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  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.

  Europe: one size fits all immigration detention fails to deliver expected outcomes

A detention centre for refugees and migrants on Italy’s Lampedusa Island. This centre was closed end of July 2007, and a replaced with a new one opened in August (UNHCR/A. Di Loreto)

The basis is a migrant's right to liberty. Governments and NGOs should work together to develop alternatives that meet this condition while maintaining the efficiency of migration procedures.  

Brussels, 26 October 2012 – Immigration detention is mostly unnecessary because governments can instead use more humane and cost-effective alternatives, argues JRS Europe in their newly adopted policy position on alternatives to immigration detention.

In the policy position, JRS Europe broadly defines alternatives to detention as "any policy, practice or legislation that allows asylum seekers and migrants to live in the community" while having their fundamental human rights to movement and liberty upheld.

"Our new policy position frames detention as it should be: an abnormal and exceptional measure that should rarely be taken. Governments should presume that they can handle a migrant's case in the community instead of locking them up, which leads to much pain and suffering for those who experience it", said JRS Europe Advocacy Officer Philip Amaral.

"There is no 'one size fits all' approach when it comes to alternatives", explains Mr Amaral. "The basis is a migrant's right to liberty. Governments and NGOs should work together to develop alternatives that meet this condition while maintaining the efficiency of migration procedures".

JRS Europe hopes that NGOs can use the policy position as a guideline for their own efforts. "Each of the 14 positions is based on research and practice. NGOs can use them as a basis to develop pilot projects and research studies, and to advise governments who are interested to explore alternatives to detention", says Mr Amaral.

"We hope our policy position can help NGOs answer the question they often face: 'if not detention, then what?'"

Bad practice. Take the story of Hadiaa and her family as a case in point, Mr Amaral continued.

One day armed men invaded her village in Iraq and kidnapped her two sons, aged 16 and 18, along with the other young men in the area. A week later the boys were brought back and killed in front of their parents. Hadiaa's outspoken condemnation of this atrocity led to numerous death threats, forcing her husband and two daughters to another village and Hadiaa out of Iraq with their 12-year-old son.

They arrived to Ireland in the hope of finding protection. Instead Hadiaa was arrested and imprisoned for not having the right documents. Her son was taken by social workers and put in the care of the health service.

"Why are they doing this to me, to us?" Hadiaa cried to a JRS worker.

"I was told my son and I would be safe, that my husband and two daughters would come later. But instead I am in prison. I do not know where my son is being kept. My other two sons are in a grave in Baghdad. I do not know where my husband and daughters are. I just want to die".

Alternatives work. Existing practice shows that Hadiaa and her son could have been treated differently. Belgium, for example, no longer detains undocumented migrant families, instead placing them in community housing. Families stay together and maintain their privacy while receiving individualised support from the state.

The vast majority of families keep their commitments to the authorities without being coerced. Local NGOs hail it as a success.

Ethiopia: Dollo Ado construction moves to completion

Refugees gather in the new JRS multi-purpose hall for a sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) awareness-raising forum. (Mulugeta W Eyesus/JRS)

The impact of the JRS youth programme was felt immediately.  

Dollo Ado, 26 October 2012 – Impressively positioned over a section of Melkadida camp, is the recently completed Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) multi-purpose hall. Built to provide refugees in Dollo Ado with a space for indoor sports, the hall is the largest building for thousands of square kilometres. Construction work has moved quickly over recent months, with a new school being the latest development.

JRS has been working in Melkadida since November 2011 to assist Somali refugees escaping conflict, drought and poverty through education and psychosocial programmes. However, construction has always been a top priority. In addition to the multi-purpose hall and school, a meeting hall, counselling block, offices, JRS staff quarters and a skills training centre have all been completed in recent months.

In mid-October, JRS officially handed over the newly-constructed primary school to the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs – the school will provide education for 480 refugee children.

Melkadida is one of five camps in Dollo Ado on the Somali border, with a population of around 41,000 refugees. By the end of this year, JRS will have supported more than 12,500 refugees.

Building the structure for sport. "Around 80 refugees per day will take part in organised indoor sports activities in the new multi-purpose hall as they escape the intense dust and heat of the sun. Already involvement in JRS outdoor sports activities has far exceeded expectations with huge numbers turning out to play volleyball and football", explained Mulugeta W Eyesus, Dollo Ado Project Director.

The Melkadida football and volleyball leagues have attracted enthusiasm from refugees all over the camp. JRS holds athletic practice for two hours every afternoon for more than 200 participants and many more spectators. This regular activity has provided a focus and a safe outlet for the stresses of camp life, particularly for young people.

