Yogyakarta, 6 August 2013 –“Struck and shocked by the plight of thousands of boat people (from Vietnam) and refugees, I felt it my duty to send cable messages to some 20 Major Superiors around the world. Sharing my distress with them, I asked what they in their countries and the universal Society could do to bring at least some relief to such a tragic situation,” wrote Father Pedro Arrupe SJ to Major Superiors of the Society of Jesus on November 14th, 1980.
His compelling words led to the decision in Rome to initiate the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). The tragedy of “boat people” is still ongoing today with thousands of refugees departing each year on perilous boat journeys with the hope of reaching safe soil. It remains a relentless call to the Society of Jesus to continue responding to one of the greatest crises of our times.
There are currently around 45.2 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons worldwide, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Indonesia hosts an estimated 8,000 asylum seekers and nearly two thousand verified refugees. Most asylum seekers and refugees live in urban areas and feel they have been forgotten. Their human rights fell by the wayside when they were forced to flee their home countries. Now, they feel effectively criminalized in Indonesia, labeled “illegal immigrants.”
“I am not a criminal; why am I jailed in this place?” a refugee locked up behind bars in a detention centre pleaded with JRS staff.
A Communicative Presence
In a world that appears increasingly hostile to refugees, JRS is directly and personally present to accompany and listen to refugee stories. This companionship paves the way for JRS help them to restore their dignity and to gain material and spiritual sustenance to survive the ordeal of displacement both its material and spiritual aspects. Being present as a companion and servant, JRS advocates for the rights of refugees in many ways.
JRS Indonesia staff, in the course of their accompaniment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers who are detained in the Immigration Detention Centers of Belawan and Pasuruan facilitate the development of open dialogue between Detention Center officers and refugees so that officers provide humane treatment for the detainees.
JRS staff also accompanies and advocates for asylum seekers living in communities, such as in Cisarua, West Java, where asylum seekers from the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Africa live out a precarious existence, vulnerable to police sweeps and arrests. JRS facilitates their access to education and health care, initially accompanying them to schools and hospitals to ensure admission. Moreover, together with a pro bono lawyer’s network – Suaka – JRS helps asylum seekers to prepare their applications for Refugee Status Determination with the UNHCR in Jakarta.
In cooperation with students of Sanata Dharma University and other volunteers in Yogyakarta, JRS provides English courses to those who have received refugee status and are awaiting resettlement. The process can take several years, and in the interim refugees can learn a language which they can use in their new countries.
JRS also raises the voices of refugees and asylum seekers who are searching for justice, by publishing their stories in a quarterly newsletter “Refuge” available on the JRS Indonesia website. Other projects include developing documentary films about the hidden lives of refugees and publishing books to raise awareness on the subject. Discussions and group activities are organized together with the ecclesial communities, students, teachers, high school students, and other social groups, in order to encourage a common awareness of the importance of refugee protection.
“I left my children in Afghanistan. I miss them every day. I am doing this for the sake of my family because I love them,” said one asylum seeker who was wanted by armed forces in Afghanistan and did not want his family to suffer the danger with him.
Through sharing the human grief and hardship with refugees and asylum seekers, God touches our hearts and calls on us to find Him. As Pedro Arrupe SJ expressed his faith, God is calling us through these people.