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.


  Democratic Republic of Congo: call for a genuine peace process

 
By the end of 2012, over 2.7 million people were estimated displaced in DRC, up from 1.7 million in 2011 (JRS/Danilo Giannese)

 

Additional stories about the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
 

Goma, 14 February 2012 – For years the international community has attempted to help stabilise eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at the expense of billions of US dollars, yet sustainable peace remains elusive. Elections in November 2011 were widely seen as lacking credibility1 and provincial and local elections have been delayed indefinitely.

There has been scant progress on critical reforms in justice, security, land and governance. Successive military campaigns have failed to remove foreign and domestic armed groups and have increased the population’s suffering causing large scale displacement. A mix of armed groups continues to control various areas of eastern DRC, of which the M23 proved to be strong enough to seize Goma town, the provincial capital of North Kivu province, in November 2012.

Since April 2012 in North Kivu and December 2011 in South Kivu the security situation has significantly deteriorated as military and armed group activity and ethnic tensions have increased. The unravelling of the Ihusi accords in early 2012 resulted in fighting between the FARDC and the M23 as well as the resurgence and expansion of other armed groups.

This has created the most recent in a long series of crises, following failed attempts at peace, which have ignored key causes of violence. Its impact on the population of the Kivu provinces has been devastating; it is ordinary people who suffer the most. As control over their communities constantly shifts hands between armed actors, people caught in the middle are most vulnerable to human rights violations.2

Between January and September 2012, 767,000 people have fled their homes within North and South Kivu and an additional 60,000 people have fled to Uganda and Rwanda.3 By the end of 2012 over 2.7 million people were estimated displaced in DRC, up from 1.7 million in 2011.4

Research has shown that the roots of conflict in eastern DRC relate to the distribution of power and economic resources, and are inextricably linked to the way in which the country's social and political structures operate.5 They combine local, national and regional dynamics; creating a particularly complex climate of conflict, which tends to have a paralyzing impact on policy makers.

Achieving peace in eastern DRC, and stability in the DRC as a whole, requires a context-specific response based on a frank analysis of the real causes and dynamics of conflict. This analysis needs to be collectively owned by relevant stakeholders and lead to a comprehensive strategy focused on taking action.

Above all, achieving peace requires an inclusive and locally owned peace process with strong backing at national and regional levels. This should provide a framework for coherent and long-term actions to be undertaken by civil societies and governments in the region, with support of international donors.

To this end,
We recommend the Government of DRC to:

  1. Prioritise non-military solutions to conflict in the east, based on the failure so far of military action to fully address the presence of non-state armed groups and the negative impact of such action on the civilian population.
  2. Initiate broad-based and inclusive dialogue with provincial and local actors in the east, aiming to establish a coherent and shared vision for peace and a detailed peace implementation plan.
  3. In line with this plan, revise the Stabilisation and Reconstruction Programme for eastern DRC (STAREC), in coordination and discussion with international partners and Congolese civil society actors working in conflict-affected communities and DRC institutions.
  4. Formulate concrete step-by-step Action Plans to implement key reforms necessary for sustainable peace in eastern DRC. These must include elections, decentralisation, reinforcing the country’s security sector, establishing a strong justice sector, land and natural resources ownership and management, and the disarmament and demobilisation of ex combatants.
  5. Take concrete steps to address ethnic tensions and put in place a process to protect the right of minorities, including supporting inter-ethnic dialogue initiatives and holding to account those engaging in ethnic hate-speech.
We recommend governments in the region to:
  1. Strengthen their role as positive actors for peace in eastern DRC by supporting non-military strategies and political dialogue, as outlined in international commitments relating to peace in the region such as the 2006 "Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region".
  2. Actively support attempts to achieve peace, as it relates to regional dynamics of conflict, such as the illegal arms trade, the movement of refugees, the cross-border movement/support of non-state armed groups, and the illegal trade in natural resources.

