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.

  Ukraine: Iraqi children granted full citizenship

Fr David Nazar SJ, JRS Ukraine Country Director

Nazar puts this successful outcome down to the good work of JRS lawyers, and because it is a church organisation with a good reputation in the country.  

Kiev, 26 January 2012 – Two young Iraqi girls were granted full citizenship status in Ukraine, in what JRS country director David Nazar SJ called a "precedent setting case".

The sisters, aged one and two, were born in Ukraine after their parents had fled Iraq due to the persecution suffered on the basis of their religion as Christians, at the hands of Iraqi militants in the city of Mosul. One month after they were granted citizenship, their parents were recognised as refugees.

"This is the first case that we've had where people from Iraq have been granted refugee status", said Fr Nazar.

Speaking with JRS Europe, Fr Nazar described the many cases of brutality committed against Christian families in Iraq. He explained how militants in Mosul frequently stop buses and force the occupants to show their passports, a document in which the religion of every Iraqi citizen is declared. They are frequently then pulled off these buses, he continued, and beaten, shot or told in no uncertain terms to leave the country.

"There have certainly been killings of Christians; that's been a bit of a sport in parts of Iraq", he added ominously.

Setting a precedent in Ukraine

Ukrainian law states that children born in the country, regardless of the parent's nationality, are eligible for citizenship. The problem for the children of refugees, however, is that many have either had their documentation stolen or sold. The procedures require parents to produce their citizenship documents in order for the children to be granted Ukrainian citizenship. No exception is foreseen in the law.

Moreover, there are also often discrepancies between the law and administrative practice in the Ukraine, which is still finding its feet in democratic terms. As Fr Nazar put it, many of the country's laws have not worked their way into the system, or there has been no legal precedent indicating how they should be dealt with.

The complex bureaucracy and lack of legal precedent in Ukraine often results in negative decisions from the authorities. Typically the authorities have a tendency to turn down applications if they are not sure exactly how to proceed; but surprisingly in this case the response was honest and helpful.

"We just went to the authorities and asked for citizenship [for the children] and they said, 'We have never seen a case like this. Let's work it out together'".

"Even the judges in court are learning the laws and procedures on the job. We're sometimes telling the judges what the law is and the judges will be very thankful and say: 'give us a couple of days, we're going to study this'. A lot of our work is clarifying and lobbying, but in the good sense of the word "lobbying" because [unlike in many other circumstances] there is a basis in the law [for what we request]", he said.

Although there was a lack of clear documentation and the parents had not at that point been granted refugee status, the authorities still decided to grant the children citizenship. Nazar puts this successful outcome down to the good work of JRS lawyers, and because it is a church organisation with a good reputation in the country.

This is not only good news for the family and for those who sympathise with the plight of refugees, it is so much more.

"The children of refugees have been granted citizenship on the basis of having been born here. That sets a precedent", said Fr Nazar.

For further information on the situation for asylum seekers in the eastern European country see the 2011 JRS Europe report, No Other Option: Testimonies from asylum seekers living in Ukraine

International: JRS publishes Strategic Framework 2012-2015


Serving refugees forced to live on the edges of humanity, we will work with compassion and love, which enable us to engage with people of all races, cultures and religions in an open and respectful way, said JRS International Director, Peter Balleis SJ.  

Rome, 25 January 2012 – After extensive consultation throughout last year, today the Jesuit Refugee Service published its Strategic Framework for 2012-2015, outlining broad goals, values, strategies and expected outcomes for the next four years. The 24-page booklet seeks to provide an inspirational framework and set overarching strategies for all ten JRS regions to meet the challenges of working with refugees on the edges of humanity.

"Serving refugees forced to live on the edges of humanity, we will work with compassion and love, which enable us to engage with people of all races, cultures and religions in an open and respectful way", said JRS International Director, Peter Balleis SJ.

Reaffirming the mission of JRS to accompany, serve and advocate for refugees, the document clearly sets down the values driving the organisation: compassion, hope, dignity, solidarity, hospitality, justice and participation.

"The JRS mission is built on our faith in God who is present in human history, even in its most tragic moments. We are inspired by this faith and by core values that inform all the work we do…. Although practical in its nature, our service will be equally spiritual, promoting hope and reconciliation. We believe that education, learning together, and sharing knowledge are vital ingredients to nourish hope in people", added Fr Balleis.

