The mission of Jesuit Refugee Service is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced people. In November 2017, JRS Australia’s Director, Carolina Gottardo visited other JRS programs in Thailand and Indonesia and attended meetings in the Asia-Pacific Region to do advocacy work at regional level and collaborate with others working towards the same goals.
Global agreements to support refugees and migrants. In Bangkok, Carolina attended a meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) from 6-8 November. This meeting focused on preparing the Asia-Pacific region’s input into the Global Compact on Migration (GCM). The GCM is the first intergovernmentally negotiated agreement under the UN’s auspices to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. A Global Compact on Refugees has also been developed. Both Compacts are a key opportunity to advocate for the rights of refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants.
Gender and refugee issues. JRS Australia is a member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, and during the UNESCAP meeting the Network and UN Women co-hosted a roundtable on the nexus between the Global Compact on Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees in terms of gender issues.
Carolina notes: “I was a speaker at this event, representing the Network; the others speakers were from UN Women, UNHCR, and the government of Bangladesh. The meeting was well attended and there was a lot of interest in the issue.”
Refugee education projects. Carolina’s next stop was Indonesia, where she visited the inspiring projects that JRS Indonesia is running in Cisarua. She also attended meetings with the Australian Embassy and the International Organization for Migration, and planned for joint advocacy by JRS Australia and JRS Indonesia for people seeking asylum.
“A highlight,” she says, “was a visit to the JRS Cisarua Learning Centre, JRS Indonesia’s urban refugee project in Bogor. It’s an education project, and this is critical for the wellbeing of urban refugees in Indonesia. Like urban refugees in many other places, their lives are a seemingly endless series of days of waiting for resettlement – some have been waiting 4 years. Their life is bleak. They are denied any access to work, to services, to education for their children, to participation in decision making about their own futures. They live in precarious situations and in constant limbo.
“The Learning Centre offers both hope and action. This is a school established and managed by refugees, located near Bogor. Operating since August 2014, it now has 12 teachers, six administration staff and nearly 200 students – all refugees, the majority aged 5-17. Others are older women studying English, many previously illiterate in their native language. In the photo, I am in one of the school’s seven classrooms with two staff members from JRS Indonesia. Online classes for adults are also being trialled, and there are extra curricular activities like football and excursions for students.
“I visited another refugee education project on this trip, at Camp No. 1 in Mae Hong Son on the Thai-Burma border, which houses more than 10,000 Karenni refugees. As with the Learning Centre, this is an education program for refugees, run by refugees. JRS Mae Hong Son monitors the program, offering support and training as needed, including teacher training, non-formal vocational training and training in special education. In Mae Hong Son I ran training on issues affecting female refugees and on gender equality, helping to create awareness of gender-based issues.”
“Collaboration is critical.” While Carolina shared her own expertise during this time in the Asia-Pacific region, she believes she also learnt a great deal. “I learnt that regionally there is great goodwill, great expertise to share … but there is great need. Collaboration is critical to address the enormity of the challenges facing people seeking asylum. I thank our community in Australia who have collaborated through volunteering and through their generous financial support.
“Working together, we are more powerful to offer people seeking asylum the dignity that comes from access to a safe haven, education and the chance of a secure future for their families.”
Linking resources to strengthen volunteer support for refugees
On 30 November Jesuit Refugee Service Australia joined three other NSW refugee support organisations – Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), Asylum Seekers Centre and House of Welcome – in launching the NSW Humanitarian Hub.
The Humanitarian Hub is a centralised website for volunteers connected with all four organisations. Current and prospective volunteers can use the Hub to gather information, learn how they can volunteer with the Hub or its members, and find relevant training. By combining our volunteer resources, we aim to provide the most appropriate support for those who need our help.
At the launch, the leaders of the four organisations introduced the Hub project’s core principles: Justice, Dignity and Welcome.
“These values,” says Carolina Gottardo, Director of JRS Australia, “align closely with the core values of JRS Australia. ‘Justice’ aligns with our policy of advocating for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum to the human rights of safe haven and protection. ‘Dignity’ aligns with our policy of accompaniment – supporting people to empower themselves so they are able to control their own future wherever possible. ‘Welcome’ accords with our mission of service: we offer services to meet both the immediate needs and longer term needs of people who are people seeking asylum: emergency accommodation, a basic living allowance, a foodbank, casework support, English and other classes, employment and legal support, and more.”
Ms Gottardo adds: “We thank our funders for this opportunity to link resources across the sector in NSW and to further coordinate our work, so that we can better serve people seeking asylum: Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, Sidney Myer Fund and The Caledonia Foundation. Thanks also to Gilbert + Tobin for hosting the launch.”
Find the Humanitarian Hub at https://www.nswhumanitarianhub.org.au
From accompaniment to a contributing community member
Michael* came from West Africa seeking asylum from persecution for his political opinions. He came alone, with no family or friends in Australia. With a three-month visa he had no work rights, and no money or shelter. We offered him a stable environment as he prepared his application for protection: casework support, emergency accommodation in our shelter, a small living allowance, and a link with English classes.
Once he had applied for protection, he was issued a visa with work rights and could begin to look for work. We enrolled him in our employment program, helping him access free courses and supporting the cost of other courses. Now Michael has found a job in a caring profession. He visits our community centre in Parramatta, lending a hand where he can, sharing his joy in being a self-supporting, active community member, able to make a contribution and regain his lost dignity.
Help to change the realities people seeking asylum face this Christmas
For people seeking asylum in Australia, poverty and isolation are the realities they will face this Christmas.
At JRS we accompany, serve and advocate for people seeking asylum so they can begin to support themselves as they try to forge a new life in Australia.
This Christmas, please help us give people seeking asylum the dignity and respect they deserve. Please donate now.
Here is our message at Christmas