|Fr Balleis commended communities worldwide who have embraced this call of encounter by hosting displaced persons, welcoming their contributions and promoting the integration of those struggling to start anew. "The world is better if people learn, which is not always easy, to live together to understand the richness of the different cultures."|
(Vatican City) January 29, 2014 – The present day reality of migration in a rapidly globalizing world poses a particular challenge for world leaders and citizens alike, according to the annual message Migrants and Refugees: toward a better world, released by the Vatican last week.
"Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more," said the Holy Father on the one hundredth anniversary of World Day for Migrants and Refugees.
Peter Balleis S.J., the Jesuit Refugee Service International Director, welcomed the Pope's call for recognition of the humanity in forcibly displaced persons, especially as numbers rise in relation to emergency crises such as in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNCHR), the numbers of forcibly displaced persons in 2013 reached an 18-year high. Many of these refugees and internally displaced persons are no strangers to violence, exploitation and marginalization. However, once finding protection they often become strong agents of change, striving to improve our shared world.
"What are the elements for a better world? I think the very first element is the people who suffer so much from the wars that they want peace. They're the agents of peace…migrants, in particular also refugees… They are a very great asset for society and economy because they want to build up life and a family, live in peace," said Fr Balleis.
JRS has witnessed time and again the determination of refugees to holistically develop, to get an education and give back to their new communities.
"We have a very special focus on education because we're convinced that…to equip refugees with education is a key for the future; for hope."
In addition to providing pre-school, primary, secondary and adult education to refugee students, JRS partners with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) which offering online higher education to refugees currently in Afghanistan, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi and Thailand; and eventually similar projects will open in Burma, Chad and Sri Lanka.
Apart from providing educational opportunities in remote locations where universities are far and few between, JC:HEM helps refugees improve their English and computer literacy skills, allowing them to connect with an outside world, breaking down barriers in a way that before was inconceivable for refugees with little access to technology.
"If people learn to have some common language, then I guess they connect more and the desire of young people in Afghanistan and very remote places is to connect with the rest of the world and we have started on that line," continued Fr Balleis.
Pope Francis also iterated the importance of human development that goes beyond economics in forming a better world.
"A better world will come about only if attention is first paid to individuals; if human promotion is integral, taking account of every dimension of the person, including the spiritual; if no one is neglected, including the poor, the sick, prisoners, the needy and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:31-46); if we can prove capable of leaving behind a throwaway culture and embracing one of encounter and acceptance".
Fr Balleis commended communities worldwide who have embraced this call of encounter by hosting displaced persons, welcoming their contributions and promoting the integration of those struggling to start anew.
"The world is better if people learn, which is not always easy, to live together to understand the richness of the different cultures."
However, much work is to be done if all those seeking protection and justice are to be respected and welcomed.
"The reality of migration, given its new dimensions in our age of globalization, needs to be approached and managed in a new, equitable and effective manner; more than anything, this calls for international cooperation and a spirit of profound solidarity and compassion", said the Holy Father.
by Angela Wells, JRS International Communications Assistant