35 years of service to refugees

In 1980, a refugee crisis seized world headlines. Vietnamese were fleeing their county in anything that could float, and images of the "boat people" were seared into many peoples' hearts. Father Pedro Arrupe SJ, then-Superior General of the Society of Jesus, was one such person. He motivated Jesuits around the world to respond to the crisis, and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) was born on 19 March 1980 when it was registered as a foundation in Vatican City.

As it marks 35 years since its foundation, the Jesuit Refugee Service continues to aid refugees, forcibly displaced peoples and asylum seekers. It operates at national and regional levels, with programmes in 51 countries. The areas of work are in the field of Education, Emergency Assistance, Health and Nutrition, Income-Generating Activities, and Social Services. In total, more than 600,000 individuals have been beneficiaries of JRS projects.

Over 1,400 workers contribute to the work of JRS, the majority of whom work on a voluntary basis, including about 78 Jesuit priests, brothers and scholastics, 66 religious from other congregations, and more than 1,000 lay people. These figures do not include the large number of refugees recruited to take part in programmes as teachers, health workers and others.

Research

JRS is also involved in advocacy and human rights work. This involves ensuring that refugees are afforded their full rights as guaranteed by the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees and working to strengthen the protection afforded to internally displaced persons (IDPs).

JRS contributes to refugee research at the University of Oxford and the University of Deusto. At Oxford, the 'Pedro Arrupe Tutor" oversees research undertaken in the name of JRS as well as facilitating the formation of personnel at JRS. The organisation's motto - to accompany, serve and advocate - distinguishes JRS from other refugee-service agencies and is the foundation for its response to other refugee crises throughout the world.

As JRS celebrates 35 years, it also prepares to welcome a new International Director to its headquarters in Rome. Fr Thomas Smolich SJ will take over from Fr Peter Balleis SJ this November. Fr Smolich has been President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States for more than eight years. He says he is “deeply honoured and grateful” for this appointment “because JRS really speaks to the heart of Jesuit identity and our Jesuit mission. It's going where the need is greatest.”

Photo: Fr Pedro Arrupse SJ is pictured with British Jesuit, Fr Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ, who assisted the former Superior General to establish the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1980.