Concrete goals and strategies

The goals adapt core issues underpinning JRS work since its establishment and make them relevant to the challenges of today: compassion on the edge of humanity, faith and justice, hope and education, and unity in action.
  • Compassion for humanity on the edge: JRS pledges to be more flexible and focused in responding to new emerging situations of forced displacement. Strategies will focus on addressing the needs of urban refugees and persons vulnerable to trafficking.
  • Rooted in faith, acting in justice: Inspired by faith and the values of inclusiveness and solidarity, JRS will seek to address the causes of structural inequality. JRS strategies focus on strengthening the role of advocacy, both at grassroots and global levels, and promoting intercultural, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue.
  • Kindling hope through learning: Based on the belief in the dignity and interdependence of the human family, JRS will empower uprooted people through learning, fostering a future filled with hope. Strategies focus on assisting the most vulnerable in education, emphasising girls' education and teacher training. In addition, actions will also seek to promote access of refugees to third level education and educational excellence through the distribution of best practices throughout the organisation and beyond.
  • A stronger, more united JRS: Firmly rooted in the values of subsidiarity and participation, JRS will develop and apply coherent standards in governance and management, so that the organisation works with and for forcibly displaced persons, in international unity, with transparency and accountability.
In the forward to the document the father superior of the Society of Jesus, Adolfo Nicolás SJ, described the Strategic Framework as a creative, inspiring and challenging document that will demand hard work and considerable risk.

"It is a great joy to see that this framework has been formulated so clearly and yet so humbly, so imbued with our Christian commitment and Ignatian vision. In this strategic framework we see faith, justice and collaboration joined once again in a single unified vision", he wrote.

A copy of the full text of the JRS Strategic Framework can be found on here

Ethiopia: workshop on gender equality inspires behaviour change

A JRS workshop in Addis Ababa gives participants a new perspective on gender roles and equality in the home. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)

Sharing household activities equally, taking some responsibility for childcare, and sending girls as well as boys to school, were just three of the proposals for behaviour change which emerged during the discussions.  

Addis Ababa, 02 February 2012 – An inspirational workshop has provided a group of refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia with an appreciation of gender roles and equality as a basis to work towards behavioural change.

According to JRS Ethiopia Social Worker, Guliliat Azale, the workshop surpassed expectations of most participants. Sharing household activities equally, taking some responsibility for childcare, and sending girls as well as boys to school, were just three of the proposals for behaviour change which emerged during the discussions.

"Men need to be responsible and work hard to bring about gender equality by changing their behaviour. They need to teach girls and boys that they are equal and help women in whatever way they can", said one Eritrean woman who participated in the workshop.

"Most men sit idle at home while their wives run around for them doing household activities and trying to support the family", explained Hanna Petros, JRS Ethiopia Emergency Needs Project Director, noting the key role of cultural norms.

During visits to refugees and asylum seekers, JRS teams frequently receive requests for workshops on gender issues, specifically on roles in the home and equality.

The workshop was designed to address this need and comprised a group of asylum seekers and undocumented refugees from a wide range of ethnic groups, nationalities and religions. It was a chance for women and men from Somalia, Eritrea, Congo and Sudan to share experiences and try to reach a new awareness about gender equality.

"Our religious leaders have taught us that it is an obligation for men to be obeyed without question. Women do not have the right to comment on anything. Every household activity is performed by women. Our men need these educational trainings to bring about behavioural change", one female Somali participant explained.

Equality in the home

The facilitators began the three-day workshop with an exploration of the difference between sex and gender. Over subsequent days, topics such as the equal division of labour; empowerment of women to participate in decision making; gender-based violence; the gender development approach; promotion of recognition and respect for women; and identification of household activities as valuable work were covered in-depth.

Participant-centred games, drama sketches, group activities and question and answer sessions brought the topics alive and encouraged debate and lively discussions. The refugees were able to share their life experiences and backgrounds with each other.

"Theoretically, I know how to cook and wash clothes but I have never been willing to do so because of my culture. This workshop has convinced me to break my bad habits and I am now very keen to start sharing household activities with my wife", said a male Sudanese participant.

Burundi: cultivating the seed of quality education

Students at the inauguration of a primary school in Rutana, eastern Burundi, where JRS completed a two-year education project this year. (Danilo Giannese/JRS)

Over the last two years, nearly 900 children attended the school, and hundreds of desks and educational materials were also provided to four other local primary schools.  

Rutana, 02 February 2012 - Quality education for children in primary school in Rutana is now a reality, according to a Jesuit Refugee Service Burundi statement marking the end of a two-year primary education project.

This JRS project in eastern Burundi was established in 2010 to provide educational services to communities of former refugees returning from Tanzania after years living into forced exile, as well as to local people.

"The 1993-2005 war devastated the country, denying thousands of children, now adults, without an opportunity to go to school. This will not happen for their children, to whom we guaranteed the right to receive quality education, a right that should be granted for every child around the world", said JRS Great Lakes Advocacy Officer, Danilo Giannese.

Enduring achievements 

In Rutana JRS left a well-equipped and functioning primary school building which includes 18 classrooms and an IT laboratory, as well as building a nursery school. Over the last two years, nearly 900 children attended the school, and hundreds of desks and educational materials were also provided to four other local primary schools.

