Priority problems

  • Food security
  • Reconciliation
  • Education
  • Rape and Gender Violence
Food security

Tragically, too many refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps and centres served by national and international humanitarian organisations, literally live a "hand to mouth" existence. Their access to food depends on the adequacy and timing of aid received from a few donor nations responding to urgent and competing appeals in which new crises compete for attention with ongoing needs.

Most people would find the standard food ration of 2100 Kcal per day, often consisting of nothing more than grain, salt and a small amount of oil, meagre and monotonous at best; yet far too often, the present capricious international food delivery system leads to breaks in the food pipeline, resulting in a period of time in which one or more basic commodities necessary to meet even the most minimal nutritional standards is unavailable.

Chronic food insecurity leads not just to the immediate misery caused by hunger, but also to malnutrition and increased susceptibility to illnesses. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable - the youngest and oldest in the population, pregnant and lactating women and those with compromised immune systems. Food shortages of even a relatively short duration can lead to developmental deficiencies in children, with severe and sometimes permanent consequences for their physical and mental development. Malnourished girls are more likely later to die in childbirth due to impaired physical development. Malnourished children tend to drop out of school and are at increased risk of abuse and exploitation and recruitment as child soldiers. Some women, desperate to feed their families, are even forced to resort to trading sex for food, which contributes to the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, as well as to a loss of human dignity. Likewise, many men are driven to engage in risky endeavours in order to obtain food for their families. Often, refugees and IDPs facing food cuts will feel they have no alternative than to leave the camps and move on in search of livelihood opportunities without the appropriate travel documents or official sanction - thus becoming "irregular movers", risking arrest and imprisonment, or becoming victims of human smugglers and traffickers.

In protracted refugee situations where donor response is flagging, where partial integration is thought to have been achieved, or where authorities wish to encourage repatriation, permanent rationcuts may be instituted. The premature institution of rationcuts faces refugees with the stark choice of remaining in their host country without sufficient food, or returning to their home countries prematurely. Some refugees may be forced to return to situations where their lives are at risk, either because of security conditions at home or because no adequate arrangements have been made to ensure their livelihood upon return.  Such coerced repatriations are much less likely to be sustainable. People forced to repatriate in this way will frequently move on again. The same dynamic applies to IDPs effectively forced to return home due to lack of food in their place of refuge.

Key recommendations

  • Donors should give priority to appeals from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) for refugees and IDPs, and fulfill their pledges completely and in a timely manner. Sufficient food assistance should continue to be provided to refugee populations in protracted situations until durable solutions can be found.
  • Host governments should promote opportunities for refugees and IDPs to engage in livelihood activities so that they may either produce or purchase food. This includes the legal right to work, freedom of movement in order to seek employment, and access to land, agricultural inputs, and markets.
  • Donor governments should assist host governments by providing additional humanitarian and development assistance in refugee and IDP hosting areas, so as to make possible the development of self-reliance opportunities for refugees and IDPs, reduce tensions between displaced populations and local residents, and mitigate any negative economic effects on host communities.
  • Donors should recognise that both cash and commodities are needed to meet world food needs. Pledges should be met in such a way that the World Food Programme will have the flexibility either to import food or purchase food on local or regional markets as individual situations dictate.
  • Food ration reductions should only be made when it is certain that refugees have adequate access to food from other sources. Before any rationcuts are made, a careful assessment of the needs of vulnerable individuals within refugee and IDP communities should be undertaken and subsequent food distributions should take these needs into account.
  • Cuts in food rations should never be used as a means of coercing repatriation.
  • More attention should be paid to the development of early warning systems, allowing more rapid assessment of, and responses to, food needs at all phases of forced migration.
  • Reforms should be sought in the present system of funding food needs, so that the ongoing needs of refugees and other vulnerable populations are not neglected due to competing demands from new food emergencies.

Armed conflicts currently continue in some forty countries around the world. Fundamental human rights are neglected in all violent conflicts and this greatly affects civilians. In such life threatening circumstances, many people are forcibly displaced and obliged to search for humanitarian assistance, shelter, food, health and education. As gross violations of human rights are a major cause of the forced displacement, putting an end to these violations could create a crucial opportunity for voluntary return home of those displaced. A serious barrier to their sustainable return is the lack or failure of the process of reconciliation.

Present in more than 50 countries, where it implements some 200 projects, JRS facilitates reconciliation between victims and perpetrators, between self perceived “enemies”. Inspired by Christian faith that does justice and open to multi-religious and multicultural dialogue, JRS approaches reconciliation work through the perspective of its three-fold mission:

  1. accompaniment of primary parties in the transformation of conflicts (JRS facilitates reconciliation based on direct encounters between victims and perpetrators);
  2. service with a special emphasis on education in general, and peace education in particular (helping to prevent children and young people from inheriting hatred from previous generations); and
  3. advocacy giving a voice to the excluded (speaking the truth from the viewpoint of all parties, searching for accountability and reparation, and promoting restorative justice).

The JRS mission of reconciliation taps into different spiritual (life giving) sources among parties to a conflict. Reconciliation, as a fundamental pillar of peace building, is a challenge in all war torn societies in search of transitional justice and sustainable peace. There cannot be reconciliation without putting an end to physical, psychological, cultural and structural violence, and without restoring a minimum of dignity and justice for those affected by violence. If this minimum of dignity and justice is not achieved, the mere mention of the word 'reconciliation' in the context of refugees, internally displaced persons and other victims of gross human rights violations can be paradoxically perceived as offensive and violent. There is a need for genuine reconciliation at the service of sustainable peace.
Key recommendations

To primary parties in an armed conflict:

  • Refuse to pass on the hatred caused by violence to your children, and help the next generation to advance and achieve reconciliation.
  • Work for reconciliation with "the other" party ("enemy"), in the awareness that there is no peace without justice and love – necessary to the process of forgiveness.
  • Work in the transitional justice process committed to truth, accountability, reparation and reconciliation without forgetting social justice at a structural level.