"We have noticed a marked improvement, almost 80 percent, in social interaction and positivity amongst the refugees who are members of our sporting leagues" said Mr Eyesus.

The leagues include teams from the Dollo Ado host community, as well as the camp teams.

JRS has provided two training workshops on football and volleyball skills, and a training session on football coaching. Fifteen refugees, who are now fully-trained coaches, helped officiate at major football and volleyball tournaments in January, March and May - bringing the community at the camp together.

Skills training classes are launched. A unique range of skills training classes were recently launched for adult learners. Training in tailoring, weaving, mat making and henna tattoo design have proved popular. Refugees take the classes in the new skills training centre which provides a cool environment away from the dust, heat and wind.

An attractive round building with a thatched roof was finalised in August and provides a meeting hall for drama and music activities. Professional workshops on acting and playwriting took place earlier in the year, and from now on these will be conducted in the hall. In addition, refugees will take part in workshops and training courses in counselling skills in the recently completed office complex.

Adult literacy classes have also been very successful. After nine months, the number of students who can read and write simple words in English has gradually risen to an impressive 70 percent. On 25 September, 400 students received certificates in phase-one basic literacy skills.

Looking to the future. In September JRS staff moved from tented accommodation to a permanent JRS complex with new offices and living spaces. One year on from the terrible Horn of Africa drought, which prompted the launch of the JRS Dollo Ado appeal, and the construction work is almost complete.

When JRS staff members first visited the camp in August 2011 to conduct a needs assessment, the construction vision was just a sketch on an architect's drawing board. But after months of planning and work by hundreds of local artisans, the project has taken shape.

Over the next months, refugees will reap the benefits of the new buildings and it is hoped that motivation, well-being and increased hope for the future will continue in an upward curve. Future plans include the building of a dedicated adult literacy centre.

Katie Allan, Regional Communications Officer, JRS Eastern Africa

India: refugee camps put women at risk of violence

Sr Arasi, Seva Missionaries, Sisters of Mary, looks at the students' jewelery. (Molly Mullen/JRS)

Now I'm never alone. After school I stay with my teacher until I can go to an Arrupe Centre. I stay there until my mother gets home from work.  

Trichy, 31 October, 2012 – For 30 years, civil war devastated Sri Lanka, forcing many Tamils to seek safety in southern India. While Tamil Nadu may be safer than home, for women in the 112 refugee camps across the state, 'safer' is not enough.

Unemployment, overcrowding, post-traumatic stress and alcoholism have taken their toll on the camp population, now nearly 70,000. However, with forced early marriages and sexual- and gender-based violence, women face additional hardships.

"We focus great attention on girls in the camps because almost all violence you see in the camps is against girls. To a certain extent, all girls face problems in the camps. The houses (more like thatched sheds) in the camps are so small, and there is no privacy. Whatever you say in your home can be heard by the neighbours", said Lilly Pushpam, JRS Tamil Nadu programmes officer.

Alcoholism. Most people in the camps do manual labour on construction sites or farms. They are paid on a daily basis and those with alcohol problems often drink their wages as soon as they receive them. This feeds into a cycle of poverty and depression for families which leads to more drinking.

Sexual and physical abuse often follows, and, according to Ms Pushpam, it is women and girls who bear the greatest brunt. With this in mind JRS field officers and counsellors identify people with alcohol dependency problems and organise appointments with them to discuss treatment options. The most serious cases are referred to specialised centres in the camps. But according to Ms Pushpam, only about 30 percent stay with the recovery programme.

JRS teams focus on changing the attitudes of the young by raising the issue in Arrupe Centres. One group organised a street play about the effect of alcoholism on the family, moving one father to swear off alcohol altogether.

"That was a great success for JRS. Young boys usually see their brothers or fathers drinking and begin to experiment with alcohol at a young age", Ms Pushpam said, hoping the message sinks in.

Impunity. Many cases of sexual- and gender-based violence go unreported. Women fear if they speak out about the violence against them, their neighbours will start talking and shame their family, like in the case of Nila*, who faced a backlash after speaking up.

"There was a married man who wanted to marry me too. He used to follow me. One day when I was alone at home, the man came inside and tried to molest me. I screamed loudly so he ran away. All the camp residents came to know about it and talk about me," Nila reported to a JRS counsellor.

After months of counselling she has resumed normal life, but she will live with the burden of stigmatisation.

Neena* is another survivor of sexual violence who attends the JRS-sponsored Survivor Support Group. She lives alone with her mother and two siblings as her father is still in Sri Lanka. She was completing seventh grade – taking care of her siblings and dealing with the tribulations of adolescence – when she was sexually abused. An older neighbour found the 12 year old alone and repeatedly raped her.

