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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.

  Turkey: refugees from Afghanistan face winter crisis

An Iraqi refugee receives advice from JRS teams in Turkey (Agata Kawika/JRS)

Less than six months ago, approximately 7,000 Afghans were registered as refugees in Turkey with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). In less than six months, this number has more than doubled.  

Ankara, 19 November 2012 – Refugees from Afghanistan are facing a harsh winter in Turkey this year. According to information provided to JRS, more than 8,900 Afghans have arrived in the country since 31 May, mainly arriving in through Iran. It is believed that most are fleeing the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, but some may have been residing in Iran for some time.

Less than six months ago, approximately 7,000 Afghans were registered as refugees in Turkey with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). In less than six months, this number has more than doubled. The fact that they arrive with little or no resources puts them in extremely vulnerable circumstances.

"During the summer, some lived in tents, but have since been relocated to a number of different cities throughout the country. Upon relocation, they are expected to support themselves in: finding a place to live, paying their rent, and meeting all other expenses. Refugees are scattered among 51 cities throughout Turkey and must register with police at least once a week. Going to another city requires official permission", said a JRS staff member in Turkey.

There are currently 700 refugees residing in the central Turkish city of Kirikkale, 600 of whom arrived in the past two months. Other major places of relocation include Tokat (1,800 refugees), Malatya (1,200 refugees), and Sivas(800 refugees). JRS estimates 98 percent of these refugees will choose to stay in Turkey rather than attempt a difficult or dangerous journey to another European country.

"These are the people who have nothing, no resources to pay for rent. They lack everything. Some families live practically on the ground, with winter quickly approaching", the JRS staff continued.

JRS in Turkey. At the moment these refugees are not receiving government or UN assistance. Their situation is quite dire, and will worsen as winter sets in. There is an urgent need for beds, blankets, food and fuel for both heating and cooking. JRS has also been receiving requests for medical assistance from the refugees, as they are not eligible for public medical care.

The Jesuit Refugee Service has worked in Turkey since 2011 in agreement with the local NGO - KADER - Chaldean Assyrian Humanitarian Organisation. Straddling continents, Turkey is both a destination and major crossroads for refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia awaiting resettlement or hoping to reach Europe. In addition to this, Turkey now hosts 120,000 Syrian refugees in camps. JRS teams in Turkey provide material assistance and food coupons to 110 refugees in Ankara and Kirikkale in central Turkey.

Due to emergency 25 families received six food coupons worth circa 100 US dollars each, while the food coupons given to 10 single refugees were worth 50 US dollars each. All the refugees are provided with warm clothing, advice and support and the opportunity to attend Turkish language courses. So far, JRS has been responding by raising funds locally in Turkey, but these funds are pretty well exhausted.

You can help support our efforts to aid these urban refugees in Turkey.

Christian Fuchs, communications director, Jesuit Refugee Service USA

Global: hope through learning, higher education for refugees

Education is a key in combating the evil of hatred, violence and war. Learning is a way to nourish, in a situation of utter despair, the hope in people, the hope in children. It is important to keep learning, it is a form of trauma healing in the midst of a conflict. (Christian Fuchs/JRS)

Refugees are one of the most under-served, marginalised populations in the world regarding access to higher education. The partnership with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins is a natural one.  

Washington DC, 26 November 2012 – Georgetown University President Dr John DiGioia commemorated the 32nd anniversary of Jesuit Refugee Service this month by hosting a special panel discussion stressing the importance of higher education in refugee situations. 

JRS International Director, Peter Balleis, SJ, was the keynote speaker. Dr Mary McFarland of Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), Cindy Bonfini of JesuitNET and Charlie Currie, SJ, of Jesuit Commons joined Fr Balleis on the panel.

"For the last three decades JRS has worked to serve the most marginalised, in the places where there is the most need all around our world", said Dr DiGioia. "Georgetown is honoured to host today's conversation about an important and evolving aspect of JRS service — higher education for refugees. The work that takes place today between JRS and JC:HEM has created a new dimension of the mission of JRS, with new vigour and excitement around the possibilities of virtual and online learning". 

Fr Balleis recalled reading from one of the letters Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote while imprisoned in 1945. "Evil, violence, hatred, division, destruction…are not just moral categories, they can also be named as intellectually or rationally stupid", said Fr Balleis. The writings of Bonheoffer, a German theologian and political dissident during the Nazi dictatorship, provide an apt message for the 32nd anniversary of the foundation of Jesuit Refugee Service, established to construct where others have brought destruction, to offer knowledge where ignorance reigns.