To governments and authorities in host communities:

  • Support reconciliation programmes for forcibly displaced populations, particularly within the education system.
  • Promote the integration of forcibly displaced persons as a "win-win" relationship, and seek to foster mutual tolerance and appreciation between host and displaced communities.

To donors and other actors in the area of international peace work:

  • While supporting material development and reconstruction efforts, devote due attention to long-term psychosocial reconciliation in peace-building initiatives, so as to foster sustainable peace and break cycles of violence.

JRS considers access to education a human right and a means to building peace and development. Education plays a prominent role among the services JRS offers to refugees and other displaced persons. Worldwide the organisation provides pre-, primary, secondary and third level education to approximately 285,000 young people. As well as renovating and rebuilding schools, JRS trains teachers and distributes educational materials. Based on this experience of the needs of refugees, JRS also advocates on behalf of displaced children to ensure they are provided with an adequate education.

Education is important in the development of the individual person, as well as for societies, and access to education is a fundamental human right. For refugees and other forcibly displaced persons education plays an essential role in sustaining and saving lives throughout a crisis. It is one of the four fundamental pillars of humanitarian assistance, along with food, healthcare and shelter. Education has a preventive dimension, a future dividend, which stems from its power to support the development of analytical and decision-making skills, and self-esteem and -awareness.

Nevertheless, in many countries around the world migrant and refugee children are still excluded from school by state policies. This is even true in a number of European states with regard to the children of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. In most of these countries there is a gap between legal provisions on the one hand and reality on the other. In other countries, forcibly displaced children and adolescents may have access to some form of education, e.g. within refugee camps, but too often schools are poorly furnished and teachers inadequately paid and trained.


To governments of host countries:

  • Ensure access to elementary education, (comprising primary education as well as the first years of what usually is referred to as “secondary education) for all children and adolescents irrespective of origin and status.
  • Consider giving access to further education (including university) under the same conditions as host nationals, in particular for recognised refugees and other long-term displaced persons.
  • Resist traditions or practices which inhibit girls or children with disabilities from accessing primary and secondary education.
  • Pay special attention to the proper training and payment of teachers and an adequate supply of schools.

To parties in armed conflict:

  • Desist from targeting unarmed civilian populations, ensure schools and other education facilities remain safe places, and take concrete measures to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in schools.

To donors and other actors in the area of international cooperation:

  • Pay particular attention to the education needs of forcibly displaced children and adolescents when shaping and developing assistance programmes and projects.
  • Ensure host societies benefit from education facilities to avoid the development of negative sentiments against displaced populations.
Stop Rape and Gender Violence

Rape and gender violence destroy individuals and families, entire communities and the fabric of society. These acts have increasingly become a deliberate tactic of terror in war and other conflict situations. Exile is a ramification of war, so there is synergy between the work of JRS and this campaign, particularly as SGBV is a constant and pressing issue in so many places like Colombia, DRC or Burma. I do believe that with enough of us working together we can make a difference in stopping these horrors and ending impunity.

Large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons suffer sexual- and gender based violence in their homes, while they flee and once they arrive in their new host communities, be they urban areas or camps. Present in more than 50 countries worldwide, JRS teams are often witnesses to these atrocities on a daily basis, and membership in the campaign offers enhanced opportunities to raise awareness of these crimes and promote political action.

It is the priority of JRS is to spread the word about this new initiative and find innovative solutions to this heinous crime, affecting an ever-growing number of women and girls each year.

Following the 2011 decision by the 10 JRS regional directors to select sexual- and gender-based violence as an advocacy priority, the organisation has been seeking ways to raise public awareness of and public action on this issue.

Until now, commitments to end rape and gender violence in war and other conflict situations have been either seriously inadequate or simply not enforced. JRS supports the view that it is time to demand powerful, urgent leadership at the local, national, regional and international levels to:
  • prevent and stop rape and gender violence in conflict situations.
  • dramatically increase prevention and protection resources, psychosocial and physical healing for survivors, their families and communities, including a concerted effort to end stigma of survivors; and
  • justice for victims including prosecution of perpetrators at all levels of society, and comprehensive reparation for survivors.
As well as bringing the perspective of refugees and internally displaced persons to the campaign, JRS teams have large and diverse networks with which to share information on sexual violence, and a grassroots organisational focus on prevention and protection supporting women and communities. JRS teams provide psychosocial services and assist working groups and committees to develop appropriate advocacy and protection actions.

In more detail. The global cooperative effort was launched on 6 May 2012 by Nobel peace laureates, international advocacy organisations and groups working on conflict at regional and community levels.

The mission statement of the new campaign is to unite organisations and individuals into a powerful and coordinated effort for change and to demand bold political leadership to prevent rape in conflict, to protect civilians and rape survivors, and call for justice for all – including effective prosecution of those responsible.

Although the geographical focus is expected to expand, the campaign is currently focusing on Burma, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya, because they represent places where immediate, coordinated action is most urgently needed. JRS has teams present in all of these countries except Burma, in which case the organisation is working on the Thai-Burma border.