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On Assignment
Welcome to On Assignment at Jesuit Refugee Service International Office. Here you can read in-depth accounts of the experiences of staff in the field as they reflect on the delivery of services and the accompaniment of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
Sur le terrain
Bienvenus à Sur le terrain, au Bureau international du Service Jésuite des Réfugiés. Ici, vous pourrez  lire des comptes rendus approfondis sur des expériences vécues par le personnel sur le terrain, qui reflètent la fourniture de services ainsi l'accompagnement de réfugiés et autres personnes déplacées de force.
Sobre el terreno
Bienvenido a Sobre el Terreno de la Oficina Internacional del Servicio Jesuita a Refugiados. Aquí encontrarás descripciones en profundidad de las experiencias del personal sobre el terreno a través de sus reflexiones sobre los servicios y el acompañamiento a refugiados y otras personas desplazadas por la fuerza.
Dal campo

Benvenuto nella sezione Dal campo dell'Ufficio Internazionale del Servizio dei Gesuiti per i Rifugiati. Qui trovi resoconti dettagliati delle esperienze dello staff nel lavoro sul campo, con riflessioni sui servizi offerti e sull’accompagnamento dei rifugiati e di altri migranti forzati.

Australia: de-identifying asylum seekers isn't always about protection
25 May 2016
Sydney, 26 May 2016 – In Australia, conversation about people who seek asylum often feels disconnected from the people – the real flesh and blood people – whose lives are most affected. Those who know these people don't use their real names or faces out of a desire to protect them. But the de-identifying of people seeking asylum is not always about protection. People who came to Australia to seek protection who are sent to other countries for 'processing' are removed from the sight of the Australian community with a thoroughness which is astonishing in the modern world.

Libya-Italy: the other route, going through hell
14 April 2016
Catania, 14 April 2016 -- "I am never going back to Somalia, ever." Yasmin's firm determination not to return to her home country is more than justified. The 19-year-old girl left to avoid the unwelcome advances of a member of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. Saying no was not an option. "Someone from Al-Shabab wanted to marry a friend of mine and her father said 'no'. Both father and daughter were killed."

Europe: my last chance
05 April 2016
Athens, 5 April 2016 -- Refugees who face a terrifying journey to seek life over death deserve praise for their courage. This came to me powerfully in recent weeks when I met so many travelling the Balkan route to find asylum in Europe. And especially when I listened to Qusai, who needed an extra dose of courage to make the risky choices he did, despite his unique vulnerability.

Global: 'no one says hello' – a story of four Syrian women
01 April 2016
Rome, 1 April 2016 -- Mary, Miriam and Edith are three Syrian sisters from Damascus. They have been in Italy for a year and a half. Their mother arrived six months ago. But now they want to go back, despite the dangers of Syria. "Life is like a cinema," the mother said. "We are now blocked, as if our lives have stopped. We only have memories; it's like watching a movie of our lives."

Europe: listen to the story behind
16 March 2016
Lesbos, Greece 16 March 2016 -- "No one even listens to the story behind." With these words, Iva, a young Croatian woman who works for Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), neatly summed up the most glaring concern in Europe's so-called refugee crisis.

Greece: a hope that knows no borders
23 February 2016
Lesbos, Greece, 23 February 2016 -- It is their sheer relief and hope that are most striking… more than their foolhardy courage, the dangers and deprivations of their journey, and their terrible experiences. It seems to me that as soon as they set foot on the shores of Europe, many refugees feel freedom is finally theirs for the taking: freedom from fear, from repression, war, crushing poverty, and the total lack of prospects brought about by some or all the above.

Cambodia: mixed migration, protection for all
02 February 2016
Siam Reap, Cambodia, 2 February 2016 – "I have a very strong belief that the consequence of mercy, charity, and love is justice," said Sr Denise Coghlan RSM, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Cambodia.

Iraq: a tale of two women
01 February 2016
Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, 1 February 2016 -- In the events hall of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Community Centre in Ozal, two women, Fidá and Souad are sitting and smiling while they listen attentively to the psychologist who is giving a lecture for JRS' awareness sessions on how to manage stress. These sessions are offered to around 40 women living in Ozal, a residential complex in northern Iraq where about 1,700 families of internally displaced people live.

Lebanon: get all children off the waiting list
12 October 2015
Jbeil, 12 October 2015 – "The [Syrian] children used to fight when they played. It was all they knew," said Catherine Mora, a Syrian refugee and teacher at the JRS centre in Jbeil. Yet in one year, Catherine has seen these children change drastically. After just two sessions with JRS the children have learned how to care for themselves and one another.

