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Forty years of service

The Jesuit Refugee Service today, Saturday 14 November 2020, marks 40 years of accompanying, serving, and advocating the cause of asylum seekers, refugees and the forcibly displaced.

Founded by the then-Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, on 14 November 1980, The JRS currently runs programmes which are delivered in 56 countries worldwide. By the end of 2019, one in every 100 people on earth had been forced to leave her or his home. JRS responded by mobilising resources to serve over 800,000 refugees and forcibly displaced persons in conflict zones and detention centres, on remote borders, and in busy cities.

Marking the anniversary, Eugene Quinn, National Director JRS Ireland, reflected on the fact that 40 years ago the Jesuit Refugee Service was set up in response to the plight of the boat people fleeing Vietnam, and that today the vision remains the same:

“Accompaniment remains at the heart of JRS’s work, the commitment to walk with and listen to individuals, children and families who have been forcibly displaced by violence, war and conflict, wherever they are: living in refugee camps, places of detention and state reception centres. JRS aspires to be hospitality in action, working to ensure that the voices and the stories of displaced people worldwide are heard and responded to with generosity, providing them with the safety and refuge they deserve. We must never forget that behind the staggering number of 79.5 million forcibly displaced globally are people, each with a name, a face and a story.”

Since 2007, JRS in Ireland has sought to realise Fr Arrupe’s legacy and mission through its outreach and accompaniment of asylum seekers in Direct Provision, forced migrants in places of detention and refugees living in communities nationwide. Over 2,000 persons benefited from JRS Ireland services last year.

The Covid-19 pandemic casts a dark shadow over the anniversary of the Jesuit Refugee Service. It has undoubtedly worsened the plight of the record 79.5 million persons displaced worldwide, including those seeking protection in Ireland. The Direct Provision system has been identified as a high-risk congregated setting. The pandemic has also exacerbated the needs among asylum seekers and vulnerable migrant groups served by JRS.

However, JRS Ireland has been proactive in responding to needs on the ground. In addition to the Covid-19 National Resident Support Helpline – which is a confidential freephone service run by JRS Ireland for residents in all 84 Direct Provision centres in the country – JRS Ireland is designated as an essential frontline service provider by the Department of Justice and Equality during the current Level 5 restrictions.

As a result, the Jesuit Refugee Service is one of the few service providers present on the ground in Direct Provision accompanying and meeting the needs of vulnerable asylum seekers marginalised and isolated by Covid-19. Critically, whilst strictly adhering to public health advice, JRS frontline staff are working where the need is greatest and where no one else is present.

Most recently, JRS Ireland has been a beneficiary of the Fr. General’s Covid Hardship Fund.  This funding will be used to ameliorate the negative impact of Covid-19 on education and learning through the provision of laptops to assist remote learning, with a priority focus on supporting school-going children in Direct Provision. Also, material supports will be provided to migrant families and individuals at risk of poverty due to the prolonged nature of the pandemic. Finally, additional supports will be developed for residents struggling with mental health issues, which have been exacerbated by Covid-19.

Mr Quinn also paid tribute to many people who have made the work of JRS possible:

“On the occasion of our 40th Anniversary, I would like to acknowledge and express our sincere appreciation to all who support the work of JRS in Ireland and internationally. I want to recognise and thank our hardworking and committed staff and religious volunteers, who work tirelessly on the frontiers to accompany, serve, and advocate for asylum seekers, refugees, and forced migrants. We receive tremendous and generous support from so many donors and partners, especially from the JRS Board members, the Irish Jesuit Province, the staff and pupils in Jesuit schools, other Jesuit works, and so many Jesuits and other religious at home and abroad.”