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Who Am I to be Considered Your Friend
01 September 2010

Jesuit Refugee Service is helping support Afghans who have returned to their country from neighboring Iran with several projects, including this well near the town of Herat. (Peter Balleis, S.J. – Jesuit Refugee Service)
Leaving home is difficult. For refugees the experience of leaving home is sometimes surpassed by the experience of returning. For many refugees returning home can be traumatic.

Nowhere is this experience more profoundly felt than in Afghanistan, where JRS began to work in 2005 by supporting refugees returning from Iran in a township outside Herat. The area is stony barren desert. When the returnees arrived, there were no facilities and nobody wanted to live there. An electrical transformer financed by JRS started to transform life in the township, and JRS became responsible for the returning refugees’ education and health services.

Living as refugees, they had harbored great dreams and hopes. Yet, on their return, they often felt like refugees in their own country.

Jumagul is one of many who fled Afghanistan for a more secure life. Like many, Jumagul decided to return to his birthplace and has found the return difficult:

"But now, I don’t so much regret being a refugee as much as I regret our conditions here [in Afghanistan]. ...  In Iran, I had a daily income and decent facilities. ... Here no one cares... not even for human beings!

Landing in my country, within a year and a half, I had to go on the streets, pulling carts to feed my family. . . .  My children began questioning my decision to return to Afghanistan. ...  I am a Muslim and I live by hope. Who am I to be considered your friend? If I had no hope, I wouldn’t have had the chance to sit with you and share my life...  I don’t believe in NGO support, but I trust in their hearts. The religion of the heart is the one I believe in."

To return home is a goal for many refugees. Sometimes upon return, the physical space of a house may be in ruins. However, the kindness of strangers who accompany refugees on their return makes home seem bearable again. There is much work to be done accompanying and serving Afghans who choose to return home. JRS is present there in order to ease their return back home.

Reflections for prayer

Scripture for reading

Luke 19:1-9 

He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.

How a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly and received him with joy.

When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner." 

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." 

And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.