Uganda: early childhood education encourages integration
08 June 2015
Kampala, 8 June 2015 – Despite the importance of early education to their cognitive, social and emotional development, extreme poverty and discrimination hinders the full development of millions of children. This is especially true for refugee children. Yet the reality is, when made accessible, early education can work wonders.

South Africa: xenophobia – a crime against humanity
05 June 2015
Johannesburg, 5 June 2015 – Xenophobia is once again rearing its ugly head in our country. Media sensationalism and denial amongst leadership and the police paint the recent attacks as acts of criminality and not xenophobia. This is hard to argue but there is a half-truth: an attack on foreigners in South Africa is indeed an attack on South Africans, and all they stand for, and this is criminal.

France: inside the border
05 June 2015
Paris, 5 June 2015 – Around midday, Reporters Without Borders alert us that they have no news about a Syrian journalist, who was due to arrive in Marseille. I call the police, who let me know the journalist is being kept in the waiting area of the airport; he has not crossed the border yet. I go to visit him and realise that he is due to be sent back in the evening and that he did not ask for asylum.

Europe: hotter than fire – the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean
22 May 2015
Nairobi, 22 May 2015 – The repeated tragedy of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, 'conjures up an eerie spectre of the transatlantic slave trade', says Nigerian Jesuit Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator. The revulsion with which we now react to the slave trade should also apply to this modern-day crisis, and must inform our thinking and action in response to it.

Syria: family volunteers in Aleppo
08 May 2015
Brussels, 8 May 2015 – Prior to the outbreak of conflict in Syria, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) managed a number of small projects assisting Iraqi refugees living in Aleppo, Damascus and Homs. The JRS centres were places where people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds came together. While Syrian communities peaceful coexisted together, for many there was a sense of distance between them, an invisible barrier. When violence erupted in Syria in 2011, these JRS centres would experience profound transformations.

Eastern Africa: child protection streamlined through projects
05 May 2015
Nairobi, 5 May 2015 – Ayaan* is the top student in her class. Born to Somali refugees in Nairobi, she hopes to be a surgeon one day. However, for months last year she had to suspend her studies after being intimidated, threatened and beaten by young men in her community.

Italy: hospitality fosters reconciliation
24 December 2014
Rome, 24 December 2014 – In accompanying refugees, we are called to make them feel truly welcome through concrete gestures of solidarity, so that they may find a place where they feel at home, where they are no longer strangers. In his letter to JRS on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, the Jesuit Superior General, Adolfo Nicolás SJ, preferred to look not at our "accomplishments" but at the "tapestry of many enduring friendships and partnerships in the mission" woven over the years.

Colombia: 'whites don't cry for blacks'
17 December 2014
Buenaventura, 17 December 2014 – Luis Fernando Gómez Gutiérrez describes his deeply moving experience of accompanying an Afro- Colombian community in Buenaventura, Colombia. Drawing on the Christian three-day celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, he refl ects on how JRS' humble accompaniment of communities in crisis can be a real sign of God's powerful love, through which we are invited to discover life even amid tragedy and death.

Eastern Africa: if the People of God moves, the Church moves
10 December 2014
Nairobi, 10 December 2014 – The church has always been close to people on the move in different ways. For the early Christian community, hospitality was a fundamental attitude and way of life. Throughout the centuries, hostels offered shelter to travellers and pilgrims, with special concern for the vulnerable. Today, ministry to refugees is a key missionary field, where the Good News of Jesus' love and compassion is proclaimed. Recalling the insightful comment of JRS founder Pedro Arrupe, "If the People of God moves, the Church moves", Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator highlights the close relationship between the church and displaced people. God does not abandon his people: even in exile, he is present, accompanying them all the way.

Africa: accompanying refugees in the Eucharist
03 December 2014
Agulupi, Kakuma, Makhado, 3 December 2014 – Drawn from his years of pastoral work in Uganda, South Africa and Kenya, Gary Smith’s reflection vividly describes how celebrating the Eucharist can be an act of accompaniment for Christian refugees. Celebrating Mass in refugee settings – with song and dance, drama and dialogue – the Good News of the Gospel is broken open, faith is expressed, and God’s people are accompanied. Likewise, Christian members of JRS find in the Eucharist the accompaniment needed to continue being present to and supporting the refugee communities they serve.

