Peace must be looked for and built together through small actions every day."With these words Pope Francis captured both the tragedy of the war in Syria and the profound longing of Syrians for peace. This echoes the same clear message that the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) staff, their families and local Syrian communities wish to send to the international community.
The daily experience of JRS teams in Syria and Iraq, providing relief, education and psychosocial services to conflict-affected communities, embodies a culture of encounter and fosters dialogue. Equally importantly, it plants seeds of reconciliation among communities.
"We see parents of different backgrounds coming together at our centres. Their children play together, building trust among themselves and leaving the ghosts of war and violence behind. Encouraged by the actions of their children, overcoming hesitation and diffidence, parents seek renewed dialogues among themselves," said JRS Syria Director, Nawras Sammour.
In support of Pope Francis's continued plea for international solidarity in the pursuit of peace in Syria, JRS urges the international community to:
- prioritise diplomatic efforts and apply pressure on the Syrian government and the armed opposition forces to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict. Consultation opportunities must be created for the participation of Syrian representatives from communities engaged in humanitarian assistance across social, religious and ethnic divides;
- put pressure on all armed forces to allow humanitarian assistance for communities in need and to refrain from disrupting humanitarian operations and/or hindering the work of personnel;
- increase financial and technical support for grassroots humanitarian initiatives serving the most vulnerable Syrians in full accordance with international humanitarian principles;
- ensure that international development donors provide greater technical and financial support to relieve the pressure on host countries and help refugees and vulnerable local households alike. Support should be offered to help counter increasing discrimination and xenophobia towards Syrians. Refugee-hosting countries should be supported to enhance border security and ensure access to international protection for those fleeing violence and persecution in Syria; and
- offer places to refugee households in the most vulnerable circumstances in resettlement programmes – or temporary visas – in Europe, the United States and other countries willing to share the responsibility for their protection with the immediate neighbours of Syria.
Civilians in these areas are denied access to food, medical provisions or basic amenities. Malnutrition rates are growing and the risk of starvation is real, with some people living on only olives and lentils. Humanitarian personnel should be permitted to enter these areas immediately, while those civilians who wish to leave should be allowed to do so in safety.
Notwithstanding the risks to their lives, tens of thousands of Syrians across religious, ethnic and economic divides have continuously promoted harmony, reaching out to build 'a culture of encounter and dialogue'. This is the silent majority of Syrians who reject violence. Inter-religious dialogue remains an integral part of JRS daily activities, serving all marginalised groups – Sunnis, Shi'a (including Alawites), Druze and Christians alike.
By and large, the international community has not adequately supported Syrian groups engaged in humanitarian initiatives, a process that needs to be reversed.
In Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, JRS teams provide most vulnerable people with emergency humanitarian assistance including:
- educational and psychosocial activities;
- food and other material necessities;
- rent support; and
- basic healthcare services (clinic and referrals).
Any military intervention should be conducted with the authorisation of the UN Security Council, in line with international humanitarian law in a way that minimises the impact on civilians and with the goal of reducing unavoidable suffering. It should not be seen as the primary solution to ending the conflict. As part of process of finding a political solution to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, religious and political leaders in the region should promote dialogue and education that fosters mutual understanding among the ethnic, national and faith communities, rather than the manipulation of diversity to encourage violence.
In Iraq, 1.5 million have been internally displaced following the expansion of ISIS in 2014. In Ankawa and Ozal, JRS serves displaced families through home visits, psychosocial support and education. Diverse JRS work with Yazidis, Muslim and Christian Iraqis who are seeking safety in and around Erbil, northern Iraq.
Working in cooperation with Jesuit networks, Muslim and other Christian entities, and secular organisations, JRS teams ensure civilians receive much needed support; however, this assistance is not sufficient to meet the escalating needs.
In total, JRS serves more than 490,000 people in Syria and Iraq.
In addition to the delivery of services to refugees, JRS has a distinct way of working with families, building strong relationships based on trust and fairness. Accompaniment, one of the pillars of JRS work, is embodied in recurrent family visits, which are at the heart of every JRS project across the region. Through the visits, JRS teams identify and address the most urgent needs of the families.
JRS teams also work in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey providing urgent assistance and educational and psychosocial support to different refugee and internally displaced communities.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an international Catholic organisation with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. The work of JRS is guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, independence, impartiality and neutrality. JRS is inspired by the core values of compassion, justice, participation, solidarity, hospitality, dignity and hope. JRS programmes are found in over 50 countries, providing assistance to: refugees in camps and cities, individuals displaced within their own countries, asylum seekers in cities, and to those held in detention centres. The main areas of work are in the field of education, emergency assistance, healthcare, livelihood activities and social services