The JRS Great Lakes region was set up in 1995 in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and other widespread ethnic violence. The first team was dispatched to Bukavu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the JRS presence quickly spread to other parts of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. Since then, JRS teams have accompanied people uprooted by violence that is largely due to the exploitation of ethnic identity and/or the struggle over precious resources.
Today one of the greatest challenges in the region is endemic sexual violence in eastern Congo, a consequence of chronic armed conflict. This area has been a major focus of JRS activities in recent years, with education, vocational training and support for those who are vulnerable, offered in IDP camps and areas of return. The most recent JRS initiatives in Rutshuru, Masisi and Mweso, North Kivu, give preferential attention to women.
In the past, JRS has run other projects in the DRC, in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Uvira and Goma, including a programme for the reintegration of former child soldiers. Projects have opened and closed depending on the ebb and flow of conflicts in the region, and the consequent displacement and needs created. There is one long-running exception: in Rwanda, in two camps in Byumba and Kibuye, JRS serves Congolese refugees of Rwandan origin who fled Masisi and Rutshuru in 1996. There, JRS has offered education and support for vulnerable refugees since 1997.
In Burundi, JRS is gradually closing down its remaining projects as the country recovers from a lengthy and devastating civil war. At the height of the war, JRS had many projects serving IDPs in the capital and elsewhere, which were scaled down or handed over as peace returned. Support for returnees – nearly half a million have returned from 2002 onwards – has been provided, especially to enhance food security; these projects are gradually being phased out too.
The JRS teams often work amid great insecurity. A tragedy that underscores the volatility of the region was the killing of JRS worker Antonio Barggigia in Burundi on 3 October 2000. A Brother of the Friends of the Poor from Italy, he was shot dead in the street in an armed robbery.
Democratic Republic of Congo: time to take strong measures to protect children from armed conflict
20 November 2014 – Twenty-five years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1990, Child Soldiers International and the Jesuit Refugee Service remain concerned by widespread abuses committed against children by armed forces and armed groups. Although significant progress has been made to protect children from armed conflict in the DRC, there is still a long way to go to prevent the recruitment of children, improve assistance to former child soldiers, and end impunity.
Burundi: Jesuit Refugee Service responds to severe flooding
Bujumbura, 23 May 2014 – Severe flooding in Burundi has affected thousands of people around the capital, Bujumbura. The death toll since February's initial flooding is at least 77. Displaced communities have been among the most affected.
Draft law will not keep conflict resources out of Europe, campaigners warn
London, 5 March 2014 – A law proposed by the European Commission on responsible sourcing of minerals is not strong enough to prevent European companies' mineral purchases from financing conflict or human rights abuses, and falls far short of expectations, campaigners said today.
Democratic Republic of Congo: entrepreneurs cycle to make a living
Goma, 26 February 2014 — Many people in eastern Congo move from camp to camp in search of safety. This repeated displacement disrupts lives, support networks and family ties. Access to the land is hindered, as is their ability to earn a living.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Jesuit Refugee Service team member killed
Masisi, 22 November 2013 – JRS staff member in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Yohana Bushu, was shot two weeks ago and died in hospital a few hours later.
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