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World Refugee Day: push forward, not back
June 15, 2015

World Refugee Day: push forward, not back
Boats in the Andaman Sea wandering off the coast of Thailand carrying Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants from Myanmar. Estimations had eight thousand people stranded at sea. (Thapanee Letsrichai)

(Rome) June 15, 2015 — For World Refugee Day this weekend, Jesuit Refugee Service urges you to remember that the key to change is within each of us. While governments decide to accept or reject refugees, only we have the power to truly welcome them. We must change our fixed view of refugees as 'the other.'

Refugees around the world are being pushed back and pushed out. Australia is pushing refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. Colombians are being kicked out of Venezuela. Kenya has threatened to expel nearly half a million Somali and other refugees. Boats with Rohingya asylum seekers are turned away again and again by countries in Asia Pacific, left stranded at sea. Thousands of people are drowning attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the Middle East and North Africa.

Even where refugees are not literally expelled, they are often shunned, mistreated or jailed. Their very presence is criminalised and they are often excluded from their host communities. In South Africa, foreigners are facing violence and riots, forcing them to flee their homes. In Europe, refugees are forced to rely on the informal labour and housing markets. In the United States, refugees fleeing widespread violence in Central America are held in detention.

The key to change need not always be a top-down approach. German and Swedish policy makers have exemplified that leaders can encourage this shift in our societal perception, but we must start with our own individual perceptions. Refugees are the 'we,' the 'us,' as opposed to 'they' or 'them.' Let’s not just save lives; let's save dignity.

"Integration and hospitality are not only about opening our borders, but opening our communities. The latter does not result from the decisions of a few leaders, but from our own personal decisions. To change our countries we must start with our communities, and to change our communities we must start with ourselves," said JRS International Director Peter Balleis S.J.

We can push governments to welcome refugees, but let’s not wait indefinitely for the macro decisions of our leaders to trickle down. Let’s micromanage change in our own communities.

"We must all be able first to see, and then help others to see, migrants are not a problem to be solved. They are our brothers and sisters who need help, who should be welcomed and loved," said Kenyan refugee and Jesuit Refugee Service international volunteer, Anthony Mukui.

So let's not push back; let's push forward – push ourselves, our neighbours and our communities to open our doors. Then, together we can unlock potential. Together we can welcome. Together we can advocate. Together we can.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA 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. 

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. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS advocates for just and generous policies and programs for the benefit of victims of forced displacement, so that those made vulnerable by exile can receive support and protection and durable solution to their plight can be achieved. 

JRS/USA witnesses to God’s presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.  

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/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations. 

In addition, JRS/USA inspires the Ignatian family and others to respond together to the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide and forges strong partnerships with like-minded institutions and agencies devoted to the cause of refugees and displaced persons.

JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of nearly 760,000 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 2014, approximately 142,000 children, young people and adults received 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.

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

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Mr Christian Fuchs