection and the promotion of human rights and welfare of refugees in urban areas in Kenya.
  • Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK)
  • Kituo Cha Sheria (KCS)
  • Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
  • Heshima Kenya
  • Centre for Domestic Training and Development (CDTD)
  • HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya (HIAS)
  • Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
  • International Rescue Committee
  • RefugePoint
  • Katiba Institute
For further information contact
Rufus Karanja, Refugee Consortium of Kenya, +254 724 279 772, rufus@rckkenya.org
Charles Njanga (easternafrica.communications@jrs.net); +254 722386047

Notes to editors
The Jesuit Refugee Service focuses on the issue of urban refugees through global advocacy campaigns, as well as with educational and livelihoods programmes for refugees living in urban areas. Specifically in Eastern Africa, JRS works to assist refugees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya; and Kampala, Uganda. JRS is a member of the Urban Refugee Protection Network (URPN).

JRS 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.


Donor pledges must prioritise urgent humanitarian plight of displaced Syrians

 
Working in some of the most dangerous areas in Syria, we see the reality of daily life, and the extraordinary suffering of ordinary civilians. The failure of the international community to agree on an inclusive solution and its inability to respond to the plight of Syrians has served to deepen the crisis, said JRS Middle East and North Africa Director Nawras Sammour SJ.

 
Additional stories about the work of JRS in Syria:

 

press release

Respect for difference needs to be guaranteed in the new Syria


Beirut, Rome, Washington DC, 1 February 2013, 1 February 2013 – With the recent escalation of violence and ongoing shortages of food and other basic commodities, the Jesuit Refugee Service urges the international community to prioritise the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in Syria and neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon. It is absolutely essential that increased emergency support is directed towards organisations on the ground that both provide life sustaining aid to rising numbers of displaced persons and also promote cooperation across the ethnic and religious divide.

Wednesday, at a conference in Kuwait, international donors pledged 1.5 billion US dollars towards meeting humanitarian assistance needs of those affected by the political and military crisis in Syria. While it is excellent news that the total pledged exceeded the expected 1 billion US dollars cost of assistance from January to June, there is no guarantee that this money will arrive in a timely fashion, or in the full amounts pledged.

"Working in some of the most dangerous areas in Syria, we see the reality of daily life, and the extraordinary suffering of ordinary civilians. The failure of the international community to agree on an inclusive solution and its inability to respond to the plight of Syrians has served to deepen the crisis", said JRS Middle East and North Africa Director Nawras Sammour SJ.

"More than four million Syrians are now in need of urgent assistance. In addition, the onset of winter has brought heavy rainfall, flooding and snow, wreaking havoc on emergency relief efforts. Despite the efforts of many organisations and communities, greater support is needed", said Fr Sammour.

Food remains the most urgent need, especially in Syria where more than two and a half million people are displaced and there are acute food shortages. The need for shelter is growing for those who have become homeless due to the conflict’s destruction. Healthcare support is vital, especially for those with chronic or terminal diseases who need medication or treatment. The resources available to patients in hospitals are dwindling, yet the number of patients has overwhelming grown.

Syrians who have lost their documentation are unable to register as refugees in neighbouring countries. There are increasing reports of Syrians being detained and denied access to legal assistance in neighbouring countries. JRS insists that the International Committee of the Red Cross be allowed access to these prisoners.

Contrary to simplified government and media reports, the conflict is not sectarian in nature. In general, Christians have not been directly targeted in this conflict. Like the majority of Syrians, they have been victims of circumstances. If this sectarian perspective is given credence, it lessens the ability of organisations like the Jesuit Refugee Service to truly help those in need, irrespective of their religious affiliation.

However, the longer the conflict drags on and the more influential observers seek solutions within this ethnic-religious prism, the greater the risk of a slide towards tit-for-tat sectarianism. This approach only serves to provide short-term solutions that ultimately will not help the reconstruction of Syria as a multi-religious and pluralistic society. A solution considering all the underlying factors to the conflict, and work towards the best possible outcome for all, must be pursued.