We recommend international multilateral and bilateral actors to:
  1. Engage the Government of DRC in political dialogue on peacebuilding and the necessary governance reforms mentioned above.
  2. Monitor and support the engagement of the DRC government and the regional actors in establishing and implementing a meaningful peace process.
  3. Urgently appoint and deploy the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, whose mandate should focus on supporting specific national dialogues - including the current M23 negotiations – but also have a broader mandate to support peace-building dialogue at the regional level.
  4. Recognising the failures of past military initiatives to resolve conflict, critically review any plans for a proposed Neutral International Force (NIF) where the mission concept involves neutralising non-state armed groups through armed intervention. Any proposed military initiative can only work if there is a political solution as well, in particular to prevent new armed groups emerging.
  5. Fully support the revision of the International Security and Stabilisation Support Strategy, critically analysing its capacity to support a peace process, and ensure that Congolese civil society actors as well as Congolese institutions participate in its formulation. If the revised strategy remains a technical programme, divorced from a genuine peace process and efforts to obtain clear, and realistic and long term commitments from the Congolese state, then it cannot achieve real impact.
  6. Take urgent steps to improve donor coordination and shared analysis in order to strengthen the coherence of donor programmes and enhance their impact.
  7. Continue to provide support for community-level peace processes and peace initiatives at other levels undertaken by Congolese actors.

Signatories

  • Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes
  • Cafod
  • Care
  • Christian Aid
  • Combattons L'Injustice
  • Dynamique Synergie des Femmes, Uvira and Fizi
  • Innovation et Formation pour le Développement et la Paix
  • International Alert
  • Kvinna till Kvinna
  • Mercy Corps
  • Norwegian Church
  • Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Oxfam
  • SAIPED, Dungu
  • Reconciliation Resources
  • Search for Common Ground
  • Trócaire
  • War Child
  • World Vision

Footnotes

1 European Union, Electoral Observer Mission, DRC, 2011, Press Release – 13 Dec 2011; Carter Center: DRC Presidential Election Results Lack Credibility, Press Release, Dec 10, 2011.
2 See: Oxfam, 'Commodities of War. Communities speak out on the true cost of conflict', Briefing Paper 164, November 2011.
3 Source: UNOCHA, UNHCR. http://www.unhcr.org/5058439a6.html
4 Source: UNOCHA.
5 International Alert: Ending the Deadlock – Founding a new Vision for Peace in Eastern DRC', October 2012.



Italy: homeless refugees die in tragic accident, a tragic and inexcusable paradox

 
Even though Italy received more than 50,000 asylum applications in the last three years, the state disposes of no more than 3,000 places in reception centres throughout the country. With the onset of the economic crisis, and the absence of training and employment opportunities, refugees have faced increasing difficulties in becoming independent.

 
The fact that these men lost their lives after being forced to flee war in their home country and risked their lives to make the journey to Italy is a tragic and inexcusable paradox.  

Rome, 8 February 2013 – JRS Italy expresses profound sorrow at the death of two homeless Somali refugees who died in a fire in an underground passageway in late January. The men had lit a fire to warm themselves for the night, but the fire became uncontrollable and they burned to death.

"The circumstances in which the unspeakable tragedy occurred are for all a cry of despair in a country which has to deal with a seriously inefficient reception system for refugees", declared JRS Italy Director, Giovanni La Manna SJ.

This story is not just one tragedy of the death of two men but rather exemplifies the failure of the Italian state to ensure that the basic needs – food and shelter – of thousands of refugees who come to this wealthy Mediterranean nation in search of protection, but instead are forced into destitution – invisible to the majority of society.

In addition, refugees who, after failing to find real protection in Italy, wish to go to other European countries where they frequently have family and friends waiting to help them are sent back to Italy under the terms of the Dublin Regulation; this regulation assigns responsibility for refugees and migrants to the first European state in which they enter, placing the focus on border security, rather than humanitarian or protection concerns.

"The fact that these men lost their lives after being forced to flee war in their home country and risked their lives to make the journey to Italy is a tragic and inexcusable paradox", added Fr La Manna.

Even though Italy received more than 50,000 asylum applications in the last three years, the state disposes of no more than 3,000 places in reception centres throughout the country. With the onset of the economic crisis, and the absence of training and employment opportunities, refugees have faced increasing difficulties in becoming independent.

Once again – continued Fr La Manna – we urge the state, the competent authorities, to take responsibility for the lives of all those living in marginalised circumstances in Italy. This type of "tolerant inactivity" – which allows us to believe that every day inacceptable situations must be in some way passively accepted – needs to end.

In Italian cities – concluded La Manna – illegal settlements and squats are time bombs waiting to explode at the expense of those who have no alternative to live in safety.