"It's not just a question of building classrooms or distributing books. The most important thing we are leaving in Rutana is enthusiast and committed headmasters, teachers and parents who clearly understood the importance of providing education to children", said JRS Great Lakes Programme Officer, Ernesto Lorda.

In addition to the construction of the schools, whose management has been handed over to Rutana diocese, JRS provided training in school management to 18 primary school headmasters, from which 300 teachers and 15,000 children benefited indirectly. Teams also organised classes in English and Kiswhail, and conducted workshops on pedagogic and psychosocial techniques to more than 600 teachers and on the value of education for young people to 228 members of parents' associations.

"We have planted the seeds of quality education in Rutana, which I'm sure will produce fruit in the future", continued Mr Lorda.

JRS began working in Burundi in 1995, offering services to Congolese refugees and internally displaced Burundians. Since the end of the war, JRS switched its focus to eastern Burundi, providing food security and educational services to refugees returning from Tanzania.

JRS is currently managing two food security projects in Giteranyi and Giharo, which will close down at the end of 2012. However, in the next few months JRS will open an agricultural school in Kibimba, a concrete sign of is commitment to durable repatriation in Burundi.

Ecuador: invisible Colombian refugees, discrimination and an uncertain future

Approximately 500,000 Colombian refugees have fled to neighboring countries throughout the region, many of whom remain in need of durable solutions, particularly as local integration and safe returns to Colombia remain elusive options. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

Although several programmes have been initiated to help refugees return, including one promising monetary compensation and land restoration, most refugees are uninterested.  

Quito, 02 February 2011 — Javier González* was teaching his nine-year-old son Miguel how to play chess when Miguel's mother, Rosa, interrupted their game to ask him what had happened at school today.

Miguel looked at the floor and recounted what his Ecuadorian classmate had said to another student: "Don't play with him- he's Colombian".

Forced to flee paramilitary threats, Miguel and his family were recognised as refugees. But Colombians in Ecuador don't fit the stereotypical picture of refugees in camps. They live in a nondescript apartment in one of Quito's lower-middle-class neighbourhoods, barely making rent each month. As Miguel's experience shows, they are not necessarily a welcome presence, often viewed with suspicion and associated with criminal activity.

According to the UN refugee agency, some five million Colombians have been displaced by violence, of whom 20 percent have fled the country. The González family is among approximately 53,000 recognised refugees – out of an estimated 140,000 Colombians in need of international protection – in Ecuador.

Rosa and Javier say that they had a happy life in Colombia, and they had even saved enough to establish a non-profit organisation providing free day care for local women. But soon afterwards, a paramilitary group offered Rosa 10,000 US dollars to front for their money laundering operations.

After she refused, the bribes escalated to threats and when two strangers came to her house, the family fled. Throughout the journey, Rosa clung to the hope of finding peace in Ecuador. But she was wrong; employment has been a major obstacle. Although refugees are legally entitled to work in Ecuador, they frequently face discrimination.

In a recent national survey by the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), approximately 64 percent of Ecuadorians said their opinion of Colombians in their country ranged from bad to very bad.

While the underlying reasons for Ecuador's recent rise in crime are complex and numerous, in official discourse the current high levels are often linked to Colombians. In June 2011, in one of his weekly radio addresses, President Rafael Correa said refugee determination process has been "very lax" and that "sometimes delinquents" were granted asylum.

The disproportionate resentment toward Colombians is partly a defensive reaction, said Juan Villalobos, JRS Ecuador associate director. The social challenges of delinquency, organised crime and prostitution are commonly projected onto Colombians, he added.

"Culture has a form of defence, and that is to project negative social aspects on a third party, in this case, foreigners".

Refugee politics

Although several programmes have been initiated to help refugees return, including one promising monetary compensation and land restoration, most refugees are uninterested.

An October 2011 survey by FLACSO of 1,300 refugee and undocumented Colombians, 84 percent said they did not wish to return home at this time, a view shared by Rosa who justified her response citing insecurity and high levels of violence.

For Mr Villalobos their fears are not unfounded, as many parts of the country are inhabited by guerrilla and paramilitary groups.

"… They are promoting a return when the conditions for it do not currently exist", he said.

*The names in this story have been changed to preserve anonymity.

The original article, "Ecuador's Invisible Refugee Population" by Stephanie Leutert, appeared in the online publication America's Quarterly.

Haiti: water project highlights recovery

A clean water project in Los Cacaos, Haiti brought neighbors together as a team to improve quality of life in the community and rebuild self-esteem. (Christian Fuchs/JRS)

The project directly benefits about 450 families in the El Corte area around the first cistern, and another 250 families in the area around the second cistern.  