Audio of Fr Balleis' keynote address:

Tertiary education as a strategic goal. Making tertiary education accessible to refugees and displaced people is a strategic goal of JRS. UNHCR recently reported that less than one percent of refugees have access to higher education. 

"Education is a key in combating the evil of hatred, violence and war. I'm ever more convinced of that", said Fr Balleis. "Learning is a way to nourish, in a situation of utter despair, the hope in people, the hope in children. It is so important to get (displaced and refugee) children into school, to establish a routine of life. It is important to keep learning, it is a form of trauma healing in the midst of a conflict".

The basic routine of school allows children to focus on something other than the destruction of war or the dull routine of a refugee camp. Fr Balleis highlighted the importance of education and the use of knowledge as a means of resisting the self-destructive forces of violence. By kindling hope through learning based on a deep belief in the dignity and interdependence of the human family, JRS seeks to empower uprooted people and foster a future filled with hope. 

Audio of the panel discussion:

"Refugees are one of the most underserved, marginalised populations in the world regarding access to higher education", Fr Balleis said. The partnership with JC:HEM is a natural one, he noted.

Jesuit Refugee Service and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins projects have been underway for two years in refugee camps in Malawi and in Kenya. A new project is now starting in for urban refugees in Jordan. Already nearly 600 students have participated in diploma and certificate courses.

Education during emergencies. The decision to provide education is part of a more holistic approach to education, as demonstrated by latest JRS projects in Jordan and Syria. Even during an emergency when most agencies are focused on the provision of humanitarian assistance, JRS is also organising educational and recreational activities as a tool of trauma healing and promoting psychosocial well-being. It is a way of bringing a sense of normality to the lives of children. Within this vision, the role of higher education is to help foster leadership within a strong moral framework.

"JRS reaches out in direct service to about 700,000 refugees", said Fr Balleis. "Of these, about 250,000 are children and youth — and also adults — in formal and informal education (programmes). JRS is de facto a major educational work of the Society of Jesus".

Helping students continue their education gives the student an intellectual stimulus the routine of camp life can't provide, a focus away from the destructive forces of cities caught up in conflict, and hope for the future. Hope both for the student and for their country. Education received by a refugee today will help transform that young woman or man into a leader tomorrow; someone who can rebuild their country, or, if resettled to a third country, someone who can contribute in a fulfilling and vibrant manner to a new life in a new land.

"Expanding access to education, building where others have destroyed, bringing the hope of a peaceful future where refugees can live in dignity, this is why Jesuit Refugee Service was established", Fr Balleis said. 

Text by Christian Fuchs (JRS USA) and James Stapleton (JRS International)
Audio files provided by Georgetown University and edited by Christian Fuchs

Additional Stories about JRS and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins:

Europe: first EU workshop on immigration detention

Serghei, a Moldovan immigrant living in Portugal, was arrested after his residency papers were stolen and he failed to provide documentation at a routine traffic check point. Serghei was detained at the Unidade Habitacional Santo Antonio, a former juvenile delinquent prison, used for detaining undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, Porto (Don Doll)

One of the main concerns identified was the continued detention of migrant children, including unaccompanied minors, and other vulnerable groups such as victims of torture and trafficking and migrants with special health issues in the EU.  

Brussels, Athens, 29 November 2012 – With immigration detention a growing issue across Europe, NGOs from 15 European Union countries gathered in Greece to discuss ways to prevent the damaging and unnecessary detention of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Greece was chosen to host the meeting due to international criticism of  its migration and detention practices. The group concluded that immigration detention is widespread across the EU and that despite the existence and clear economic advantage of alternatives, they remain vastly unused.

The workshop concluded with the decision to constitute a working group on detention in the EU. The International Detention Coalition (IDC), with collaboration from the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), brought together over 20 organisations from 15 EU member states for the first European Union workshop on immigration detention in Athens, Greece from the 22 until 23 November.

The aim was to develop a regional civil society strategy and action plan on detention, as well as share concerns and priorities on the issue. Participants included European NGOs such as the European Council for Refugees (ECRE), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Amnesty International, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and France Terre d'Asile, as well as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)

During the two days, more than 45 participants discussed the different immigration detention policies and practices in place in EU member states, such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania and the UK, and shared relevant national statistics on the issue. The new EU legal framework on reception conditions, procedures and return was extensively discussed, including the lack of a specific ban on the detention of children and of a maximum timeframe for immigration detention.