South Sudan: pastoral accompaniment as a sign of God's presence
19 November 2014
Lobone, 19 November 2014 – Faith plays a pivotal role in the experience of refugees. Ignoring this reality would be tantamount to ignoring the huge potential of faith to help refugees cope resiliently with the hardships they face, and to look beyond the present to a future of hope. While respecting the faith of all refugees, JRS offers pastoral services for Catholic refugees in response to need, distinctly from other services. Richard Dwyer says that for many refugees, the presence of a priest is a symbol and a practical sign of God's presence.

Ethiopia: serving refugees in the Horn of Africa
13 November 2014
Dollo Ado, 13 November 2014 –The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) noted that during 2013 the "population of concern" in Ethiopia rose from about 379,000 to 436,000. Most of these refugees live in camps in the Dollo Ado region, a desert area near the southeastern border with Somalia and Kenya. Most struggle to get by in the camps, even risking their lives. Yet with improved educational and livelihood, much can be done to offer young refugees the hope of a brighter future.

Eastern Africa: friends in the Lord
12 November 2014
Nairobi, 12 November 2014 – Atsu Andre Agbogan reflects concretely on his own experience with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) teams in the field and, from his perspective as a human resources officer, highlights the importance of accompaniment within JRS teams. He challenges all in JRS – team members and leaders alike – to understand accompaniment as a process of working together as a team, one complementing the other, striving to identify solutions to problems and offering mutual support in order to achieve the JRS mission.

Mexico: presence and listening count
05 November 2014
Mexico, 5 November 2014 – Our work in the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) demands that we bring professional skills, knowledge and competence to our service with refugees. Taking the example of Jesus as a compassionate companion of the poor and marginalised, Anne-Elisabeth de Vuyst offers challenging suggestions on how to grow in accompaniment, such as: learning to listen, being accessible, and learning how to receive as well as to give.

Jordan: living in the shadow of the Syrian crisis
24 September 2014
Amman, 24 September 2014 - After an endless drive through lanes of auto-repair shops buzzing with workers, many of them children, a small brick house emerged, tucked away behind Amman's hills.

USA: contributing to the healing of the world
04 September 2014
Washington DC, 4 September 2014 – There is something both inspiring and heartrending in the struggles of refugees. Several years ago, on an advocacy visit to the programs of JRS Ecuador, I interviewed a Colombian refugee, a beautiful young woman who had suffered unspeakable crimes at the hands of paramilitaries and human traffickers.

USA: Jesuit hospitality?
28 August 2014
Boston, 28 August 2014 – Hospitality is not one of, say, the first dozen descriptions that come to mind to define the Jesuits. Although Jesuits are polite and welcoming, our propensity for service leads us often to be away from our own homes and communities. Often enough, you can arrive at a Jesuit community only to find no one at home. If you want religious hospitality, go to a Benedictine monastery. The Benedictines will be at home and they'll treat you like God!

South Africa: a reciprocity that comes alive
21 August 2014
Johannesburg, 21 August 2014 – We are told that accompaniment lies at the heart of JRS work. But what is it exactly? For me the word conjures up an image of walking alongside the people we work for and with. It entails trying to engender a relationship different to that of service provider-to-beneficiary, clinician-to-patient. In so doing we often venture across the barriers of religion, culture, language and economic status.

Indonesia: an encounter of endless mutual learning
14 August 2014
Bogor, 14 August 2014 – "Please remember us". I still recall these words that a young detainee told me in 2009, at the end of my first visit to an immigration detention centre in Indonesia.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: out of sight, out of mind
07 August 2014
Masisi, 7 August 2014 – In this poignant essay, Inés Oleaga shows how accompanying forcibly displaced people can be a very practical way of protecting them and of showing them that they have not been forgotten by all, despite evidence to the contrary.

United States: reflections from the southern border
22 July 2014
El Paso, 22 July 2014 — Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr Peter Balleis SJ visited the Jesuit Refugee Service USA Detention Chaplaincy Programme in the border city of El Paso, Texas, and shares a reflection of his experience with the staff and the undocumented migrants and asylum seekers held in detention at the El Paso Service Processing Facility.

Colombia: asking for my son's forgiveness
09 July 2014
Bogota, 9 July 2014 – "How many times I have asked for my son's forgiveness. How often I have cried with him... and so many other times alone. How wrong I have been! I thought that by taking up arms I was going to leave my son a better country. But now I see: nothing has changed. The same violence and structural injustice has continued through all those years of armed struggle. So many deaths – and for what? And now here I am, in prison, for the crimes I committed during my time as a guerrilla."

