In the occasion of the JRS 40th anniversary and of the upcoming 20th anniversary of JRS Belgium in 2021, the Regional Superior of the European Low Countries Marc Desmet sj wrote a letter to present and highlight the great significance of JRS’s work and to warmly thank all those who were and are directly involved with JRS.
What is JRS?
The Jesuit Refugee Service works in 56 countries since its foundation in 1980 by Father Pedro Arrupe. As a Catholic NGO, JRS pursues its mission to accompany, serve and advocate for refugees by applying the social doctrine of the Church, which embraces in the definition of ‘de facto refugees’ all the categories of forcibly displaced people.
The concrete activities of JRS vary from country to country according to the needs: JRS is active in the accompaniment of refugees, asylum seekers and forced migrants in reception and detention centres, as well as in the fields of education, emergency aid, health care, subsistence and social services.
What distinguishes JRS?
‘Accompanying refugees characterises JRS: being with them, in the first place’, says Marc Desmet. This concern for the dignity of the human being is rooted in the Gospel and, even if not all JRS staff members are Christian, it is reflected directly in JRS’s work, that is tailored on the needs of the refugees.
What further characterises JRS is the attention to the pastoral care and the psychological help for the people who experienced traumatic events, as well as the focus on education, that is a fundamental tool to provide the people and the children opportunities to get out of misery.
Lastly, JRS has close relationships with the local churches, which brings an advantage to its work, as it allows to create a network of local partners that contribute to JRS’s mission.
The work of JRS Belgium
In the recent years, JRS Belgium has decided to focus its work on migrants in detention and on alternatives to detention. According to the words of Pieter-Paul Lembrechts sj, member of the JRS team and voluntary visitor in detention centres, JRS Belgium has chosen to go where others do not, the ‘hopeless cases’: those awaiting deportation.
The visitors and the volunteers provide accompaniment to the detainees, but also material and stories for the work of the advocacy officers who defend the rights of migrants. For instance, a big success was achieved by JRS Belgium in cooperation with other organisations, such as Refugee Action and Caritas, in stopping the imprisonment of children.