Rep. Johnson calls on Colombian government to protect activist: “The world is watching”

WASHINGTON Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) dispatched Latin American affairs adviser Sascha Thompson to Colombia February 8-15 to participate in an international pre-electoral observation mission sponsored by the California-based non-governmental organization Global Exchange.

Ms. Thompson joined 22 public policy professionals, analysts and citizens of more than seven countries including the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Mexico.

The mission was tasked with assessing the capacity of the Colombian electoral process to yield a fair, legitimate and democratic result. Their assessment relied upon information assembled from interviews with individuals in the Colombian government and Colombian civil society. The mission met with Colombian electoral officials, the National Electoral Council, the National Registry for Civil Status, local leaders, activists, prosecutors, officials from human rights ombudsman offices, and departmental governors.
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Day of Action to Ban Landmines USA

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Colombian refugees caught in crossfire in Panama jungle

The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that a jungle area on the border of Panama and Colombia has been the scene of fierce battles between law enforcement officers and guerrillas.

Panamanian border patrol officers killed three suspected Colombian guerrillas several weeks ago in the Darien jungle. The dense Darien jungle, which serves as the border between Panama and Colombia, has been used for years by illegal armed groups, drug traffickers, arms smugglers and people traffickers despite an increased presence of the security forces in the region.

Tragically, the Panamanian government continues a policy of confining thousands of Colombian refugees to this same dangerous stretch of the Darien jungle in what has been called camp without services. For more information, please read Jesuit Refugee Service/USA’s Spotlight on Colombian refugees in legal limbo in Panama.

Immigration reform is ‘a moral imperative’

Frank Sharry, the founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice, says Comprehensive Immigration Reform is taking immigration “out of the shadows and placing it under a regulatory regime that works, so that rights are respected and law and order is restored.”

“If you want to stop illegal immigration, be for Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” he says.

Mr. Sharry spoke during a one-day conference, Crisis at our Borders: The Human Reality Behind the Immigration Debate.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the Jesuit Conference of the United States, Georgetown University’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service, the Institute for the Study of International Migration, and the Woodstock Theological Center hosted the conference in October, 2009 on the Georgetown campus in Washington, D.C.

A series of panel discussions at the conference aimed to put a human face on the migrant experience by sharing personal narratives of individuals crossing the border; explored political/legal, economic, ethical and law enforcement perspectives on the current immigration system; made the case for policy changes, discussed ways in which the current system is failing immigrants and our communities. It also explored the prospects for immigration reform, discussed the key players in the process and talked about what such reform may look like.

Talk of the Nation: How outsiders can help communities in crisis

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA’s National Director Fr. Ken Gavin was on Talk of the Nation (a nationally broadcast program on National Public Radio) yesterday to discuss his recent trip to Haiti. Listen to it here: How Can Outsiders Help Communities In Crisis?

Or you can download/listen to a podcast here:

Fr. Gavin on NPR: “… when we talk about our work in Jesuit Refugee Service, we say that what we do is accompany, serve and advocate or defend the rights of refugees or forcibly displaced people. And that term, accompaniment, as you say, Neal, is incredibly important, because I see it as the envelope out of which all our service and all our advocacy – however important they are – flow from that sense of accompaniment.

And what we mean by that, I think simply, is to be close to the people, to be in solidarity with them, to step into their shoes, to experience their hopes and losses. Our sense of accompaniment comes from that spark of the divine that we recognize in every human person. It comes from our believing that even in the greatest tragedies like Haiti, that our God stands present with people in their suffering.”

Hope and despair on streets of Haiti

In the immediate aftermath of the massive earthquake of Jan. 12,  thousands of Haitians slept on the streets. Their songs and chants caught the attention of Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert.

Learn more about Jesuit Refugee Service/USA’s response to the earthquake here.

Haiti needs immediate global support to grow food

United Nations agencies voiced alarm today at the lack of global support for Haiti’s immediate agricultural needs, such as seed and fertilizers to ensure food from the next planting season, while stressing that disaster mitigation techniques must figure fully in the country’s reconstruction from last month’s devastating earthquake.

“At a time when Haiti is facing a major food crisis we are alarmed at the lack of support to the agricultural component of the Flash Appeal,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jacques Diouf told a high-level meeting in Rome to coordinate UN efforts for the medium- and long-term recovery of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The $575-million UN appeal launched shortly after the 12 January quake, which killed some 200,000 people, injured many others and left 2 million in need of aid, sought $23 million for immediate agricultural needs. “But only 8 per cent of this sum has so far been funded,” Mr. Diouf said. “The economic and social reconstruction of Haiti requires a revival of food production and massive investment in rural areas.

“The immediate priority is support for the farm season that begins in March and accounts for more than 60 per cent of the country’s food production,” he added, noting that FAO has already started to distribute seeds, fertilizer and tools to enable farmers to plant for the next harvest. Read the rest of this entry »