Once JRS was alerted, field staff suggested a medical examination so they could report it to the police. Her mother refused, fearing other people might find out.

"Now I'm never alone. After school I stay with my teacher until I can go to an Arrupe Centre. I can stay there until my mother gets home from work", she said.

The man who raped Neena continues to live next door and has never faced repercussions for his crime. JRS staff try to combat this stigma against abused women by organising public awareness campaigns.

JRS teams have also established an Arrupe Centre in each camp for students to study after school and participate in cultural activities. But in a refugee camp where reputation and community relations are more important than the rule of law, providing safety and counselling are the only options available.

Counselling and safe havens. "We've seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere…" the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said so candidly in 2009, a fact only the most partial observer could deny.

Although the statistics fail to fully capture this reality, harming women was a clear operational tactic; some were sexually assaulted, others abducted, killed by landmines, stray gunfire or bombardments, or abandoned after their husbands left to fight in the war. It was these first-hand experiences of war which pushed thousands to seek safety in India.

Whether they fled war and abuse in Sri Lanka, or were born in the camps in India, refugee women and girls face hidden obstacles to gaining access to education. While they are entitled to attend Indian public schools, the trauma of sexual- and gender-based violence often causes the survivors leave early. To help them rebuild their lives, JRS has employed 66 counsellors to provide the girls and women with psychosocial support.

More than just counselling services, women need a safe place to learn leadership and life skills. JRS established two centres for young girls who left school early. Here they learn everything from tailoring and computer skills to street theatre and public speaking.

"These girls who have been physically and psychologically abused can come to accept themselves at JRS centres. They are empowered to stand on their own two feet", said Fr Louie Albert, JRS Project Director in Tamil Nadu.

Nineteen year old Kalaiselvi came to one of the vocational centres after family difficulties caused her to leave school early. One of the best parts of her time there was the presence of the Seva Missionaries Sisters who teach in the centre.

"They listen to us, they believe in us, they have good hearts and good minds", Kalaiselvi said with her new English-language skills after six-months at the centre.

Molly Mullen, communications consultant, Jesuit Refugee Service International Office

*Not their real name

Jordan: accompaniment comes first for refugees

Students from Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Jordan discuss their essay topic with a volunteer teacher at the JRS school in Ashrafiyeh. (Zerene Haddad/JRS).

Politics and religion are a red line. We don't avoid these topics but whenever students talk about them, it has to be with an attitude of mutual respect.  

Amman, 30 October 2012 – Situated in a quiet neighbour on top of a hill, it would be easy to confuse Ashrafiyeh as just another school in east Amman. But few of the students share a common language, or religious and cultural traditions. Most have been forced to flee conflict and survive on the margins of society. They need to be supported and kept engaged. This is the approach taken by teachers in the JRS school in Jordan.

"We don't want teachers who just lecture and leave. I tell my teachers: 'first we have to really get to know and respect the students; then teach them'. Accompaniment comes first", said Falah Matti, an Iraqi refugee and the Director of the school.

The school is based at a Greek Catholic school, which operates as a public school during the mornings. Since 2009, JRS has held afternoon courses there. Four days a week, yellow buses drive refugees and local students from all across the city to the school.

Lessons take place in the afternoon and evening. The afternoon classes are usually frequented by Iraqis, Syrians and Jordanians. While the evening classes are taken by Somalis and Sudanese, most of whom work in the informal labour market, doing jobs others refuse to do.

The staff comprise 30 volunteer teachers. They teach English language, conversation and computer skills. As many of the teachers are refugees, they are prohibited from undertaking paid employment, a big change for a person like Abu Hassan who was a headmaster before he fled Iraq.

Coping with change. In the last three years the number of students has increased from 35 Iraqi refugees to 600 students, mostly women, from a wide variety of countries, including Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Somalia and Sudan. More than 3,000 students have successfully completed courses and graduated from the school.

The rapid expansion of the school is a clear sign not just of the demand for education, but of success. Many schools offer vocational training courses, but they are expensive and without any quality guarantees.

"We have a good reputation…The number of students has increased without any advertisement. We respect certain rules, choose our teachers carefully and offer a friendly environment", said Mr Matti, known to his friends and students as Abu (or the father of) Hassan, a title conferred on him as a sign of respect.

Under Abu Hassan, the school celebrates success and listens to the views of the students.

Those who complete the courses successfully receive a certificate at a graduation party. In addition, all students are asked to give their suggestions and opinion on the quality of the lessons.

"We ask them to fill in a questionnaire at the end of each year. The results are presented to everyone, so they realise that their opinion is valuable for us and we respect it. It boosts their self-confidence", explains Abu Hassan.

