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Archive for May 8th, 2013

George Malual Deng, 24, has spent two years in a transit site waiting to return to his home in Jonglei State

Posted by African Press International on May 8, 2013

The long road home to South Sudan

George Malual Deng, 24, has spent two years in a transit site waiting to return to his home in Jonglei State

RENK, UPPER NILE STATE, – George Malual Deng, 24, has spent two years stuck in a transit site waiting to return to his home in South Sudan’s Jonglei state. He is among 20,000 people who have made a home of sorts in the river port of Renk, waiting for a barge to take them further south.

When he began his journey from Khartoum, Sudan was a single state, albeit one still bitterly divided between north and south in the wake of decades of civil war, despite the signing of a major peace accord in 2005.

Since then, almost two million people have left the north for their homelands in what became the independent Republic of South Sudan in July 2011.

Many, like Deng, say they left amid increasing discrimination and reduced access to education.

The period following secession was tumultuous, marked by sporadic conflict between the neighbours’ armed forces and a row over how much Sudan could charge for piping and exporting South Sudan’s oil – a dispute that led to the shutdown of oil production, cutting off 98 percent of South Sudan’s revenue. Amid the furore, Sudan closed its common border, thereby halting the movement of both people and goods.

“Nobody anticipated on independence that the border with Sudan would be shut… that the barges would stop moving up and down the River Nile,” said Toby Lanzer, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan and Deputy Representative for the UN Secretary-General.

Peter Lam Both, chairman of the state-run Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, says helping South Sudanese come home is one of the government’s priorities, but without funds little can be done.

Luggage

Those living in and returning to the world’s newest country, which is among the least developed and most import-dependent in the world, have to put up with exorbitant prices for basic goods and household items. For this reason – and to avoid carrying large amounts of cash that might prove attractive to officials – many returnees head south laden with large quantities of furniture and other household items, in effect, their entire life savings.

In the four camps in Renk, piles of such belongings sit beside makeshift shelters.

“The main problem, really, for the returnees in Renk is the issue of luggage. When they were brought from Khartoum or Kosti [a Sudanese river port a little north of Renk], at that time, the government had the resources to bring them with a lot of luggage,” Both said.

 Mary Venerato Laki, South Sudan returnee: “We want to go to our own homeland”

Years ago, Mary Venerato Laki fled conflict in South Sudan, moving north to Sudan, where she worked as a teacher for 42 years. full report

The South Sudan government says plans to transport both luggage and people back were hampered by a lack of funds following the January 2011 secession referendum. In its first year of statehood, Both says the government earmarked around US$16 million to finance returns, but these plans were scotched by austerity measures necessitated by the oil shutdown.

When their turn comes to travel by barge from Renk to Juba, many returnees discover that they have more luggage than can be carried on the barges, so some family members tend to stay behind to watch over the excess cargo.

According to the International Organization for Migration, which assists the returnees, each reaches Renk with an average of one ton in luggage.

People are unwilling to leave their valuables behind, said Deng, the 24 year old. “They say if they sell their luggage… they won’t find [the items they need] again, and it will be difficult to buy them again, and you’re not guaranteed a job, so it’s difficult,” he said.

He says selling off his family’s only assets is unthinkable.

“I want to go, [but] there’s no way. Why would I leave my things and go alone? I would sleep where? I need to take my things to Juba [South Sudan’s capital]. There’s no money. I cannot sell my things,” he said.

Poor conditions

Grace Nasona, 38, has been in a Renk transit camp for eight months.

It is a “very, very dirty place. No food, no water [that’s] good, no anything I want to use”, she said.

Renk County does not have a lot of facilities, and when you have 20,000 people that have arrived here, some two years ago, it puts a lot of constraints on the local population,” said Both.

Local officials complain that school class sizes for both morning and afternoon sessions have swollen to up to 150 pupils. They say healthcare is also overstretched and crime is rising.

At a clinic in the Mina transit settlement, nurses say malaria is common, caused by proximity to the Nile, lack of shelter and lack of food, which weakens people’s immune systems.

“We don’t want to settle here, but we are waiting here until we can all go down with our possessions, and my father’s [pension] dues have not been received,” said Nanu Chuol, 17, while she had her four-month-old baby tested for malaria.

“The difference is that in the north, many things were available and my father was working so we could get food. But now, he’s not working, and his pension hasn’t come, so we can’t eat much,” she said.

