“Build bridges, not walls” – The Jesuit Refugee Service welcomes Pope Francis’ solidarity with refugees

Pope Francis meets migrants held on the Greek Island of Lesbos. Photo: Creative Commons

Pope Francis meets migrants held on the Greek Island of Lesbos. Photo: Creative Commons

At a time when member states of the European Union are closing their borders to desperate refugees, the welcome given by Pope Francis to these refugee families is a stunning reminder to the world that we have a moral obligation to offer refugees protection.

On his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday Pope Francis told Europe and the world that “refugees are not numbers, they are people,” and then demonstrated in deed the depth of his commitment by taking three Syrian Muslim families, including six children, back to the Vatican on his flight.

At a time when member states of the European Union are closing their borders to desperate refugees, the welcome given by Pope Francis to these refugee families is a stunning reminder to the world that we have a moral obligation to offer refugees protection.

Jesuit Refugee Service Australia (JRS) welcomes the Pope’s dramatic gesture as a timely intervention that brings to the fore the need for global solidarity and generosity as a response to the current refugee crisis.

“Pope Francis urged the world to build bridges, rather than build walls to make us feel safer,” said JRS Director Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ.

“His words and deeds are a rebuke to countries such as Australia, where the drive to secure and control our borders has created a kind of moral blindness that allows us to turn back boats bearing desperate people seeking asylum, and that allows us to transfer people who have asked us for protection to countries where they continue to suffer the anguish of a desperate present and an uncertain future.”

Pope Francis told the refugees who assembled to meet him, “I want to tell you that you are not alone.” His desire to accompany refugees on their desperate and often deadly journeys has been a mark of his papacy, and he has spoken bitterly of the “globalisation of indifference” that has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people seeking safety, and prolonged the sufferings of millions more.

“As a Jesuit, Pope Francis is profoundly aware of the value of accompaniment that lies at the heart of the mission of the Jesuit Refugee Service. It is a value that transforms the way we look at refugees: not as a problem to be dealt with, or a statistic to be weighed and considered; but as brothers and sisters who press upon us with their humanity, and who call into question our assumptions about our security, our well-being, our standards of living. Pope Francis invites us to enter into true solidarity, with all its risks and costs,” said Fr Mowe.

Australia currently punishes people who make sea journeys here to get protection by sending them to other countries for processing, or by turning their boats back to Indonesia. Those already in Australia are not permitted to apply for permanent protection, and are subject to a range of penalties that violate their human rights, including the refusal of legal assistance, arbitrary detention, and inadequate financial assistance when they are unable to support themselves. JRS and its partners assist thousands of such people in Sydney, and see on a daily basis how Australian government policy grinds the hope out of people’s lives.

“During his visit to Lesbos, Pope Francis called on the people of Europe to come to the aid of the refugees in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity. JRS hopes that the people of Australia will also heed that call, and disown current policies and practices here that violate the human dignity of people who have come to Australia to seek safety and protection,” said Fr Mowe.

Information to editors

The Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic organisation with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of forcibly displaced persons. With its headquarters based in Rome and with teams working in nearly 47 countries around the world, JRS provides education, health, social and other services to approximately 850,000 refugees and internally displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

The Jesuit Refugee Service in Greece

JRS Greece is present in Athens, with a smaller presence in Lesbos, providing emergency assistance. In Athens, JRS runs a shelter for newly arrived or homeless refugees as well as an integration centre. JRS Greece cooperates with the UN refugee agency, the ecumenical group “Churches Together”, the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army, and other religious organisations including the Orthodox organisation APOSTOLI, to visit and provide food, clothes and other basic necessities to refugees in camps, prisons, detention centres and other sites across Greece.

For further information

Oliver White
Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
Tel: +61 2 9356 3888
Email: oliver.white@jrs.org.au
Twitter: @JRS_Aus

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