Hope and the South Africa Jesuit Refugee Service commitment

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Article by Tim Smith  and Irene Galera -JRS South Africa

Fleeing to another country is an act of hope. Hope to find safety, Hope to find a place to live. Yet, migration requires strength and determination, especially when forced. Our current world, split by borders, often vilifies those who leave their homes behind – crossing borders or internally within their own countries. Individuals in a vulnerable position, forced to move and in need of but lacking resources, are the ones who struggle the most with different kinds of discrimination and barriers encountered along their vital journey. This World Refugee Day should help everybody to cross physical and mental borders, walking closer with the forcibly displaced towards justice and solidarity.

The Southern Africa territories are characterized by a high flow of migration movements. On the one hand, due to better opportunities, as in the harsh mining or agricultural industry in South Africa, On the other hand issues of insecurity, conflict, crop failure, climatic events or political neglect –within Southern African territories or from the Horn of Africa or some central African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is said that Ubuntu, “humanity” in Nguni Bantu languages that also refers to a universal bond connecting all human beings, has no borders. However, the journey, often challenging and dangerous, under the threat of human trafficking, is not the only challenge encountered by migrants in Southern Africa.
Following the commitment to serve, accompany and advocate for the rights of refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service Southern Africa (JRS) benefits over 83.000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants without documents settled in Angola (Lovua settlement in Lunda Norte and in Luanda), Malawi (Dzaleka Refugee Camp), Zimbabwe (Tongogara Refugee Camp) and South Africa (in the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria). Mostly through educational programs (building schools in Malawi, Angola and Zimbabwe, teaching or offering school stationary and loans in South Africa), livelihoods through vocational training, social accompaniment and pastoral and health care services.

Vulnerability due to matters such as lack of documentation, economic barriers or social discrimination should not prevent asylum seekers and refugees from trying their best to help their families and developing themselves. As well as to contribute with new talents, ideas and generosity to their new neighbourhoods. Education and adequate access to basic services bring equality and dignity for those forced to leave their countries behind. Therefore, it is JRS’s commitment to be part of the Universal Apostolic Preference of the Jesuits of walking in solidarity with migrants, the poor and excluded through our empowering programmes, our care for the sick and bedridden, and our pastoral care assistance.

Furthermore, JRS helps to enhance the integration into and empowerment of asylum-seeker and refugee communities. In Angola, JRS holds workshops where people of different tribal backgrounds meet and discuss together, and talk about reconciliation and conflict resolution. While in Zimbabwe, it organises events to bring together refugees and host communities. In Malawi, reconciliation is part of the education programme (children are refugees and local in school), the psycho-social project and the Post-secondary education project.
In this way, JRS has implemented programmes in South Africa which combine refugees with members of the local community in order to bridge gaps and change stereotypes, for instance, the livelihoods and women empowerment programme at the Arrupe and Loyola Skills Centres. The beneficiaries, refugees, asylum seekers, and local women, can attend hairdressing, beauty, computer and English classes. Some participants even start their own businesses –which also creates new employment opportunities in the community.

Building bonds amongst communities is, in fact, a crucial mission in South Africa. The rainbow nation hosts almost 300.000 urban asylum seekers and refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Since the country embraced democracy, its Constitution protects the rights of all people in the country, including refugees. It also affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom (South African Bill of Rights, article 7). However, this welcoming public affirmation of the dignity of every person in the country is also hampered by institutional and informal discrimination towards migrants. Xenophobic attitudes, such as political speeches, and even violent episodes were noticeable during the South African election campaign this year, and in the past.

JRS will celebrate the World Refugee Day with many other organisations in celebrating at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg with the theme of Building a Freedom Charter for Africa, followed by the screening of a film. In Zimbabwe, JRS will attend the world refugee Day celebration on July 4th in the Tongogara refugee camp, attended by all the implementing partners and the children of the Secondary school.

In addition, JRS’s international campaign With My Own Two Hands, celebrate this day by publishing the personal stories of the dreams and achievements of several JRS beneficiaries around the world. In this way the campaign will be highlighting the right to work and to earn a living and showcasing the talent of so many individuals who have so much to bring to the community. The story of migration. The story of hope.

Related links:
JRS South Africa Healthcare services http://www.jrssaf.org/news_detail?TN=NEWS-20190405092404
Human Rights through the lenses of asylum seekers in South Africa : http://www.jrssaf.org/news_detail?TN=NEWS-20190321094736
JRS South Africa vocational skills training at Arrupe and Loyola Skills Centres: http://www.jrssaf.org/news_detail?TN=NEWS-20190314072819
JRS South Africa Healthcare services video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgcLCfcLdYo
JRS South Africa vocational skills training and women empowerment video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi_00zAvUUI&t=1s