In the Middle East, JRS reaches out exclusively to struggling urban refugees, mostly Iraqis. Encouraged by the Jesuit Superior General, Adolfo Nicolás SJ, JRS went to Syria and Jordan in 2008; these two countries host the majority of Iraqi refugees, who make up the second largest group under UNHCR responsibility worldwide at an estimated 1.8 million. The following year saw expansion to Turkey, both a destination and major crossroads for refugees hoping to reach Europe or awaiting resettlement. In Turkey, JRS reaches refugees and asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.
When JRS started out, the first challenge was to find the refugees, many of whom were unregistered and living in isolation, poverty and fear. Contact was possible thanks to local Jesuit communities and Christian Churches, which paved the way for JRS involvement. In the Syrian city of Aleppo, we work closely with the Chaldean Bishop, Antoine Audo SJ, and the premises we use belong to the Jesuits. In Amman, the community at the Jesuit centre – which became the JRS base – was already supporting Iraqi families. In Turkey, the Ankara refugee support group based at Meryem Ana Parish served as a point of entry.
Meeting the scattered urban refugees and learning about their needs, JRS decided to bring them together in community, opening centres in Aleppo, Amman, Ankara and Damascus, places described by the refugees as a "second home". True to its pedagogical tradition, JRS started informal education in the centres – catch-up tuition, language and computer classes.
Another objective of JRS is to reach those refugees who are vulnerable and with scant hope of moving on. There are plenty – the demand for resettlement is great compared to the relatively few places available. Regular home visits enable our teams to discover and to help those in urgent need.
Perhaps the most obvious challenge facing JRS, a faith-based organisation, is that religion plays such a significant role in the Middle East, often as a mark of difference, exploited to spark conflict. Bringing people together is not easy in such a scenario. The JRS teams are composed of Iraqis of different faiths, of national staff and international volunteers, who serve all without distinction. An Iraqi woman in Aleppo spoke for many when she said: "After all that happened I never thought we could be together again and yet here we are."
In 2010, the Middle East and North Africa became the tenth official JRS region.
Middle East and North Africa
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Middle East and North Africa is the latest region of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization sponsored by the Society of Jesus. It offers a wide range of services to refugees: emergency and legal assistance, family visits, education services, small grants, and recreational and psychosocial activities. The regional office serves more than 2,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria.
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