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It's a wrap!

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Thank you for reading all our JRS UK Community Blog posts. Our blog with reflects, stories and insights into the work of Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK will continue on www.jrsuk.net on our new website.

Don't forget to let us know if there is aspect of JRS's work you'd like to hear more about. We can add new posts or use your ideas to shape our newsletter which comes out 3 times a year.

And you can always send a message of support or donation to encourage and help us in our work of accompanying those in need: www.justgiving.com/jesuitrefugeeservice

Thank you for caring for all those who come here for safety and security.

Minestrone or mushroom?

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That was the choice of soups on the menu for our first serving of hot soup at the JRS Day Centre. Thanks to the generosity of local cafe chain Soupe du Jour who agreed to put JRS on their roster of recipients of leftover soup, we are now able to offer hot soup to people coming to JRS on a Thursday.

Some of the comments on the first day were:

“The best mushroom soup I ever had!”

“Thank you very much, it was amazing. God bless you to cook for us.”

“It’s great to have mushroom soup. Hot! Good taste! Healthy! Smells nice!”

Now we have suggestions of what to add with requests for rice, pasta, beans... and cake to make for a full menu!

At JRS we are lucky enough to have inherited a full kitchen in our building. We have worked hard, thanks to the efforts of one volunteer in particular and one of our refugees who is a trained chef. We have tidied and cleaned, sorted out crockery and equipment, investigated regulations for allergens and run training sessions for Day Centre volunteers. Everyone serving has a smart apron and there is a menu with ingredients so diners can see what they are comfortable to eat for their diets and medical needs. We have even been awarded a Grade 5 for our kitchen hygiene and food safety from our local authority food inspector. The label is now proudly presented on the kitchen door at the Hurtado Centre.

Our chef Tiam Ham said: “Today it went good. It was fabulous. They liked it – from the comments they gave. It was a good experience for me. I am glad and confident that they loved it. I am improving to get ready, feel more relaxed and serve everyone. I am meeting new people I did not meet before at JRS. I love to cook because it is my passion. I feel great, comfortable and happy to cook in the kitchen. I have a lot of pleasure, it is nice to create a menu. It creates a nice ambiance at the Day Centre. When everyone arrives, there is a nice smell of the food. And they feel excited to see the chef in the kitchen, it gives them an appetite and to taste the flavours. It is healthier than just biscuits and sandwiches. We will to improve to accommodate their requests and increase their satisfaction as our guests.”

One diner said: “This is the best soup I ever had in my life. So I hope that people will like it – perfect!”

Bon appétit! Many thanks to Soupe du Jour for working with us to make this possible: http://www.soupe-du-jour.com/

My volunteering day at Jesuit Refugee Service

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Long before it was fashionable, the Jesuit Refugee Service at Wapping has been quietly helping hundreds of destitute refugees for many, many years. I had a great opportunity to volunteer there recently, and my experience was both one of enlightenment and happiness. I work for the Prince's Trust charity In Kind Direct, and had known JRS only as a customer sourcing items for the ‘hygiene packs’ which they offer to refugees. So I wanted to get a first-hand experience of what they actually did, and what they were doing for the refugees here on the ground.

My first impression walking through the doors of their Wapping centre was one of light, welcome, cleanliness and cheer! From the very professional staff to the well trained volunteers it was a calm, happy and safe environment for any stressed refugees to spend the day. My job was to help the volunteer chef Timothy (himself a former refugee), put together a nutritious lunch for a hungry group of seventy destitute people. The basic soup mixture was supplied by a local café, Soupe du Jour, with sandwiches added by ‘Pret-a-Manger’. The chef’s enthusiasm was matched by his determination to create a meal that would delight and wow a group of people who are rarely given that kind of respect. I haven’t enjoyed cooking that much in years, and seeing the pleasure and appreciation on the diners’ faces was certainly thanks enough.

I learnt so much on the day. These refugees are given real hope, love and support by the staff and volunteers at this centre. They work with respect and equality for them all, and even the most desperate and difficult cases are handled with kindness and genuine empathy. Destitute refugees are not given much press as they often fall between the cracks of interest in the media, and here the Jesuit Refugee Service can make such a difference to those hidden lives. Their legal advice, hygiene packs, weekly food kitchens and very calm drop-in centre is a world away from the everyday lives of these refugees. I saw many of them arrive stressed and depressed, and then leave calmer and with some genuine hope that someone in the world still cares for them. Well done JRS, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to see such humanity at work in what is often a thankless, hidden and difficult world.

