The Jesuit Refugee Service is celebrating 25 years in its mission of accompanying, serving and advocating for the rights of refugees.
Its experiences are documented in two books the JRS has launched to mark this milestone.
The director of JRS International, Fr Llu√¢ÀÜ≈°√É¬•s Magri√¢ÀÜ≈°√Ç¬±√¢ÀÜ≈°√Ç¬∞√Ç¬¨√¢ÀÜ‘ SJ, told a press conference last month, the number and scope of the agency’s services have increased over the years as peoples’ needs have grown.
The original call for refugee services came in 1980, from the father general of the Society of Jesus, Fr Pedro Arrupe. It was in response to the plight of Vietnamese boat people.
Since then, the JRS’ work evolved as geopolitical situations varied and the nature of what it means to be a refugee changed.
‘Back then,’ Fr Magri√¢ÀÜ≈°√Ç¬±√¢ÀÜ≈°√Ç¬∞√Ç¬¨√¢ÀÜ‘ said, ‘it was Asia who had the bigger number of refugees. Now it’s Africa.’
In the past decade the number of people moving around the world in search of work or freedom has gone from 40 million to more than 250 million.
‘It has multiplied by five in 10 years and this trend seems as if it will continue.’
Fr Magri√¢ÀÜ≈°√Ç¬±√¢ÀÜ≈°√Ç¬∞√Ç¬¨√¢ÀÜ‘ said that, in the last five years or so, ‘internally displaced people’ have begun to outnumber refugees. And there is a rise in the number of those without any national identity whatsoever, the so-called stateless people.
The JRS works in more than 50 countries and employs more than 1,000 staffers. Its food, education, financial and legal services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.
The JRS decided to publish some of its stories and its secret ingredient for success: seeing the face of Christ in everyone.
One of the primary editors of the books, Fr Pablo Alonso SJ, told of the JRS’ role in re-establishing the dignity and beauty of these ‘often desperate brothers and sisters of ours’.
‘JRS has been reflecting for the last 25 years on the spirituality or spiritual values that we could share with the rest of the world, after having received them from refugees,’ he said. ‘So this book comes as a tool to help unveil these persons of God in refugee camps that sometimes is so difficult to unveil.’
One book, God in Exile: Towards a Shared Spirituality with Refugees, identifies the faith experience within such circumstances.
‘Our 30 contributions in this book from women and men refugees, lay workers, religious and priests … really make it clear that God is present in the worst of situations, because as we read in the Gospels, Jesus himself was a refugee when his parents took him into Egypt. He has identified himself with everybody who is suffering or in pain, who is in prison, who is hungry or who is a migrant.’
Fr Alonso says that he has learned more from the refugees than they have from him. ‘Refugees helped me to deepen my faith and learn human values like hospitality and commitment and service to community, but the main benefit I gained from them was hope,’ he said.
The director of the JRS in the United Kingdom, Louise Zanre, says the JRS’ work because of the stigma attached to refugees by an ill-informed public.