“Your chair or your wife”

Renk became even more of a bottleneck after the oil shutdown as the government looked for other sources of revenue.

“In Upper Nile State, the authorities decided to impose some taxes on the aid agencies. That problem has been sorted out now, but of course, it did delay things,” said Lanzer.

The IOM says these tax issues resulted in the closure of Renk Port for three months at the start of 2013.

Two barges packed high with luggage were docked in the port in late April.

A barge laden with the luggage of stranded South Sudanese returnees

Lanzer says that it costs around $1,000 per person to travel downstream to Juba, and is telling people that now it is time to choose between “your chair or your wife”.

“To my mind, keeping families together is a very important consideration, as opposed to having some family members stay with luggage in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

“People have been stuck in this situation now, some of them for two years, and I think it’s the moment for hard choices to be made. Do people want to stay here and integrate into the community? If they do, then let’s help them with that. Let’s work with the government to get them a plot of land. If they do want to continue on to their destination, I think the reality is that they will have to do that without their luggage,” he said.

“Our job is really to help people who have no resources to return,” said Both.

After a prolonged stay in Renk, and days of transportation under rain and blistering sun, he says that much of the luggage is ruined by the time it gets unloaded.

More to come

The recent resumption of oil production should refill South Sudan’s coffers in the coming year, but the austerity budget will be in place until 2014.

Meanwhile, Both says around 250,000 more South Sudanese are thought to be in Sudan, and 40,000 are living in poor conditions at transit camps in Khartoum who need to come to South Sudan soon.

And while both countries have agreed in principle to honour one another’s “four freedoms” of citizenship, property ownership, jobs and basic rights, this deal has not yet been finalized.

hm/am/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Gay refugees face a number of challenges

Posted by African Press International on May 8, 2013

Analysis: The plight of LGBTI asylum seekers, refugees

By Kyle Knight

Gay refugees face a number of challenges

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Some states persecute LGBTI
  • Threat of humiliation, exclusion
  • Abuse of LGBTI in camps often goes unreported
  • Aid agencies beginning to adjust

KATHMANDU, 7 May 2013 (IRIN) – Refugees and asylum seekers face a host of challenges when crossing borders, but the obstacles are particularly pronounced for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons, say experts.

“LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees face a range of threats, risks and vulnerabilities throughout the displacement cycle,” Volker Türk, director of international protection at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN from Geneva.

“And while the world has come a long way since first recognizing asylum claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 1980s, residual factors ranging from criminalization to disbelief result in LGBTI people suffering at the hands of a variety of actors as they flee oppression and seek safety,” he said.

A new edition of the Forced Migration Review (FMR) released on 29 Aprilhighlights many of the remaining challenges for LGBTI migrants and asylum seekers.

According to UNHCR, targeting people based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity for persecution, discrimination, and harassment can stem from the belief that they are encouraging unwanted or unnatural social change.

LGBTI people leave home for the same reasons as everyone else: to flee war, persecution, and oppression; to seek stability, education, employment, and freedom. In situations of upheaval or conflict, sexual and gender minorities have become targets for scapegoating or “moral cleansing” campaigns, compounding the inherent vulnerability created by unrest, activists say.

LGBTI persecution 

LGBTI people experience torture, violence, discrimination, and persecution in countries around the world, sometimes deliberately carried out by the state and often conducted with impunity.

Homosexual acts are punishable with the death penalty in five countries (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen), as well as some parts of Nigeria and Somalia, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the oldest and only membership-based LGBTI organization in the world, reported in 2012.

According to research by Human Rights Watch, gay Iranians are fleeing, frequently to Turkey, due to the state-sponsored persecution they face at home, while thousands of LGBTI people have sought international protectionin Europe in recent years on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

And while few countries keep LGBTI-specific data, Norway and Belgium, which both track asylum decisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity, have shown a steady uptick in recent years.

From 2008-2010, LGBTI asylum decisions in Belgium increased from 226-522. During the same period in Norway they increased from 3-26.

But information about abuses against LGBTI people – called “Country of Origin Information” (COI) in the asylum process – can be scant in hostile countries, argued Christian Pangilinan, a Tanzania-based refugee lawyer cited in the Forced Migration Review.

For transgender people, COI can mislead agencies, such as in Iran where authorities “allow transsexual surgery as a forced method of preventing homosexuality rather than supporting trans identities,” according to a gender expert’s FMR chapter.

