|"We accompany people, so we go outside of our office – we don’t sit there and wait for people to come to us," Fr. Balleis said.|
By Catherine Marshall
Jesuit Refugee Service - Australia
(Sydney, Australia) December 6, 2010 – The Director of Jesuit Refugee Service International, Fr. Peter Balleis S.J, called on Australia to live up to its reputation as a tolerant and multi-cultural nation by showing compassion to boat people, who are ‘the most desperate and poor of all refugees' during an event in Sydney recently.
Visiting Sydney on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of JRS, Fr. Balleis said that although Australia receives relatively small numbers of refugees, it is important that JRS Australia keeps their cause on the agenda, particularly on behalf of boat people.
"Something I’d like to say explicitly is that those people who risk their lives on these boats, they are the more desperate and poor. Asylum seekers don’t generally come by boat, they come through the airport. [Boat people] cannot get a plane ticket, cannot get a visa, they are desperate," Fr. Balleis said.
Fr. Balleis said it is inhumane for the media and public commentators to portray as the enemy the weakest and the poorest of people, those "who have no other option but to flee for their lives."
"People are stateless in Burma, in Bangladesh – what hope do they have? Sri Lanka is a defeated population; I would probably leave also if I was a Tamil. We have to stand up for them, to be there and plead for their cause," said Fr. Balleis.
Speaking at an event held to commemorate the anniversary, Fr. Balleis said JRS was facing a new set of challenges as it entered its fourth decade.
"Half of the refugee population now lives in urban areas. It’s more complex, more expensive to work with refugees in urban areas. [But] I would say we’re well equipped for that. We accompany people, so we go outside of our office – we don’t sit there and wait for people to come to us. We are also able to make use of local parish and school infrastructure. For example, in Nairobi the parish provides a room where we can have food distribution, where people can meet and feel protected. Church space is protected space," Fr. Balleis said.
JRS is also finding ways to deal with the worldwide growth of xenophobia, the fluid boundaries between migrants and those recognized as refugees under the UN Convention, and the deep need for reconciliation between conflicted groups which might one day be forced to live together again.
"What we invest in the refugee now has a long term impact." said Fr Balleis.
The event was also attended by the Director of JRS Asia-Pacific, Fr. Bernard Arputhasamy, S.J., the Provincial of the Australian Jesuits, Fr. Steve Curtin S.J., the Associate Director of JRS Australia, Sr. Maryanne Loughry, and the Director of JRS Australia, Fr Sacha Bermudez-Goldman S.J.
"JRS had always hoped it wouldn’t be around for as long as it has, but the ongoing displacement of people necessitated a strong commitment to accompaniment and advocacy on behalf of refugees," said Fr Bermudez-Goldman.
For more information about JRS in Australia, please visit www.jrs.org.au
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