Rome, 14 March 2017 – The Jesuit Refugee Service is pleased to present Fr Joseph Xavier SJ as the new International Deputy Director, starting February 2017. His wealth of experience in social justice research and his work advocating for those at the margins will be a great contribution to the Strategic Framework for the future of JRS.
“A value-based approach is what makes people come together and work together”, he says.
Fr Joe supported JRS at a very difficult time when Fr Alexis Prem Kumar, then JRS Afghanistan director, was abducted and released after more than 8 months in captivity. Fr Joe worked with the crisis management group, while also comforting and supporting Fr Prem’s family. For security reasons, he could not share details about the work he was carrying out, and admits that sometimes he felt isolated. Tensions were high, but there was never a single moment when he lost hope.
“It was an 8 month and 20 days’ journey of trying to get him back. Many people, from Christians to Muslims and Hindus, were praying for him every day,” he recalls.
Fr Joe’s first experience accompanying refugees dates back to 1987, when he had the opportunity to serve refugees from Sri Lanka arriving on the shores of Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu. Fr Joe, at the time still a scholastic, used to get on a truck with other fellow Jesuits and drive to the coast overnight. At 3 or 4 in the morning, people would come by boats and land on the shore without knowing where to go or what to do.
“You could immediately see the relief on their faces the moment they touched ground. They knew they were in a safe place, holding up white flags as a sign of peace”.
Most of the refugees were usually taken to the camps, where Fr Joe would teach English classes. He recalls the time spent listening to them, accompanying them, and their joy as they gradually felt like they were coming to a new life.
Following that experience, he got more involved with JRS and refugee studies.
Fr Joe’s academic background is in Law, with a Phd in Human Rights and Criminology. He served as the Assistant Secretary for the Social Apostolate of the Society of Jesus in South Asia for 6 years, and became the Executive Director of the Indian Social Institute in Delhi from 2012 to 2015. His work as Executive Director allowed him to further focus on social research related to dalits, indigenous peoples and minorities, and work for the advocacy and promotion of policies of justice.
“This is a different role from those I’ve held in the past, and I am still exploring what I can offer. I am intending to be always available: to the Director, to the staff, to those we serve.”
– Martina Bezzini, International Communications Coordinator