Syria: we can still give people our time
23 January 2014
Damascus, 23 January 2014 - I have been working with JRS in Damascus for about nine months now, as the home visits coordinator. We have seven teams that visit families every day. They assess the needs of each family, and we are able to discern which families are in most need of help, or if they need specific assistance – medical and so on.

Croatia: a gift of enduring friendship
20 January 2014
Zagreb, 20 January 2014 – "I am over 50 years, but now I feel like orphan without Father Kušan." Stjepan Kušan SJ died in April 2013, aged 69, after 51 years as a Jesuit. This message came from Milan, a Croatian man who was devoted to Stjepan. Milan had been a soldier in the horrific Balkans wars in the nineties.

United Kingdom: mitigating harmful government policies on detained migrants
03 October 2013
London, 3 October 2013 – In a recent conversation with a German colleague I learned that oversight for the detention of asylum seekers has recently been granted to the courts, resulting in the dramatic reduction in the numbers detained. This is in sharp contrast with continuing practices in the United Kingdom where the decision to detain asylum seekers is made by civil servants with little judicial oversight. Equally important there is no limit to the duration of administrative detention in the UK, notwithstanding the potential impact on the health of detained asylum seekers.

Chad: a meeting of two worlds
12 August 2013
Goz Beida, 12 August 2013 - In September 2011, I arrived in Goz Beida, eastern Chad, to coordinate a JRS project supporting primary schools for displaced children. That I was in a Muslim country soon became amply clear. Here, women are veiled; greetings and conversations are peppered with Amdullah! (thanks be to God), Allebakhit! (God bless you), Inchallah! (God willing).

Geneva: the centrality of faith
24 May 2013
Geneva, 20 May 2013 - Recognising that faith plays a pivotal role in the experience of refugees is key to offering protection. There was no denying this reality during a high-level dialogue on faith and protection organised by UNHCR in Geneva in December 2012, which explored the centrality of faith for refugees, the strengths and challenges of faith-based organisations (FBOs) as well as their relationship with other humanitarian actors. However the UN agency admitted the need and announced steps to become more "faith-literate" to reach a deeper understanding of all these elements.

All that is not given is lost
10 January 2013
Chennai, 10 January 2013 – Pierre Ceyrac SJ died early on 30 May 2012 in Chennai at the age of 98. Pierre served with JRS in the camps of Cambodian refugees in Thailand from the early 1980s, indeed since the beginning of JRS. When Pierre died, a former JRS worker wrote, "an era of compassion without borders ends".

Colombia: life is stronger than death
27 December 2012
Buenaventura, 27 December 2012 – First day... 29 June 2008: A wonderful Sunday afternoon. Children ran in every possible direction on the football pitch and community grounds of San Francisco district in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. Men and women bustled around, preparing activities to celebrate life as a community, with music, singing and laughter. It was an occasion worth celebrating: the closure of an intensive process of formation and exchange of ideas, of identifying ways to live in such an adverse environment.

Jordan: when education is more than just learning
15 October 2012
Amman, 15 October 2012 – For eight months former Jesuit Refugee Service volunteer, Grace Benton, worked in a team of volunteers trying to offer refugees and their children the support they need to build a future. The courses went from strength to strength; but as she learned, the results were about more than learning curricular subjects, there were about building community and making refugees safer.

Democratic Republic of Congo: lives hanging in the balance in North Kivu
28 February 2012
North Kivu, 28 February 2012 – Emmanuel Mirimo Mateene used to own a house and a small piece of farm land. His life was peaceful and it was relatively easy for him to put food on the table for his family. But that was before broke out war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ecuador: invisible Colombian refugees, discrimination and an uncertain future
02 February 2012
Quito, 02 February 2012 – Javier González* was teaching his nine-year-old son Miguel how to play chess when Miguel's mother, Rosa, interrupted their game to ask him what had happened at school today.

Portugal: going the extra mile, a focus on mental health
01 November 2011
Brussels, 01 November 2011 – JRS Europe Media Assistant Cathal Foley speaks to mental health counsellor Sr Maria Jose Rebelo who explains the importance of addressing psychosocial needs of forced migrants.