Crossing borders of geography and identity 

The multiple document checks migrants might encounter can be particularly difficult for transgender or gender-variant people. While international standards for travel documents officially recognize three genders – marked M, F, or X – only a handful of countries have incorporated the third category, meaning that high-security travel environments, such as airports oremergency residential camps, can threaten humiliation or exclusion to people whose gender identity or expression is different from what is indicated by their documents.

Sexuality and gender are nuanced personal matters. According to research by psychologists, some individuals may have had limited experience expressing or experiencing his or her deeply-felt sexual orientation or gender identity, and may outwardly appear very different than how he or she feels – to the extent of even being in a heterosexual relationship.

With the asylum process taking increasingly extended periods of time, some may start the migration or asylum process with one identity, and change over time, complicating the matter both personally and administratively and exposing the individual to further discrimination or ill-treatment.

UNHCR’s guidelines for claims to refugee status based on sexual orientation and gender identity take the progressive step of acknowledging that “sexual orientation and gender identity are broad concepts which create space for self-identification” which may“continue to evolve across a person’s lifetime”.
Nonetheless, according to UN Office of Drugs and Crime guidelines, discriminatory attitudes regarding sexual orientation and gender identity can mean the credibility of LGBTI people is dismissed by authorities.

“That no one should be compelled to hide, change or renounce his or her identity in order to avoid persecution is a central tenet of refugee law, and this applies to sexual orientation and gender identity on equal footing with other claims,” UNHCR’s Türk told IRIN.

“There is no space for decision-makers determining refugee status to expect them to conceal who they are.”

Safety and security 

“There is harassment in the camp against us, sometimes beatings,”said Yoman Rai, a 19-year-old Bhutanese refugee living in a camp in Nepal. “We have a protection unit and complaint mechanism, but we are still facing problems,” he said, adding that just last month a transgender woman was beaten by other people in the camp.

Security in refugee camps is complicated and contingent on numerous, unpredictable factors. For members of the LGBTI community, vulnerabilities are exacerbated. Sexual abuse is common, but often goes unreported because the right questions are not being asked, and because survivors of sexual violence are reluctant to report events that will “out” them to legal authorities.

Life can be particularly difficult in a refugee camp

Explained Rai: “Many Bhutanese are not `out’ to anyone except for the outreach workers because they still believe being LGBTI will put them in danger and negatively affect their resettlement process,” adding that the outreach educators’ network was operated by a Nepalese LGBTI rights NGO.

Emergency shelter settings -such as relief camps or refugee housing- posespecific challenges for transgender people. Access to male-female gender-segregated facilities, such as dormitories or bathrooms, can be perilous. New research is exploring how immigration detention centres can respect and protect LGBTI residents, a US-based prisons expert explained in FMR.

For LGBTI migrants who end up in urban areas, research has shown that cities can be unwelcoming and unfamiliar and access to basic social services limited by scant local resources, exclusion of foreigners, or limitations to access including finances, language, and cultural barriers.

“The single most threatening factor for these migrants is isolation,”said Neil Grungras, executive director of the Organization for Refugee Asylum and Migration (ORAM), a leading advocacy group for refugees fleeing persecution due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

With UNHCR data showing the average major refugee situation lasting 17 years, these circumstances can impinge on a significant portion of an individual’s life.

Migrant populations are generally more at-risk for HIV due to disruption and displacement, and according to UNAIDS are often overlooked in host-country HIV policies.

“It is critical that refugee organizations identify what the best ways of offering protection are, such as providing access to safe shelter, requesting expedited resettlement, and, if possible, working with the police and refugee communities to address specific threats of violence,” said Duncan Breen, a senior associate in the refugee protection programme at Human Rights First.

Evolving frameworks 

Recent UN reports and statements demonstrate increased international attention to the human rights of LGBTI people.

On the programme level, agencies have begun to adjust to include considerations of sexual orientation and gender identity.

For example, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is implementing a “safe space” project for refugees at its four US Refugee Admissions Program Resettlement Support Centers.

Jennifer Rumbach, IOM resettlement support centre manager for South Asia, told IRIN the programme is designed to help LGBTI refugees at “every step along the way – whether during counselling, interviews, orientations, travel, or post-arrival…

“Disclosing sexual orientation and gender identity overseas works to the refugees’ benefit because it ensures we can provide appropriate and respectful services, ask questions that are critical to their resettlement experience, and try to get them any special help they need while they wait to be resettled,” she explained.

