Education, peace-building and reconciliation, urban refugees, sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV), persons with disability and internally displaced persons are the areas or groups of people JRS wants to draw specific attention to in eastern Africa. Read on to learn why.
- Persons with disabilities
- Urban refugees
- Internally Displaced Persons
International agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the International Convention on the Rights of the Child widely recognise the right to education (link to education campaign) as a fundamental and universal right for all human beings – whether in peaceful settings, conflict situations or in displacement.
Education is vital to the development of individuals as well as for the societies they live in. For over 30 years, JRS has advocated for and promoted access to the right to education for displaced populations in various areas, such as Southern Sudan (link to projects), Darfur (link to project), northern Uganda (link to project) and in Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa.
Through girls’ education, adult literacy and teacher-training programmes JRS promotes gender equality and helps forcibly displaced persons pursue their education.
All actors including states, civil societies and NGOs should ensure greater access, not only to primary education, but also to secondary and tertiary education and vocational training.
Peace-building and reconcilliation
The trauma inflicted on civilians during conflict and war takes a long time to heal. It is one of JRS’ priorities to help people reconcile and live in peace. Through its peace-building programmes JRS helps restore justice and national cohesion in post-conflict societies such as in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan.
In northern Uganda, JRS has assisted internally displaced persons return to their homes after two decades of conflict. In Southern Sudan JRS accompanies returnees after years of exile in neighbouring countries, helping them to rebuild their lives. Through local peace facilitators, JRS works with the local communities and local administration thus raising awareness about the importance of education, conflict management and helping them to establish the rule of law, good governance and democratic systems.
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
JRS accompanies many displaced women, men and children who have become victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in conflict and post-conflict environments. Many of them have some form of disability, or are single women or children – evidence that the perpetrators target the most vulnerable.
In Kakuma refugee camp, north-west Kenya, JRS provides a protection centre for women who have survived such violence. JRS also offers alternative healing to help relieve the stress and heal the wounds of the victims. In three daycare centres JRS looks after children and adults with mental and developmental disabilities. In so doing, JRS restores the dignity of victims and their families and ensures that their rights are protected.
Over the past 30 years, the UN and other NGOs including JRS have joined efforts in order to find effective and durable solutions for those who are continually at risk of SGBV. Their efforts have paid off and considerable progress has been made. Survivors of SGBV now have better access to healthcare, psychosocial support and legal support.
Persons with disabilities
Another group JRS pays special attention to are forcibly displaced persons with disabilities. Their families or caregivers tend to hide them away because they are ashamed or embarrassed about their condition. In so doing they violate their rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of movement or the right to healthcare, education and food.
In addition, persons with disabilities easily become victims of physical and psychological abuse, neglect and harassment. Owing to their disabilities, they hardly have access to protection or assistance from the authorities and end up in a vicious cycle of abuse and exploitation.
Since 2008 JRS has raised awareness about the situation of forcibly displaced persons with disabilities in eastern Africa and mainstreamed disability in all its projects. It will continue to encourage partners, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and host governments to pursue policies that respect and take care of the special needs of persons with disabilities.
Refugees and asylum-seekers who reside in urban areas face a multitude of challenges. They move to urban areas either because they prefer to do so, are denied access to designated refugee camps or live in countries where refugee camps do not exist. They have limited or no access to services such as healthcare, education and housing. Often, they are discriminated by the local community, at risk of being deported back to their home country or to a camp, or of being unlawfully arrested and detained. While they are expected to cater for themselves the possibilities to find employment or set up a small business are very limited. As a consequence, most urban refugees live hidden among the local population and prefer to remain anonymous.
Through its projects in Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa JRS raises awareness about the plight of urban refugees and supports newly-arrived asylum seekers with food and accommodation. By referring asylum seekers to other organisations, JRS helps them find access to healthcare and psychosocial support. Through a micro-credit programme JRS helps urban refugees become self-reliant.
JRS also participates in various forums in order to bring about positive changes in legislations and policies that affect urban refugees and to raise awareness about their situation.
Internally Displaced Persons
Because of internal strife in the eastern Africa region, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has drastically increased. The violence following the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya, the conflict in Darfur, tribal clashes in Southern Sudan and the insurgency caused by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. In Somalia, the Islamist insurgency led by the al-Shabaab militant group has displaced over one million people.
Since IDPs remain within their country of origin, their own government is responsible for protecting their rights and providing assistance. However, the same government often either has no interest in providing protection or even turns against them. As a consequence, they remain caught in severe humanitarian crises, exposed to human rights abuses such as sexual violence, abductions and killings and often without proper nutrition, shelter and healthcare.
JRS continues to participate in forums pushing governments to develop policies that protect the rights of IDPs. JRS also works with local NGOs and community-based organisations in order to raise awareness about the situation of IDPs.