The organisations used the second day of the workshop to identify common issues of concern and vulnerable groups, as well as creative ways to advocate for the improvement of national and EU legislation towards ending unnecessary immigration detention. 

Common EU concerns on immigration detention. One of the main concerns identified was the continued detention of migrant children, including unaccompanied minors, and other  vulnerable groups such as victims of torture and trafficking and migrants with special health issues in the EU. In this context, one of the advocacy initiatives mentioned was the Global Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children. The campaign has already been endorsed by 80 organisations and is asking states to stop detaining children, individuals to take action by signing a petition and children to record video messages of support for children in detention.

Another clear concern was the seldom employment of alternatives to detention either already in place, or potentially accessible at a national level. Thus, the need for further exploration and development of alternatives to immigration detention in the EU came out a priority for the organisations present at the workshop, as well as for IDC, on a more global level.

Extra-European territories. Some statistics and practices have been of particular relevance and  interest. For instance, in France, detention practices on the European mainland differ from the  extra-European territories, such as Reunion, Guyana and Mayotte, where there is no effective judge control, limited legal assistance and almost inexistent transparency. Similarly, there were over 5,000 children placed in immigration detention in Mayotte in 2011, although France has a clear policy against child immigration detention. 

In Italy, detention conditions depend on the agreements and policies of the private entity that runs each Centre for Identification and Expulsion. Therefore, some centres don't allow detainees to wear shoes, some ban the use of smartphones, and some make male detainees go into an actual cage in order to shave. Last year, there were 7,735 people in immigration detention in Italy.

In Greece, detention is a widespread practice applied to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers automatically, indiscriminately, often times in inhumane conditions, and almost as a punitive measure. The detention of children is not expressly banned under Greek legislation, so that during 2011, in only one detention centre on the border, Filakio Detention Centre, a total of 573 unaccompanied minors have been detained. Moreover, the Greek legislation has recently changed in order to increase the maximum period of detention of asylum seekers from three months to 12 months, an amendment meant to discourage the submission of asylum  claims. 

In addition, the Greek authorities refusal to receive and register more than 20 asylum applications per week often results in the extension of detention given that numerous potential asylum seekers have no access to lodging an asylum application. This results in their first contact with Greek authorities being in the form of a return decision that includes a detention provision. 

The United Kingdom is the only European member state that practices indefinite immigration detention, where some 160 persons have currently been in detention for more than one year. However, the UK has also recently introduced a family return process that aims to promote voluntary return and minimize the use of detention. Some countries like Malta, the Netherlands and Greece, are continuing to regard detention as one of the most effective migration management tools, and some like Belgium, Denmark and Sweden are increasingly identifying and implementing Alternatives to Detention (ATD), such as open accommodation centres and case management. 

Claudia Liute, contact for the International Detention Coalition

The International Detention Coalition (IDC) is a coalition of over 250 NGOs and individuals working in more than 50 countries around the world. The IDC advocates for greater respect for the human rights of detainees; this includes limiting the use of, seeking alternatives to, and using the least restrictive forms of immigration detention. The IDC constructively engages with governments around the world on alternatives to immigration detention, particularly for children and young people, who are most affected.

Democratic Republic of Congo: despite ongoing insecurity, JRS teams return to Goma and re-establish activities in Masisi

Women in JRS literacy classes in Bukombo refugee camp in Masisi district, North Kivu, DRC (Danilo Giannese/JRS)

Additional stories about the work of JRS in the Democratic Republic of Congo:


Goma, 23 November 2012 – Only three days after the fall of Goma, the North Kivu capital, and the armed advance of the rebel group March 23 Movement (M23), the Jesuit Refugee Service resumed activities for internally displaced persons (IDP) and local communities in Masisi, about 100 kilometres from the eastern Congo provincial city.

After evacuating the city for security reasons on 20 November, JRS staff also returned to Goma to assess ways of responding, in coordination with other humanitarian organisations, to the urgent needs of food and medical assistance of 140,000 IDPs currently in the area.