But ORAM’s Grungras warned:“We have to be extra careful to talk with refugees and migrants on their own terms – to understand them as they understand themselves, and not label them as“LGBTI” just because it fits our programmes.”

In spite of challenges such as a dearth of respectful terms used in some languages referring to sexual and gender minorities, IOM’s programmes also attempt to engage with local terminology.

“While it’s important for staff to understand sexual orientation and gender identity terms used by the international community, we make special efforts to use relevant and respectful local terminology in our signs, handouts and interview and counselling scripts,” said Rumbach.

Supporting and protecting LGBTI people as they migrate requires nuance, sensitivity, and an appreciation of evolving identities, legal frameworks, and programmatic potential.

kk/ds/cb

source irinnews.org

 

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Displaced still homeless after clashe, Nigeria

Posted by African Press International on May 8, 2013

A man stands outside of his destroyed home in Baga

BAGA,NIGERIA, – Thousands of residents of Baga in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, remain displaced for fear of further clashes breaking out between radical Islamist group Boko Haram and troops from the Nigeria-Niger-Chad Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). A reported 187 people died in the clashes on 16 and 17 April.

An estimated 2,275 homes were destroyed in fires, and a further 125 severely damaged, according to satellite images released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 1 May statement.

“Our major worry now is finding where to stay and rebuild our homes before rain sets in. Many of us are now squatting with relations and friends here in Baga and in neighbouring towns and villages,” Ibrahim Buba told IRIN in the courtyard of his gutted four-bedroom mud house in the Pampon Gaja-Gaja neigbourhood.

Heavy fighting broke out in Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, between MNJTF and Boko Haram (BH) on 16 April, causing fire to break out and sweep through the neighbourhoods of Pampon Gaja-Gaja, Fulatari and Budumari. The Nigerian Red Cross estimated 187 people died in the fire and fighting, but the military dispute these figures, insisting only 37 people, including 30 Islamists, six civilians and a soldier, were killed.

Many residents accused soldiers of burning their homes, while military forces disputed the accusations, blaming BH.

The area is a BH stronghold and military officials have accused Borno State residents of harbouring BH members. According to HRW, BH has killed numerous Borno State residents, creating a climate of fear in the area.

“I lost my all that I worked for in life including my house, two cars, two motorcycles, and a grinding machine which is my major source of income,” said 62-year-old Adamu Ciroma. “What preoccupies me is how to rebuild my house to shelter my family of 18.”

Maina Maaji Lawan, a Borno State senator, told IRIN there is not enough emergency shelter to house all the displaced. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has set up temporary shelter for just over 600 of the displaced, according to a recent statement.

Borno State governor Kashim Shettima has ordered that the destroyed houses be rebuilt, according to spokesperson Isa Umar Gusau.

Many still in hiding

Most Baga residents rely on fishing and farming for their income. “We don’t even have seeds to plant because the seeds we saved have been gobbled by fire,” local smallholder Ba’ana Sharif told IRIN, as he stood in the midst of his burnt granary. The rainy season begins in May and extends into September in Nigeria’s semi-arid northeastern region.

NEMA and the Red Cross arrived in Baga eight days after the fire because they had to wait for security clearance from the military which claimed the area was too dangerous for aid workers to enter, according to Nigerian Red Cross national coordinator Umar Mairiga.

Many residents are still in the bush having fled their burning homes: They fear a resumption of violence between BH and the military, residents and aid officials said.

“Many people are still in hiding. Part of our work there is to build confidence. We need to show people that what we have now in Baga is assistance, not any more attacks,” said NEMA spokesman Manzo Ezekiel.

Resident Abdullahi Gumel told IRIN on 30 April that he found two residents in the bush suffering from burns and thirst. They both died within 24 hours.

Brig-Gen Austin Edokpayi, head of MNJTF, blamed the mass exodus of residents on “warnings from BH Islamists to leave the town, as the terrorists were planning reprisals against the military for the casualties they suffered at the hands of the multi-national troops.”

HRW called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe the events in Baga as part of a preliminary investigation the court launched in 2010 on the situation in Nigeria. The ICC has indicated that crimes committed by BH may constitute crimes against humanity.
On 23 April, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered a full-scale investigation into the events in Baga.

aa/aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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