Claire Hanrahan is Senior Charity Partnerships Coordinator at In Kind Direct

Role description: Part-time volunteer wanted!

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A few evenings ago I was sitting at my computer working on a presentation on the topic of boundaries. I was somewhat stumped. I was growing tired of reading American new working culture blogs and studying the fine print of confidentiality policy, something about this reading didn’t match my experience of dealing with boundaries as a volunteer at JRS. At this point I started to think about my role in the charity and wrote the following description of my role.

Role description: Part-time volunteer wanted!

Needs to be a friend and a colleague. Must be competent in administration, presentations and calculations. A Trainee chef, with a background in health and safety, most importantly an expert coffee maker! Must have an interest in computing, data collection and analysis, and strong communication skills. A hands on cleaner, carer and fundraiser with an occasional bit of heavy lifting. An advocate, a problem solver, a student and a teacher… Oh and preferably a blogger.

I would expect any JRS volunteer to have a similar repertoire of diverse roles in their work. I think the variety of these roles is striking and I am interested in how people working at JRS and the Hurtado Centre manage these different responsibilities. To navigate this complex terrain alongside beneficiaries with extremely complex situations involves a level of versatility which I have not come across in any of my earlier work.

So how does this relate to my work on boundaries? I think generally there is a safety in our job descriptions and the more defined that description becomes the easier it is for us to impose limitations upon our work. I have enjoyed working at JRS, in part because of the rich source of roles I might take on in a day, this is a very responsive model with which to approach the complexity of tasks that lay in front of us.

However setting out boundaries with which we can juggle the many ‘hats’ that one might wear in a day is also important. I have had to be very clear with myself in both time management and prioritisation as a volunteer at JRS in giving these roles their allotted time. It is these sorts of boundaries that protect and therefore enable ourselves, our colleagues, our friends and the mission behind all of these different roles.

I hope, in the subsequent group sessions that I am working on, that we can start a dialogue about how to safeguard and sustain our staff, and continue to have the level of versatility and sensitive problem solving that I have come to expect from JRS.

Mark is a volunteer with JRS UK and has been instrumental in getting our kitchen ready for the new soup service at our Day Centre

Lives, not numbers

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When a child, I sometimes played hide-and-seek. I remember once I crawled underneath the bed into the small, dark space between the bottom of the bed and the floor. Although I was there only for a short while, and out of my own choice at that, how I felt stuffy and unfree!

Amidst numerous reports on migrant and refugee issues in the media, one news caught my eyes recently in which more than seventy people died of suffocation in a deserted lorry. After the initial shock at the number of death toll, I suddenly remembered my childhood hide-and-seek and could almost imagine the physical and psychological horrors that those people, one by one, must have felt in their last moments. Then came another report on Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy, whose life and dream were snatched and swept away by the merciless tide of the sea… And I am sure many of us also watched or read about the Palestinian girl, Reem, who broke down to tears in front of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Christians believe in the salvation by a man nailed on a cross. We look up to him hanging on the cross and remind ourselves of his love for humanity. I believe this man’s death brought a meaning to the sufferings in our lives and of the world. But that meaning is brought to life only when we share and participate in his suffering by persevering in our trials and by caring for others’ needs. Even if no one will ever be able to fathom the mystery of evil, our small steps to follow and carry our cross will help us not to despair when we face seemingly meaningless, or sometimes overwhelming, sufferings in and around us.

Migrant and refugee issues were around in the media for a long time but in many a case, those who seek for life were quoted as numbers. However, the recent reports somehow made it possible for us to see the simple and obvious fact that migrants and refugees are also individuals with dreams and hopes, tears and sorrows, just like anybody else. It is about their lives, not numbers. When we reach out to them and share their burdens as brothers and sisters, the sufferings we share will surely transform into hopes for the future. The only thing is how to find our own ways in our own life to respond to them…

Kundong is a Jesuit scholastic and volunteer with JRS UK.

How would we manage?

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Each month Jesuit Refugee Service UK distributes over 180 toiletry packs to destitute asylum seekers via our weekly Day Centre. Speaking about the scheme, one refugee told us: “they give us the hygiene pack, which I found helpful, which means you are able to keep any money you have to buy other things you need. You get the things to use, how we would do without…? And for the rest of us, men and women, I don’t know how we would manage.”