Jordan: Iraqi family mourns loss of daughter
20 April 2011
Amman, 20 April 2011 – Wafi Youssif recalls asking his daughter Raghda not to go to church because they had become targets for bombing attacks. She told her dad: "If I have to die, I don't mind dying in church". Unfortunately, a few hours later she did.

Ecuador: effects of the Colombian conflict hit women refugees
15 November 2010
Quito, 11 November 2010 – I am haunted by our delegation’s visit to the border town of Lago Agrio, Ecuador, haunted by the stories of desperation from the refugee population, haunted by the lack of security offered to the residents, haunted by the lack of civilian state presence and the lack of UN presence besides UNHCR, haunted by the abuse suffered by the people at the hands of Colombian armed groups, the local police and even the Ecuadorian military.

Democratic Republic of Congo: building schools, Bringing hope
03 September 2010
Washington DC, 9 September 2010 – It’s always a happy moment to accompany refugees as they return home after years of living in exile. For nearly 10 years Jesuit Refugee Service had cared for Congolese refugees, driven by war from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Mwange Camp in northern Zambia. Although the camp was not far from the border with their home country, the ongoing conflict in the DRC made return impossible.

Haiti: planting hope in Koujol
26 August 2010
"Jesuit Refugee Service has been more than a father to us all!" With these words Clauden and Damais, the president and treasurer of a local community group in Koujol, Haiti, summed up the role that JRS has played during the past year in helping a group of 200 local farmers begin an innovative farming project in this small community just a stone’s throw from Haiti’s northeast border with the Dominican Republic.

USA: meeting spiritual needs in immigration detention centres
26 August 2010
John Krambuhl worked with JRS USA, focusing on the religious needs of immigration detainees in US government-sponsored detention facilities. Afterwards, John joined the faculty of Jesuit High School in Tampa to teach Theology and Ethics. John offered these reflections on his time spent with JRS USA.

USA: affirming human dignity in detention centres
26 August 2010
I asked myself, “How can one celebrate the freedom that Christ brings us in a detention center?” Still, I knew that ‘Christ the King’ was with these three hundred men. When the words of Gospel of Matthew 25 were proclaimed, a number of heads nodded in understanding. They knew Jesus was speaking about them: ‘When I was in prison, you came and visited me. . . . Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done to me.” These men knew what it means to be hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, what it means to be a stranger. Some of them had crossed the border long ago; some had crossed it only days before; all of them sought work in the US and a brighter future for their families. The poverty in their home countries — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico — had forced them to move North.

Burundi: you have not forgotten us, a goat programme
30 June 2010
In 2008 the government of Burundi and the rebel armed forces finally reached a negotiated peace settlement that marked the end of nearly two decades of conflict. During the past two years more than 95,000 Burundians have returned home after having spent nearly twelve years as refugees in Tanzania. In the face of this large influx of poor refugees, we asked ourselves how we could help create an environment that ensured adequate food for them as they return to Burundi.

Democratic Republic of Congo: quality indicators of JRS accompaniment
18 June 2010
Bujumbura, 18 June 2010 – ‘Quality’ and ‘impact’ have become key words in humanitarian discourse. Although it is easy to discuss these issues, it is not easy to assess the quality of our work. It is simpler to assess the quantity of services we provide: the number of schools built, books distributed, children in schools. However, when we talk about ‘accompaniment’ – the first word in the JRS mission – it is more complex to assess quality.

Thailand: A new way of being present
06 December 2009
Mae Hong Son, 6 December 2010 – When I was a novice in Scotland many years ago, our novice master faced the challenges of directing young men in the Jesuit way of life, but at a time when the world and the Church were going through profound changes. The end of the 1960s brought the Paris revolution of the young, and the Church was still grappling with the implications of its engagement with the world after Vatican II.

Nepal: difficult decisions, resettlement or the possibility of repatriation
15 April 2008
In comparison to many other refugee camps I have visited, there is a surprising lack of international presence in the Bhutanese camps. Camp administration is carried out by Camp Management Committees composed of the refugees themselves, with half of the positions occupied by women. Refugees carry out such functions as food distribution and provide the teaching staff for JRS schools, receiving only a small "incentive" payment as return for dedicated volunteer service.

Sri Lanka: destruction and suffering in 'post-conflict' society
25 February 2008
In December 2007 Fr Ken Gavin, JRS USA Director, and Ron Ferreri, Development Director, visited the Mannar, Vavuniya and Batticaloa areas of Sri Lanka.