Los Cacaos, 02 February 2012 — Two years after an earthquake struck Haiti, Los Cacaos has demonstrated what happens when neighbours work together to solve a problem.

Catholic nuns based across the Artibonite river in San Francisco of Banica Parish in the Dominican Republic organised the project in consultation with community leaders. Jesuit Refugee Service USA provided 113,000 US dollars to fund the project, and members of the community supplied the labour to build roads, construct cisterns and lay miles of plastic pipe and tubing.

Fresh, clean water is now available to 700 families, thanks to their commitment to build a foundation for long-term improvements.

"We had 11 brigades of 25 to 32 people each working on the project. They carried sand and cement to places where trucks could not reach. They carried these things over the hills to the source of the water", said Wilens Thomas, of Los Cacaos.

"Before the project I would send the kids to get water, it would take them half a day or more. Sometimes the water would spill on the return trip and they'd have to go back", said community resident Olise, a father of five.

Olise's comment highlighted an additional benefit of the cisterns: children who were before engaged in trekking for hours to water sources now can concentrate on attending school within the safety of their communities.

"This project proclaims a bright future because all different age groups are involved. And I don't want to leave out the work the women have done, they have done a great deal of work for this project", said Sr Refugio Chavez.

This community-based participative model for humanitarian aid delivery and development has had the dual role of providing necessary resources for the health of the community while strengthening the role of women in the decision-making processes and empowering them to take an active role in the development projects. 

Promoting development, discouraging migration

Prior to the January 2010 earthquake, the Los Cacaos area was home to more than 8,700 people. Subsequently, the area became a transit point for many displaced families trying to migrate to the Dominican Republic and the population soared to at least 16,000. 

"One of our goals is that the project become self-sustaining", Sr Refugio said.

"We hope the project becomes completely integrated with education, health, improved agriculture and food security. There is a hope Los Cacaos, one of the poorest places in Haiti, can show the country and the world it has gotten on its feet and started moving. The way to improve their lives, the resources to make changes exist right here and they don't have to go to the Dominican Republic", she said.

After cholera struck the community in October 2010, the nuns spoke to area residents and learned about the difficulty of obtaining fresh, clean, water. A plan was devised to pipe water from high in the hills down to the populated areas, where it is filtered, stored in cisterns and then piped to homes and community centres.

One cistern holds 50,000 gallons of water and a second holds 25,000 gallons. The project directly benefits about 450 families in the El Corte area around the first cistern, and another 250 families in the area around the second cistern.

"The project took a lot of work. We had to carry sand and concrete up the hills", said Enila who lives with her husband Alcen in the El Corte community. Their lives have changed dramatically since the water started flowing to their modest home.

"Before the water was piped in we had to hike up to the river, collect it in big gallon jugs and bring it back and boil it to use it. We had to dedicate a lot of time to getting water, and now we are able to do other things. More importantly, our health is much better now, we feel much better", she said.

The water also allows people to grow crops year-round, rather than just during the rainy season.

"We have been able to grow plantains and fruits. We grow food for ourselves, and some for sale. Or we trade it for soap, cooking oil and charcoal", said Enila.

Enila and others noted that several times in the past, outside groups have arrived in the community promising improvements, only to leave without changing anything.

"Before, people thought there would never be water and for that reason some did not work on the project", she said.

"We carried sand and looked for the best stones to build the tank with", said Vetlana, who has lived in the Los Cacaos community for all of her 70 years.

Those families who did not work on the initial phase of the project are being invited to join now.

"They have the chance to work with us by planting trees and bushes up by the source of the water. This will keep the water clean", said local coordinator, Wilens.

Re-planting and recovering the environment will also mitigate the effects of tropical storms, as new trees and plants take root in the mountains and deter erosion.

The irrigation system gives local farmers a steady supply of water for their fields, and enables local residents to have community and family gardens and gardens to grow their own food; these efforts work towards restoring the livelihood of the community.

In addition to improved physical health, Sr Refugio noticed other changes in the community as well.

"The first big change is the change in self-esteem. People here now feel valued, that they are taken seriously as people. That our work is not to just have them have their hand out asking for things, that it is to work together as a team. They have water and better health, but they also feel better as people", she said.

"I think the Jesuit Refugee Service has had a crucial role in this project. The partnership: the economic support, our role as facilitators and the role of the community, has allowed us to see the joy of the people", Sr Refugio said.

"These communities have benefitted enormously from the project, and this can be an example to Haiti and the rest of the world to see how a water project can enhance people's lives", said Wilens.

"We are thankful to God and the people who worked on the project who helped us get clean water. Please keep thinking about us", said Enila.

  JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00193 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 68977468 Fax: +39-06 6897 7461; Email: dispatches@jrs.net; JRS online: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian).

JRS Dispatches No. 312
Editor: James Stapleton