The asylum seekers who come to JRS for help are destitute. They are not permitted to work, nor have access to public funds or social benefits. This means they are entirely dependent on charity or on the good will of any network of friends or wider family they have here in the UK. Most are in very insecure accommodation, such as hostels, rely on ‘sofa-surfing’ or sleep on the night bus, and from time to time sleep on the streets.

A recent British Red Cross survey indicated that many people in this situation eat only one proper meal each day. These are the additional challenges they face while they sort out their asylum claim or appeal. The main stresses are loneliness and isolation, separation from family members, language barriers, trauma from their previous country, journey or experience here.

A toiletry pack enables someone in this situation to take good care of themselves and maintain a little dignity. It also means that they can use any cash or vouchers on food, essential phone calls or bus travel. It is also a gesture of practical help alongside other services we provide.

So, we need 2,160 lots of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shower gel, body lotion… and other everyday items every year to provide everyone with the basics they need. To sustain this scheme, our volunteers pack up more than 17,280 items in a year. That’s a lot of bottles!

We can order items through a special charity scheme that donates products that can no longer be sold in shops (e.g. due to a spelling mistake on a label or outdated branding). This incurs a delivery charge. They are packed up by volunteers each week and given out at our Day Centre on a Thursday by another volunteer who keeps a record in a book. Each collection provides the chance for a nice conversation or sharing or news.

We also arrange toiletry collections in parishes and schools to get free items, which are mostly good or newly bought from a supermarket. The collections provide a good education opportunity and also a chance for people to make a difference in a small way – everyone understands the need for soap and toothpaste, even if they find the whole system or politics of refugee rights and difficulties overwhelming.

Sometimes people give out of date or opened items which we cannot use. We want the refugees who receive them to know that they get the same quality as everyone else – not recipients of unwanted or rubbish things. We say to the donors to think: “would I like to receive this?” or “would I be happy to give this to a relative or friend?” The message asylum seekers often receive in this country is that they are not wanted or are disregarded, so we work hard to make sure they feel just the opposite – special and welcome - when they come to JRS. Hopefully, the toiletry packs go a small way to doing this.

The scheme costs £4,200 to cover delivery charges, volunteers travel costs and a little publicity. Each pack costs us £2 to put together and contains £15 worth of shop bought toiletries.

For more information or to donate to help sustain the scheme, contact: jrsfundraiser@gmail.com

My experience with JRS /UK

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My name is Tomislav. I am from Croatia. I worked with JRS UK at the Hurtado Centre for one month and a half. I will say something about some activities and my experience with that. When I look all together, it was good experience.

On Thursday at the Day Centre, the atmosphere is very good. Meeting with staff or volunteers is a possibility for refugees to share their problems and receive help, especially on Thursday. I saw that in a lot of cases. JRS UK welcomes people from different country, nationality and race, but when they come to Hurtado Centre, they talk among themselves, and I am sure they have good relationship out of Centre too. That helps to them go across problems and makes a possibility to meet and understand other, their differences are good and not like enemy.

I talk with refugees. With some of them it was easier, with some not too much. I saw they do not like personal questions. First meeting with them, for me it was not possible talk more then 15-20 minutes. Second meeting, it usually was much better. I was surprised with that, because of first meeting. Another thing that I saw is that if a refugee is from a country nearby my own country, they have different reactions. Some of them always escaped from my presence. I am quite sure one reason for that was shame, because in that moment he or she know that I know their situation. It is like showing something bad in front of somebody who is your family or friends and person have bad feelings. For others of them, it is something nice, they feel more at home and they do not have problem because I know their situation. They are coming to us only for good reason. They want make clean situation with their state back home and that is all. I think that with JRS it works well.

Visiting the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre, I saw that refugees are there and that it is almost like a prison. They accept us but as they also saw that we could not help them too much, then we are for them somebody who can talk with them help the time in detention go faster. In that moment, it is possible that we have meeting between us. That is good.

Bike school, the cycling training offered here is something that is an excellent thing for refugees, especial for women. Because of the different cultures and religions and social situations, they could not learn to ride a bike. It is a small thing, but it gives them a lot of joy. That is perfect.

