Christmas Lunch with a Refugee
22 January 2019

Local and refugee families, together with JRS Croatia and JRS South-East Europe director Tvrtko Barun, celebrating a Christmas lunch (Photo: JRS SEE).
"We are very happy and this means a lot to us"

Croatia, 22 January 2019 - For the third consecutive year, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Croatia successfully organized “Christmas Lunch with a Refugee,” an initiative that promotes a space for encounter and communication between locals and refugees. 

Over the past three years, hundreds of Croatian families and religious communities have hosted refugee families for a holiday meal, creating an atmosphere of friendship, warm welcome and hospitality. The hosted refugees mainly came from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. They were all hoping to build a new life in Croatia, in peace and security. 

This act of true Christmas celebration, driven by JRS Croatia in the spirit of solidarity, brought together many local families who opened their homes and hearts to the refugee families at this special moment. Thanks to this initiative, people could share the joy of festive dining and a sense of community.  This campaign also served to raise awareness of the rights and needs of refugees across the local community. 

The director of JRS Southeast Europe, Fr Tvrtko Barun SJ, said that the goal of this project is to connect two worlds, refugees and the local community, thus helping the integration of refugees into Croatian society.

"Christmas lunch as a setting for intimate connectedness of family members, where families invite strangers, refugees, is a strong symbolism in terms of integration, sharing of customs and culture, and creating new friendships that will help people achieve a better life," Barun said. He also added that this event is often the beginning of a year-round social gathering, where new opportunities are opened, both for language learning and for finding jobs. 

This year, 160 refugees and locals took part in the initiative. Numerous members of the Raffai family from Zagreb hosted three refugee families. They gathered in a small living room and celebrated together. From this hosting experience, they all concluded: “We are now a family and lifelong friends.” Two of the guests were an Iranian couple with whom they have been in contact since last year's Christmas lunch event. The other two families were a single mother with three sons from Syria and a young five-member Syrian family. 

"We are very happy and this means a lot to us. The family is very kind and we really felt accepted, we laughed a lot. Now we are even more certain that Croatia is a country where we can build a future for ourselves and our children," said Nadia, the mother of three children from Syria.

As a symbolic Christmas offering, refugees also brought gifts to their hosts with the financial support of UNHCR. 

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Sara Garcia
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