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Syrian refugee students in a Jesuit Refugee Service education program in Lebanon. (Zerene Haddad — Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Washington, D.C.) October 4, 2016 — The Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees tour is a benefit for the JRS Global Education Initiative, an effort to expand and strengthen our education programs. In 2015, Jesuit Refugee Service provided educational services to more than 141,000 people in 38 countries. Our goal with our new initiative is to serve at least 240,000 people in educational programs by the year 2020.

Who is Jesuit Refugee Service? 

Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. Read our most recent annual report.

Accompaniment is an essential element of the mission and methodology of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. To accompany means to be a companion. We are companions of Jesus, so we wish to be companions of those with whom he preferred to be associated, the poor and the outcast. To accompany is a practical and effective action. Not infrequently it is precisely the way in which protection is given. It is a way to 'internationalize' a situation. The presence of an international team can sometimes prevent an attack on refugees. Moreover, presence can be a sign. That a free person chooses willingly and faithfully to accompany those who are not free, who had no choice about being there, is itself a sign, a way of eliciting hope. Learn more about accompaniment here.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA provides direct service via the Detention Chaplaincy Program. JRS/USA believes that ensuring detainee access to a Religious Service Program is crucially important as detainees have a fundamental right to freedom and exercise of religion. 

Through partnerships with others, such as the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, theEnough Project and iAct, to name just a few, JRS/USA has expanded the accompaniment and service provided to refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world. Learn more about our service here.

A vital part of Jesuit Refugee Service's mission is to defend the rights of refugees and migrants throughout the world. JRS advocates for just and generous policies and programs for the benefit of victims of forced displacement, so people made vulnerable by exile can receive support and protection, and so a durable solution to their plight can be achieved.

JRS/USA works with an international network of JRS programs in more than 45 countries, and with other human rights and refugee assistance organizations to tell the story of the "forgotten" refugee. By bringing field-based accounts of needs that too often do not make the headlines to the attention of policy makers in the United States, and by proposing specific actions to meet these needs, JRS advocacy seeks to make a direct and lifesaving impact on the well-being of refugees and forced migrants. Learn more about our advocacy.

The focus of our work is to help those we serve to heal, to have the opportunity to learn and ultimately to thrive. Heal because the refugee experience is one of sudden, catastrophic loss — of family, friends, home, community, livelihoods — and ongoing trauma of fear, violence and despair. Learn because education is the one life-saving intervention that cannot be taken away, providing a path to a better future, community empowerment and peace building. Thrive because enabling devastated people to take back their lives re-instills the self-reliance and independence they once had and builds confidence and hope for a better future for all of us — now and for generations to come.

JRS is rooted in the Jesuit tradition of educating young people, and offers formal and non-formal education programs in 38 of the countries where we operate. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS considers education a life-saving intervention and offers a variety of opportunities for refugees and displaced persons to achieve an education both in refugee camps and in non-camp settings. These include access to pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education. In addition, JRS offers vocational and teacher training programs, targeted outreach to women, girls and those with disabilities, and supports the building of new schools and distribution of school books and materials. 

As one of the ten geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world. 

JRS was founded on November 14, 1980, by Jesuit Fr. Pedro Arrupe in response to the refugee crisis following the conflict in southeast Asia. Learn more about our history here.

JRS works in more than 47 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of nearly 725,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.

In 2015, approximately 141,000 children, young people and adults received primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services. JRS places the highest priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Further, JRS undertakes advocacy to ensure all displaced children be provided with access to quality education. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. 

The number of people fleeing war, persecution, and conflict across the globe is at an historic high. More than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced across the world, giving rise to the worst refugee crisis in recent history. This includes 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 3.2 million asylum seekers. 

More than half (54%) of all refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), and Somalia (1.1 million). In our own hemisphere, increasing violence in Central America is forcing mothers and children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to flee and seek protection. From 2008 to 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documented a 1,185% increase in asylum applications from these countries. In 2015, child murder rates in El Salvador and Guatemala were the highest in the world. Honduras and El Salvador rank first and third for rates of female homicide globally. 

Who are refugees?

1951 UN Refugee Convention

There are many definitions of a refugee, ranging from the most restrictive to the most inclusive. After the Second World War, the UN member states drew up what is now known as the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It originally applied to those who were displaced in Europe before 1951. In 1967, a protocol to the Convention removed the temporal and geographical restrictions.

The Convention defines a refugee as a person who:

Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.

Other refugee definitions

Since the above definition refers only to individuals in fear of persecution, regional organizations in both Africa (African Union, 1969) and Latin America (Organization for American States, 1984) have developed wider definitions which include mass displacements which occur as a result of social and economic collapse in the context of conflict.

Internally displaced persons

Internally displaced persons are "persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border." (Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Introduction, paragraph 2).

The majority of forcibly displaced persons in the world are displaced within their countries of origin. Nearly 12 of the 26 million persons internally displaced are from Africa, in particular Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Jesuit Refugee Service definition

In deciding with whom to work, JRS feels that the scope of existing international conventions is too restrictive. It therefore applies the expression de facto refugee to all "persons persecuted because of race, religion, membership of social or political groups;" to "the victims of armed conflicts, erroneous economic policy or natural disasters;" and, for "humanitarian reasons," to internally displaced persons, that is, civilians who "are forcibly uprooted from their homes by the same type of violence as refugees but who do not cross national frontiers."

Asylum seekers

An asylum seeker is an individual who has made an application for protection but whose application has not yet been determined. If an asylum seeker's application is successful, s/he is then recognized as a refugee, and this confers certain rights and obligations according to the legislation of the receiving country.

The practical determination of whether a person is a refugee is left to certain government agencies within the host country or to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). The percentage of successful asylum applications varies from country to country, even for the same nationalities. After waiting years for their claims to be processed, many asylum applicants who receive a negative response to their application cannot be returned home, leaving them in a certain limbo. Unsuccessful asylum seekers who do not leave the host country are thereafter usually considered to be undocumented migrants. Asylum seekers, particularly unsuccessful applicants, are increasingly held in detention centers, particularly in Europe and the U.S.

It can often be virtually impossible for asylum seekers to leave their countries of origin with adequate documentation and visas. Therefore, most asylum seekers are forced to undertake often expensive and hazardous journeys to enter countries irregularly where they can seek and be granted refuge.

Prima facie refugee

In response to conflicts and mass human rights abuses, individuals often flee countries en masse. In these circumstances, it would be impractical and unnecessary to examine each individual asylum application. These individuals are referred to as prima facie refugees. Examples of refugee movements like this can be found in Sudanese fleeing to Chad, Chadians fleeing to the Central African Republic, Somalis to Kenya, Sri Lankans fleeing to India etc.

Stateless persons

Statelessness is where there exists no recognized state in respect of which an individual has a legally meritorious basis to claim nationality, or where s/he has a legally meritorious claim but is precluded from asserting it due practical considerations such as cost, circumstances of civil disorder, or fear of persecution. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that there are approximately three million stateless persons in the world. Statelessness is often a cause of forced migration as individuals move on to regions of the world where they could be offered basic rights and escape human rights abuses.

Undocumented migrants 

Individuals who cross national borders without adequate documentation (passports, visas, etc.) are referred to as undocumented migrants (or erroneously as illegal immigrants, as irregular entry is rarely a criminal offense). Although undocumented migrants may be in need of international protection, frequently they do not seek asylum. While significant numbers of undocumented migrants would not be recognized as refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention, this does not mean they are not in need of international protection. Many have fled extreme poverty, generalized conflict, economic collapse etc. In host countries, they are regularly denied access to basic services – such as social welfare, education and healthcare — and the right to work.


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