We also do birthday presents for the children. Here I discovered one thing not too much good. When I received the lists with names of children, I found it challenging to sort out, to make sure every name was the right name. I know that is not easy, because people do not like to talk on their first visit too much about themself, but later maybe are willing to be more accurate. I know that you who are every day here, and that you know every person but when some new volunteer comes and meets them again for the first time, that is not so simple. So, we now have a new system of organizing gifts by the month of the birthdays. How find the right gift is now so much easier and how prepare a good choice of gifts it also easier!

The atmosphere between staff and volunteers is very good here, that is important. Thank you!

You Are Here

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Staff member Kate reflects on a special journey she dedicated to the refugees she has met through her work at JRS.
I have lived in London for 18 years and to celebrate I decided to walk around it, yes, the city that is! I came to London by choice, as an 'economic migrant' perhaps, but to pursue my career and make my home here. It is a city that I have come to know and love well through friends, politics, culture and community groups. Many of the people I work with now did not choose London, but came fleeing for their safety in search of asylum as refugees. Life in London is a struggle for survival and many of the delights of the capital we take for granted are closed off to them. So this is a gesture, an embrace of my city and a prayerful pilgrimage.

I followed the Capital Ring path which has fifteen sections, 78 miles in total an average of 11 miles a day over the week, starting in Woolwich at the passenger ferry or foot tunnel and working its way through South, West and North London before arriving back in the East End. Each night I returned back to my digs in East London by way of tube, train or bus. All the way around the centre of London is to your right, inaccessible, but visible by the high towers and landmarks of the Shard and Canary Wharf. As I walked I looked out for connections or themes that related to the experience of destitute asylum seekers who live in our city.
In Woolwich on the pavement there was a mosaic map of the world, each country pieced out in colours. In Greenwich, I found the Windrush Primary School, named for those who were invited over from the Caribbean in the last century. In West and North London, neighbourhoods made up of people whose predecessors came here from persecution or conflict. Graffiti with messages such as “Let me live my life” resonated as I thought about the dreams of those refugees I have met who wish to pursue an education or use their skills.
The path takes you through parts of London less well known or hidden – through parks and back streets. It occurred to me that so many of the asylum seekers who live in our city live hidden lives. They have their daily journeys to day centres or the Home Office; these are not counted amongst those of the busy commuters we see profiled in our newspaper headlines. I had chosen to walk, but I know many refugees have to walk: in other countries to safety across dangerous routes and unfamiliar territories or in UK simply because they cannot afford their bus fare.
I know some of our refugee friends sleep in parks or on the night buses as they make their way between insecure accommodation, sofa-surfing or relying on church night shelters. I wondered at many junctures whether the beds or camps I saw along canals or in woods were places where someone had found refuge for the night. I was so grateful to return home each evening, to a hot bath and a meal. I will make more effort to be kinder and more thoughtful next time I welcome a refugee at work who is tired and hungry.
The Capital Ring is well signed and I had my guidebook. I still found it daunting and curious to make my way through parts of the city I did not know or to face passers-by, dogs and isolated corners. How courageous are those who come here without knowledge of the language, culture or workings of our transport, political and social systems, each person finding their way, dependent on strangers, officials and charity workers to go forward in hope and with personal determination and individual resilience.
On my last leg, I took the passenger ferry back across the Thames, reflecting on the journeys many people have made by sea, either as stowaways like a young refugee from Sudan I met, or on the boats across the Mediterranean. I arrived back at the start with a sense of completion and emotion – of love for my city and all those who live here. Those who arrive do so, sometimes not knowing which country they have been sent or trafficked to, or with hope of safety and a new start. May our city truly be a city of sanctuary, welcome and of hospitality – not one of barriers, exclusion or hostility.

To make a donation to JRS UK in response to Kate’s walk around London’s Capital Ring, go to: www.justgiving.com/jesuitrefugeeservice

Somebody Among Us

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Volunteer Alistair shares his impressions of the JRS Europe DVD which gives us an insight into the lives of destitute asylum seekers in Europe.

There were three people whom spoke on this DVD: called Jacob, Paulo and Faith (but with their names changed to protect their anonymity). The basic themes were destitution, persecution and a denial of their basic human needs.

The phrase used by one of the three was that he felt treated like a “homeless dog”. They are people with no place to safely return to. There were particular problems for all three whom came from Africa and especially for one who had the problem of religious persecution in Angola when his brothers were killed. Jacob moved from Eritrea in 2002 to Sudan, Libya and then Italy where he is seeking support.