JRS projects resumed. In Masisi town and IDP camps in nearby Lushebere and Bukombo, JRS re-established its informal education programmes for women, girls and young men. These include literacy classes and vocational training courses, such as tailoring and hairdressing. JRS also resumed construction on a secondary school in nearby Nyabiondo.

"Despite the prevailing climate of insecurity, we have decided to continue our activities to accompany the displaced population in Masisi so as to help restore a sense of normalcy in the lives of those constantly endangered and threatened by displacement. Students are coming to our schools regularly, interested in learning, socialising with others and trying to forget about the war", said JRS Great Lakes Africa Director, Isaac Kiyaka SJ.

According to information gathered by JRS field staff, tensions remain high as the population in Masisi remains concerned about possibility of unexpected attacks by M23 rebels. A number of other rebel groups in the area have also been responsible for human rights violations during violent attacks in recent weeks, according to a JRS press statement published on 14 November. Therefore, JRS plans to evaluate the security risks for its staff and programmes on daily basis.   

Coordination with humanitarian organisations. Progress has been made by humanitarian agencies and international organisations in Goma in establishing a coordinated and effective response to the urgent needs of the women, children and men recently displaced after clashes in the city this past week. 

The provision of food assistance, medical services and resupply of looted health centres are the highest priorities indicated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). JRS is currently working alongside OCHA and other humanitarian actors in order to guarantee immediate assistance to the displaced. 

"We are evaluating the most effective means of intervention to alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of women, children and men, most of them in particularly vulnerable circumstances, who have been unable to access any kind of humanitarian assistance for days", explained Fr Kiyaka.

For security reasons, JRS formal and informal education programmes and assistance to vulnerable persons in Mweso, also in North Kivu, have been suspended until further notice.
Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes Africa

Democratic Republic of Congo: precarious lives of displaced persons in Masisi

Women, children and men fleeing Masisi, without food or water, after violent clashes between the army and a local militia. This picture was taken by a JRS staff member with a cell phone. (Inés Oleaga/JRS).

Additional stories about the work of JRS in the Democratic Republic of Congo:


Goma, 27 November 2012 – On the one hand displaced Congolese are living in constant fear of the imminent arrival of the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels, which have already taken control of Goma, the North Kivu capital in eastern Congo. On the other hand, day in, day out they are suffering the effects of the violent attacks of numerous rebel groups in the area.

This is the precarious situation in which the inhabitants of Masisi district, approximately 100 kilometres from Goma, have been living for the past several days.

Flight in the forest. "We abandoned our homes unable to bring food with us. We fled into the forest with only one objective in mind, our safety. And we don't have any idea of when or how we will return home", said Paluku*, an inhabitant of Masisi, who fled his home on Sunday 25 November following the outbreak of fighting between the Congolese army and an ethnic Mai-Mai militia group.

Severe fighting began on Sunday after the Mai-Mai militia, which is believed to be allied with the M23, attempted to take control of the weapons of the Congolese army. The rebels, many of whom defected from the ranks of the national army last April, were reported to have marched towards other areas of North Kivu, including Masisi, in the last seven days, in an attempt to defeat other armed groups active in the area.

"When we heard gunfire, we witnessed the mass flight of the population of Masisi. In the beginning, many sought safety in the parish, then they began fleeing towards Nyabiondo. People had a look of fear in their eyes", said a staff member of Masisi.

A sense of insecurity. Many people, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), found refuge in the nearby Bukombo camp, where they crowded together in school buildings.

"We don't have anything to eat or drink. Above all, the women and children are in a state of shock. And we don't have any idea of when we'll finally have peace. Today we fled from the Mai-Mai militias, tomorrow it may be from M23", Paluku told a JRS staff member.

Notwithstanding the deterioration of the crisis in North Kivu following the fall of Goma to M23 rebels, JRS teams in Masisi district briefly re-established its formal and informal education activities, including the construction of a secondary school.

Bora Mwazo, a 24-year-old displaced mother of four, is one of the students of the JRS literacy and vocational training courses. She decided to return to the school in Masisi where she is learning to be a tailor, despite the climate of insecurity and fear.

"People say the M23 rebels will arrive shortly in Masisi, and when that happens I don't know how I will be able to flee with my children or where I'll be able to go. But today I wanted to come to school to find a little peace and forget about the war", the women said a few days ago.

The state of Bora Mwazo and her family is unknown at the moment. What is certain is that the young woman feared the arrival of M23 forces and eventually fled fighting between the army and the Mai-Mai militia. We do not know whether or not she managed to find refuge from the various armed groups. 

