(Washington, D.C.) June 20, 2014 — As we commemorate World Refugee Day today, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA notes the courage and resilience of the millions of people forced to flee their homes, and the many people who welcome them into their communities.
Communities of volunteers in France open their homes for periods of one month at a time, giving refugees, otherwise at risk of homelessness, the opportunity get on their feet. Communities in Lebanon have opened their doors to people fleeing the violence in Syria.
"In the midst of the conflict ravaging Syria, which has displaced more than nine million people, tens of thousands of Syrians across religious, ethnic and economic divides have continuously promoted harmony, reaching out to build 'a culture of encounter and dialogue.' Much of the aid reaching Syrians is delivered thanks to the support of committed, Muslim and Christian, volunteers working together," said Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Peter Balleis S.J.
At JRS, we encounter misconceptions about asylum seekers and refugees. Unfortunately, the abundance of information which washes over us every day includes not only the facts about asylum seekers and refugees, but also the fictions that have been created to suit people’s prejudices or political agendas.
The message from industrialized nations is heard loud and clear in countries hosting major refugee populations: border security is more important than the protection of people. Even worse, these policies are being replicated around the globe.
In response to a spate of attacks by radical groups in Kenya, the space once offered to refugees to live and work in urban areas is being closed. Thousands of people are being pushed back to overcrowded and underfunded camps, and even to war-torn Somalia, despite having contributed to the local economy for years and on occasion having raised their children in local schools.
In the U.S., asylum seekers are detained in conditions that can be re-traumatizing, and the JRS/USA chaplaincy program seeks to alleviate their trauma. One woman ran from an abusive husband who was trying to kill her only, to be captured by a group of men in the U.S. who sexually abused her for two months before she escaped and was subsequently apprehended by the Border Patrol. JRS counseling and participation in other programs in the detention center combined with her own strong faith and enabled her to begin the healing process.
Today there are 51.2 million displaced people in the world — 16.7 million of whom are refugees who have been forced to flee their homeland because of conflict or persecution. Eighty percent of these refugees are stranded in developing countries. As long as people continue to be persecuted for their religious or political views and while wars rage in countries like Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, Iraq and Syria, people will continue to flee their homes and seek safety in stable nations.
These are people who have had no choice but to leave their friends, families and homes and embark on a long and sometimes dangerous journey in search of safety. They are searching for a life free from fear, a life with security, a life with a future.
Forces driving people from their homes are stronger than any measures that we can put in place to deter them. In fact, these methods of deterrence only lead to greater human rights violations and despair.
When we ignore and trample on the rights of the world’s displaced and marginalized, we weaken those protections, and risk a future in which they don't protect us either. Instead, we must be guided by principles of compassion and justice. We should never forget that these people are human beings, entitled to the same human rights as we are, and whose well-being is interconnected with our own.
Jesuit Refugee Service works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of approximately 700,000 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.
Approximately 280,000 children, young people and adults receive primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services each year. 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.