Rethinking the reception system in major Italian cities must be put back on the political agenda and can no longer be postponed. It is a duty to those who died because they were forced to live in degrading conditions.


India: Afghan students practice their English skills in New Delhi visit

 
Two Afghan girls during their trip to the Youth Solidary and English Language Immersion camp in India where they improved their leadership and English skills for the future (Molly Mullen/JRS).

 
These kids are the future of Afghanistan. Or should I say, the future of Afghanistan depends on these kids.  

New Delhi, 12 February 2013 – Tuesday at Humayun's Tomb might have looked like any class trip with students singing on the bus, teachers telling students to stay together and respect the monuments. But for these 32 teenagers, it was their first time outside of Afghanistan, and a real opportunity to use the English they have been learning over the past four years.

These students attend the JRS English Access Program in Afghanistan. They were selected by the American Council for English Education to spend a month in India to practice English, enhance their leadership skills, and experience other cultures.

During the month long trip, or camp as the American council refers to it, the students' itinerary varies from visits to Punjabi villages to trips to high-class New Delhi markets. This has been the fifth Youth Solidarity and English Language Immersion (YSEL) camp for Tom Toomey, YSEL camp director.

"In Afghanistan women can't go out freely or study. I like to see how other women live … we go back to our hotel at night and wonder why we can't do the same", said Mariam* from Kabul. Mariam is one of three students in the camp who received an education from JRS teams in Herat and Kabul.

"Learning English is the key to education for these kids … This not only addresses problems of illiteracy but makes them global citizens and critical thinkers", said Mr Toomey.

"My favourite part was seeing the Golden Temple in Amritsar. There were Sikhs and Muslims; rich and poor people together. In Afghanistan, there are many places that are special just for Muslims or Sikhs, and I liked seeing everyone getting together in one place", said Saifa*, from Herat, a small city in western Afghanistan where JRS offers teacher training and English language programmes.

Walking around Delhi's Lodhi Gardens, JRS teacher Sahaya Jude joked with former students about how little English they understood when he began teaching them in 2007.

"Since I came to the JRS centre, my English has improved a lot. We started with the ABCs; grammar was the hardest. All of that past-present-perfect stuff got really confusing and I wanted to give up but I kept working", said Farzana*, 16, from Herat.

JRS has trained more than 600 students in the English Access Program in Herat, Kabul, and Bamiyan. These students then go on to teach other young children in their home villages.

During the academic term they teach in the local schools, while over the breaks they provide extracurricular classes.

Graduates from this camp have gone on to receive scholarships to study in the US, Canada, and India. While some have decided to stay in their new countries and start careers, Mr Toomey hopes some will go back to Afghanistan to build the country for the next generation.

"These kids are the future of Afghanistan. Or should I say, the future of Afghanistan depends on these kids", he said.

Molly Mullen, communications correspondent, JRS International

* These names have been changed to protect the identity of the person involved.


Democratic Republic of Congo: school, the best deterrent against the recruitment of minors

 
We have noticed that the boys who voluntarily join armed groups are those who don't attend school. Therefore, it's important that there are more schools and educated young people in North Kivu. We teach them about tolerance and respect so that tomorrow they become peace builders in Congo.

 

Content on Red Hand Day:

Colombia: stop! End the recruitment and use of children in war

 

Goma, 11 February 2013 – For anyone who travels along the muddy and rugged roads of the eastern province of North Kivu, teenage boys clasping on to rifles or some other type of firearm is commonplace. Children are frequently the victims of forced recruitment in the ranks of one of the many armed groups in Congo. Other times, they join rebel groups as they believe it to be the only viable prospect for the future.

To mark Red Hand Day, dedicated to the plight of child soldiers in countries of conflict, commemorated annually on 12 February, the Jesuit Refugee Service in Great Lakes Africa highlights the importance of education and access to school as a priority instrument in preventing the entry of minors into rebel groups. In addition, JRS reiterates its appeal to the Congolese authorities to protect minors from all forms of exploitation by the military.

JRS staff in North Kivu, an area in which more than 900,000 displaced persons live with ongoing insecurity, have witnessed the benefits that education, offering hope of a better future to displaced children and adolescents. Moreover, education is fundamental so that tomorrow's adults do not take up arms and instead become future leaders dedicated to peace building and development of the country.