Regardless of the armed groups responsible for the violence, Bora's situation is emblematic of the insecurity in the lives of those living in Masisi and North Kivu.

Meanwhile, after an outbreak of recent violence, JRS has been forced to suspend all activities in Masisi.

Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes Africa

Indonesia: escape from Rakhine state

Noor is currently waiting with his wife and family in Indonesia for refugee status determination from the UNHCR (Bambang A. Sipayung SJ/JRS)

I just hope we can finally realise our dreams of living safe, dignified lives where we are treated as human beings with rights, and my children can have an education and other opportunities.  

Cisarua, 23 November 2012 – JRS met Noor in Cisarua at the end of October 2012. Eight years ago, he fled his home town of Buthidaung town in the Burmese state of Rakhine. A member of the Rohingya ethnic minority, Noor tells a harrowing tale of struggle and survival in the face of poverty and persecution. This is his story.

Eight years ago after we celebrated Eid Al-Adha, a four-day Islamic religious holiday, my family was swimming in the seaside when suddenly the army came and took the men, including myself, away. For three days we were forced to work as porters, carrying heavy loads of up to 60kg for kilometres at a time.

One of my relatives was too weak, and they beat him until his head began to bleed. I tried to help him but an officer saw and beat me until I fell to the ground, knocking out a few teeth and bloodying my face. At the end of the week, we were freed; but had to find our own way home without food or guidance.

This is a normal part of life for a Rohingya in Rakhine. Rohingyas are denied citizenship and cannot move freely, except to certain places at limited times. We live under the constant threat that the government will take our land and give it to others. The Burmese government also prohibits us from practicing our religion, Islam.

Our temporary ID cards are not even accepted by most public service providers, such as hospitals. Many of our schools have been closed and we are not allowed go to university. With limited access to education, we can only do petty jobs. When I lived there, like many others in my village, I planted vegetables and grew food. But, we were not allowed to go to town to sell our produce.

Military abuse makes life even harder. Many Rohingya are randomly kidnapped, tortured and never return. Neither death nor forced disappearance is unfamiliar to Rohingyas.

Abandoned in Indonesia. If any of us has money, we try to find a way out of the country. My father urged me to find a safe place where I could work, so I went to Malaysia. I worked without legal documents there for six years and eventually managed to save enough money for a trip Australia.

A smuggler offered to take my family, along with 16 others, to Australia by boat. After two nights, many passengers became seasick, so the captain left us in a hotel in Indonesia, promising to return in one or two days. One week later we were still waiting by which time we have been forced to leave the hotel, which had only be paid for two nights. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try to reach the office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Jakarta.

A local man said he could get us tickets for one million Indonesian rupiah, or roughly 104 US dollars, per ticket. I only had 200 Malaysian ringgit, or 65 US dollars, in my pocket. I gave him my wife's bracelet, which cost 1400 Malaysian ringgit. He gave me four bus tickets to Jakarta and some cash in return. I had no other choice.

We travelled for three days before reaching Tanggerang, a city 25 km west of Jakarta. We then took a taxi to UNHCR, but when we arrived it was closed.

The next day we went back to UNHCR and applied for refugee status. There was nothing left to do but wait for the decision. I knew the money we had left would not last long.

Luckily we made an Indonesian friend who helped us survive for the next two months. We found a cheap room to rent in Ciawi, a small town in West Java close to Jakarta.

Waiting with empty pockets. When our money ran out, I was desperate. Without access to employment, we had no way to earn money. I went to the detention centre and asked to be arrested, but was told to leave after one night.

Two months later, my wife and niece made contact with the Church World Service (CWS), an international humanitarian organisation. CWS gave us a small stipend and referred us to JRS for more support.

My situation in Indonesia is not easy, especially because I'm not allowed to work here. Our survival depends on the little money given by charity. However, I feel safe, because I can practice my religion freely here. I've no problem with local people in the neighbourhood or anywhere in Indonesia.

Right now our biggest concern is managing to survive while we wait for the UNHCR decision. My only hope for the future is refugee status. I pray UNHCR will announce the decision soon so we can move to another country and rebuild our lives.

I just hope we can finally realise our dreams of living safe, dignified lives where we are treated as human beings with rights, and my children can have an education and other opportunities.

  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. 329
Editor: James Stapleton