For further information contact
  • Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer; tel.: +961 712 73136; middleeast.communications@jrs.net; www.jrsmena.org
  • Christian Fuchs, JRS USA Communications Director; tel.: +1 202.629.5946; cfuchs@jesuit.org; www.jrsusa.org
  • James Stapleton, JRS International Communications Coordinator, tel.: +39 346 234 3841

Notes to the editor
JRS Middle East and North Africa has been present in the Middle East since 2008. With projects in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, JRS regionally serves the needs of diverse refugee and asylum seeker communities who come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somali, Iran and Syria.

As the region becomes engulfed by the humanitarian crisis arising from Syria’s conflict, JRS is responding with emergency relief in the form of blankets, mattresses, winter shoes and clothes, food baskets and hot meals, basic medicine, shelter where possible and educational and psychosocial support. Across the region, more than 50,000 families have received support from JRS in 2012. Emergency assistance is being conducted in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, whilst normal projects to existing refugee communities continue in Turkey and Jordan.

JRS worldwide
JRS 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.


Democratic Republic of Congo: after the war, signs of peace and reconciliation in Masisi

 
The JRS teacher training workshop proved to be an instrument of intercommunity reconciliation, after months of conflict, Masisi, Democratic Republic of Congo (JRS Masisi)

 
Additional stories about the work of JRS in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

 

Bujumbura, 30 January 2013 – After months of bitter conflict, intercommunity tensions and dozens of dead in Masisi in eastern Congo, there is an atmosphere of relative calm and a renewed sense of hope between local communities. The mass participation of teachers and students in the workshop on teaching methods is a concrete sign of this desire to start over.

Only a month and a half ago, the focus was on the ongoing body count as a result of conflict between rebel groups linked to the two largest communities in the area, the Hunde and the Hutus.

In a press statement published on 5 December last year, JRS condemned the killing of some 28 people in one week. The conflict, linked to abundant mineral deposits found in the region, intensified last August instilling fear and hatred between the two communities.

Reconciliation. In order to promote reconciliation and prevent future conflict, community leaders, including rebel leaders, took part in an intercommunity meeting last month in Lushebere, not far from Masisi.

During the meeting, an immediate end to the armed hostilities was agreed upon by Hunde and Hutu armed groups. They also accepted that the Congolese army should intervene to restore peace and security if any group breaks the agreement. Moreover, it was agreed that displaced communities could return to their home villages and that peace-building education activities would be organised.

"During the conflict, a Hunde would have been too afraid to go to a Hutu village and vice-versa. In the last few weeks we have witnessed signs that tensions are falling as people move freely between villages of the other community. The civilian population is tired of conflict and only wants to live in peace", explained JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer, Danilo Giannese.

JRS training, a sign of peace. Confirming the reconciliation between the communities in Masisi and the sense of newly found security, JRS organised a three-day workshop on 20 December last year for 70 teachers and final-year secondary school students. The workshop, part of the JRS formal education programme in Masisi, was originally planned for November, but had to be postponed due to the outbreak of conflict.

The participants came from both communities in Masisi and many of them had to travel many kilometres on foot to get to the JRS centre. The full turnout was a demonstration of the renewed belief in the climate of reconciliation instilled after the intercommunity meeting and a desire to get back to a sense of normality.

"I wanted to participate in the workshop, yet I was afraid that the Hunde in Masisi would have killed me. Nevertheless I wanted to believe in the spirit of reconciliation so I found the courage and decided to come", said Pierre*, one of the participant teachers.

"On the road from home to Masisi I stopped in other villages where I collected information on security. Everyone told me that they hadn't heard gunshots for a while. Now I can say not only did no one lay a hand on me, but I was welcomed. During the workshop I shared the room with many Hunde colleagues and felt perfectly relaxed", continued Pierre.

"The JRS workshop represented a sign of peace in order to put the reconciliation that the local rebel leaders agreed into practice", said local Masisi priest, Théodore Mbuleki.

Due to the remaining presence of armed groups, the security situation in the Masisi area remains precarious. JRS hopes reconciliation in Masisi will be sustainable and contribute to the stabilisation of the area by taking place in other villages.

Danilo Giannese, JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer

*This name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.


Lebanon: language barriers prevent Syrian children from attending school

 
A typical parcel of basic hygienic utensils given to one of the 350 refugee families assisted by JRS in the Bekaa valley area in eastern Lebanon, bordering Syria (Angelika Mendes/JRS)

 
I want them to go to school, but it's so far away. I can't afford the cost of transport. It's also difficult because here they speak French or English at school. My children won't understand anything.  