Integration. A cursory glance at this heterogeneous group of students together – chatting, making friends, learning new skills – demonstrates the value of this approach.

When the bell rings and students gather in the school yard to play soccer, enjoy an Arabic coffee or simply chat, the friendly atmosphere is evident. In the evening, the classrooms are packed with students, young and old. The younger ones are taken care of in the childcare room downstairs while mothers attend lessons.

"We teach the students that we belong to one human family. Politics and religion are a red line. We don't avoid these topics but whenever students talk about them, it has to be with an attitude of mutual respect. You can express your personal opinion but whoever starts a fight, be it verbal or physical, has to leave," explained Abu Hassan.

Uncertainty. Despite the success, the drop-out rate from the courses is extremely high, 35 percent. The uncertainty of the lives of refugees makes delivery services extremely complex.

Resettlement to a third country, such as Australia, Canada or the US, is the main cause of drop-outs. Abu Hassan knows this only too well; today his family is spread across the globe, with daughters in Australia and Greece, and a son in Germany. All the while he and his wife are still in Jordan, awaiting resettlement.

Others drop out because they find a job or enrol in UN-sponsored activities, such as vocational training, for which they receive an allowance for attendance.

"Many students have been resettled. Some stay in touch, they call or email", says Abu Hassan.

Ashrafiyeh restores a sense of normality to the lives of refugees; although some students remain in classes for only a brief period, the social and educational benefits will continue for some time to come.

Angelika Mendes, JRS International Fundraising Coordinator

Jordan: eat dust here or die in Syria

Children's shoes sit on the doorstep of one Syrian family residing in Amman (Angelika Mendes/JRS).

Before leaving Syria, Zeinah worked for the Syrian government for 30 years without problem, but once violence broke out she became fearful.  

Amman, 31 October 2012 – Ahmed* greeted us on a busy street that winds steeply uphill to his home in a quiet neighbourhood in Amman. We followed him upstairs to a simple three bedroom apartment. Long Arabic greetings are exchanged as we entered the living room. Except for some mattresses on the floor and a dresser, the room was bare.

It was the middle of winter, nine months ago, when Ahmed and his extended family – wife, daughter, parents, uncle and aunt – first arrived in Jordan. Life is hard here. But it was impossible at home.

Before fleeing Homs, Syria, Ahmed was arrested and detained for nearly 50 days in appalling conditions. Overcrowding meant detainees were forced to stand. As a result of his time in prison, Ahmed has spine-related problems that make any form of labour difficult.

Ahmed kept quiet with a determined look on his face as he chain-smokes, while his mother, Zeinah*, did the talking.

"It's very rare for someone in Syria to be released from prison, maybe one in 100 is released", explained Zeinah.

The family paid 2000 Jordanian dinar (2,170 euro) to bail him out.

"We sold everything, down to the last spoon, to find the money".

Before leaving Syria, Zeinah worked for the Syrian government for 30 years without problem, but once violence broke out she became fearful.

"I could sense things were changing and I was afraid of being arrested".

"There's not enough food in Syria, no bread. They destroyed everything, churches, houses… Two thousand people gathered to pray and demonstrate peacefully. They didn't want the fighting" Zeinah continued woefully.

Exile. Ahmed's wife serves us coffee in small gold decorated cups. She was seven months pregnant when they fled Homs on a bus to Amman.

"We came with nothing. For the first 50 days we lived here and there until we found this apartment.

Eleven members of the family, spanning three generations, live here together.

"It's better to eat dust here than to stay in Syria".

Zeinah's 14-year-old son works 12-hour shifts in a local falafel café for five dinars a day. He is the sole breadwinner since Ahmed and his father are unable to find work. The family relies on charity for the rest; clothes and medicines from a local church and neighbourhood clinic; food from an NGO; and uniforms and bags from the UN children's fund (UNICEF) so Zeinah's two younger daughters can attend school.

"They like it there. [But] it's so difficult to live here. Everything is so expensive".

The family pays 200 dinar a month in rent for their three bedroom apartment. Zeinah's husband needs special drugs for high blood pressure and a heart condition. With winter approaching, they are in dire need of blankets and heating oil.

Back in Syria both Ahmed and his father were drivers for tourist vans and had a good life. Her eldest son and daughter have remained in Syria.

"We try to keep in touch with them but the phone connection doesn't always work".

Until the dust of the prevailing conflict settles, the future of Zeinah's family and other Syrian refugees will remain uncertain.

Angelika Mendes, JRS International Fundraising Coordinator

  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:; JRS online:; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Nicole Abbeloos (French), Simonetta Russo (Italian), Chiara Peri (Italian).

Dispatches No. 327
Editor: James Stapleton