"We have noticed that the boys who voluntarily join armed groups are those who don't attend school. Therefore, it's important that there are more schools and educated young people in North Kivu. We teach them about tolerance and respect so that tomorrow they become peace builders in Congo", explained Esperance Nsengimana, teacher in Kanyangohe secondary school, built by JRS in 2012.

Education instils hope. Claude Wiringye just turned 18 years of age but has lived in a camp for displaced persons since he was 10. He currently lives in Mweso camp with his mother and younger siblings where he is enrolled in his final year of school.

"Life in the camp is very difficult, particularly when trying to find something to eat because we don't have any land to grow anything. Fortunately I go to school and I know that this will help me in the future", said Claude.

Claude is very clear about his future goals: pass the final year exams and become a psychology teacher.

"This way I'll have a job and be able to help my family. On the other hand, with a background in psychology I'll be able to make myself useful to the community by teaching others mutual respect to help people to live in peace. Going to school has given me back hope", Claude added.

Going to school in war zones. For displaced children, acquiring an education is anything but taken for granted. Having lost the only income they possessed, land, most parents are not able to pay school fees to send their children to school, not to talk about paying for uniforms and books. For this reason, when JRS builds a school, headmasters in the community do their best to accept as many displaced children as possible. JRS built four schools in the Mweso area in 2012.

Ongoing violence by rebel groups still represents the greatest obstacle for children trying to access education. Following the military incursion into the provincial capital, Goma, by the March 23 Movement (M23) late last November more than 240,000 children missed school for several weeks.

Forced recruitment. While schools are a major preventative force in keeping children away from rebel groups, it is also the responsibility of the Congolese authorities to protect children from forced recruitment.

Last September, JRS was one of the signatories of a press statement urging the Congolese government to guarantee protection to children against forced recruitment. According to Human Rights Watch, from May to September 2012, at least 48 children were recruited by M23 rebels.

In October, the national government and the UN agreed on an action plan for the protection of children against forced recruitment and other human rights violations at the hands of armed groups or the military.

During the recent crisis in Goma, however, UN agencies and NGOs condemned the systematic human rights violations by state and armed group, including "killings, kidnappings, torture and destruction of private property", in which adolescents were also involved.

Danilo Giannese, JRS Great Lakes Africa Communications and Advocacy Officer


Syria: resilience and hope

 
Volunteers who work with JRS express their hopes and concerns for the future of Syria (JRS).

 
Additional stories about the work of JRS in Syria:

 

Beirut, 13 February 2013 – Despite the worsening situation in Syria and the exodus of thousands of people daily to neighbouring countries, there are still many Syrians who remain behind to assist with the humanitarian effort.

Working entirely with Syrians, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) relies on local networks of volunteers who give much of their time, energy and skills to assisting with our efforts in Syria.

Hailing from all walks of life, of diverse ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds, JRS volunteers are focused on the goal of assisting and serving people severely affected by the conflict.

"If you could understand my family life and see how I was raised – what I'm doing now, all these different people I work with – it was unimaginable. Yet we all work together without any problems", says Loujain* a volunteer.

Moreover, none of the volunteers have been immune to the conflict. Many are displaced themselves, or have lost family members in one way or another – either through violence or because they have moved away. Some volunteers risk their lives daily to come to-and-from JRS centres or to ensure that children are safely escorted home.

"Every day I hear stories from our teams inside Syria that amaze me. The work they're doing is extraordinary, they're dedicating themselves to those in need, putting others first," says Frederica, a staff member of the international JRS Rapid Response Team.


Humans first. Emphasising this aspect of their work, a JRS Project Director in Damascus, Fouad Nakhla SJ, says the focus of volunteers on people as complete human beings, rather than someone who only needs a food basket or blanket.

"We treat people as individuals, and they appreciate it. We have to preserve people's dignity", said Fr Nakhla.

Providing emergency food, shelter and winter clothing is crucial, but at the same time JRS accompanies people who have lost everything and experienced great trauma.

"It's important to listen when nobody else wants to listen to them, Syrians caught up in the conflict feel abandoned by everyone," said Miriam, JRS Middle East and North Africa Assistant Director based in Damascus.

JRS teams work in Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, providing emergency relief and educational and psychosocial services to internally displaced persons, as well as refugees from Iraq living in Syria.


  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. 333
Editor: James Stapleton