Beirut, 30 January 2013 – Their lonely-looking house is perched on a hillside, with nothing behind it except rocks and scrubby bushes. It is one of the last inhabited areas before no-man's land, between the main Lebanon - Syria border crossing. To the left of their house an enormous cement wall demarcates the start of a militarised border zone.

Dima* and her sister invite us into their house. It is newly built and smells strongly of fresh paint, they have no furniture, only some thin mattresses on the floor. It is draughty and cold inside; the single pane windows do not provide sufficient insolation against the cold winter. Their five children, ranging in age from two to nine years, are excited by the food parcels and blankets we are carrying.

"We live here together, and pay 200 US dollars a month for two rooms and a kitchen. It's the cheapest place we could find; in the nearby town where we stayed for two months, we were paying 300 US dollars for just one room. We couldn't afford it", said Dima.

They come from Qaboun, one of the outlying suburbs of Damascus that has been severely damaged during the last few months. Over the summer they fled Qaboun, first to Damascus and finally to Lebanon.

"It wasn't easy coming here, leaving Qaboun was difficult. But they were destroying everything, so we had to leave. We left with just our suitcases and took a taxi to Damascus. But we didn't feel safe there either".

Every day their two husbands go out to find work, usually casual labour, which is rarely guaranteed due to the high number of Syrians and Lebanese vying for the same jobs. Between Dima and her sister, they take care of five children – four girls and one boy.

Inaccessibility to education. "I want them to go to school, but it's so far away. I can't afford the cost of transport. It's also difficult because here they speak French or English at school. My children won't understand anything", explained Dima's sister.

A critical problem facing Syrian children in Lebanon is that the education system uses French or English as the language of instruction, with Arabic only reserved for language courses and sometimes history lessons. Conversely, in Syria the education system is entirely in Arabic.

A rapid needs assessment carried out in late 2012 by the UN children's fund in Lebanon (UNICEF) and Save the Children also cited language barriers as the principal obstacle for Syrians in Lebanon. The report found that most Syrians would like their children to learn either French or English as they see it as a "chance for upward mobility".

"I used to get top grades in class in Homs – I'm not stupid. But now, I cannot understand anything in class. I don't speak French, and everything, except for history, is in French. I still keep going to school though, I will learn French eventually", explained 16-year old, Hamoudi.

In addition, the Lebanese education system is unable to cope with the influx of Syrians across the border. More than 160,000 Syrians are officially registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon and a further 71,358 are awaiting registration. This number is increasing rapidly as up to 3,000 Syrians are crossing the borders daily to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

Yet it is estimated that the actual number is significantly higher, as many Syrians do not register due to fear and a lack of understanding of the benefits of registering with UNHCR.

Reaching out to the most vulnerable. JRS Lebanon is currently assessing the needs of Syrians in very remote border areas in the Bekaa Valley, where small villages host up to 60 Syrian families who do not receive any support from local or international organisations.

"In Kafar Zabad we found up to five families living in one small house. No one is helping them there; this village is very small and also very poor. The local community can barely offer them anything. And it's so remote, that no one else [other NGOs] knows there are even Syrian families living there", explained JRS Lebanon staff member, Shadi.

Shadi, himself a Syrian who was displaced months ago, heard about these families through word of mouth –the fastest form of communication amongst displaced Syrian communities.

Despite poverty and a lack of resources, the local community has offered JRS the use of a community hall for educational purposes.

"It's a good facility, we would be able to partition it into smaller areas, and each area could be one classroom".

Until the needs assessment is completed, there will not be a final decision as to which curriculum JRS Lebanon will use – Syrian or Lebanese. If the Lebanese curriculum is used, teams will need to organise remedial classes in English and French to enable the children to enrol in the Lebanese system in the future.

"The crucial thing is we get the children back into a schooling system. Some of these children have missed out on more than a year of school already. Going to school also restores a sense of normality for them and is an important step in helping to cope with trauma", said a JRS staff member.

The JRS presence is Lebanon is the most recent in the region. After needs assessments were carried out in late 2012, the office was opened in mid-November. Currently activities are operational in remote areas of the Bekaa valley and in Beirut. Up to 350 families receive direct support from JRS Lebanon, with a plan to expand services throughout 2013.

Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer

* This name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.


  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. 332
Editor: James Stapleton