Donatella Parisi who works with migrants at JRS Italy also stated the problems faced by migrants with regard to their status. The challenges faced by migrants are the difficulty to obtain asylum status and get a job: something especially reiterated by one of the three interviewees who lived in Italy on the streets.

JRS UK Assistant Director, Jonathan Parr (in photo) spoke eloquently about the plight of asylum seekers, he focused especially on the problems which often they face with mental illness. Faith stated she arrived in the UK aged 17 and was living in a hostel with four to a room, with others screaming during the night due to their traumas. She mentioned that some migrants are forced into prostitution to make ends meet. They also suffer feeling “wasted” and without hope.

Louise Zanre, Director of JRS UK, stated there are foundation values which include the need for migrants to flourish and grow. Jonathan Parr, Assistant Director to JRS UK, expressed clearly that better values must be promoted especially of, “kindness” and “neighbourliness” and that food and shelter must not be used as a tool of coercion in a wealthy continent such as Europe.

The DVD is short and pithy: it represents an excellent overview of the needs and concerns of all those working with and/or caring for asylum seekers. The asylum seekers who contributed gave brief and frank appraisals of their condition. I would recommend this DVD to all those who wish to obtain a brief but knowledgeable introduction to the work of JRS UK and the reality of so many asylum seekers condition in the UK and Europe generally. WATCH!!

I want to welcome the people who come

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Fr Michael Smith SJ reflects on his experience so far working as a volunteer at Jesuit Refugee Service UK's Thursday Day Centre.

I'd been a Jesuit for around 17 years when Father Pedro Arrupe started the Jesuit Refugee service in 1980. Father Arrupe was one of the best known and most admired of recent Jesuit generals – the people who run the Jesuits world-wide. I knew that it operated in many places in the world, trying to do in each place what refugees in that area need most.

But I didn't know much more about it until I started work as a volunteer at the JRS day centre in the Hurtado Centre in Wapping in London. There I have met refugees and asylum-seekers from many parts of the world. I am moved by their amazing courage in leaving their own country and coming to another, where they knew the government wasn't going to make them very welcome, and where they might not find a home or food. And the terrible stories about asylum-seekers being packed into boats and left to drown are horrifying for us but much worse for those who have to take the risk – and it shows the pressure on them to escape.

Those who come to the day centre are mostly struggling through the complex system of determinations and appeals, often with inadequate or no legal help, and facing a system where an appeal may be at the other end of the country; probably arranged that way so that they do not have ready access to a fair and just decision. And there is the constant fear of being seized and transferred to an Immigration Removal Centre, where they may not have access to their papers, or time to contact their lawyers.

So they come on a Thursday – for the rest of the week doing the rounds of other charities who can each help them a little bit more.

I know I wouldn't have the courage to make such a journey, nor to face what they have to face when they get here. I know I'm lucky that I don't have to face such a terrible situation.

What do I want to do at JRS? I want to welcome the people who come. When they come to JRS I want them to realise they are welcomed and respected, and that we'll do what we can to care for them.

To make a donation to help with the running costs of our Day Centre, please go to: www.justgiving.com/jesuitrefugeeservice

We walk together

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God of all,
As we walk together,

Open our hearts
To your tenderness.

Open our minds
To your understanding.

Open our lives
To your challenge.

We are one people, many nations,
Building hope through steps for peace.

One world with many barriers,
Breaking chains so we dance free.

One voice that shouts for justice
Shatters hatred, calls for change.

One God, one world, one people,
Turning tables, share the feast.


By Linda Jones, in "livesimply: a Cafod resource for living", edited by Annabel Shilson-Jones 2008, Canterbury Press

We all need to be diligent advocates

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Louise Zanré, Director of JRS UK, shares her vision for a better world and invites us to join advocacy efforts alongside refugees to make the case for their dignity
Advocacy is one of the three parts of the JRS mission. We often spend a lot more time on accompaniment and service - I suspect because many of us attracted to working for JRS are what I think of as being at heart "people persons". We derive energy and inspiration from being present both with and two the people we accompany. We build relationships and endeavour to offer and to receive hope, dignity and justice through those relationships. And we often do not make enough of the advocacy opportunities we have had and the fact that peoples' lives are changed as a result.

Being a "people person" myself I get a great deal of pleasure from meeting new people and having the opportunity of explaining to them a little about the reality of the lives of the people we accompany, whether those left destitute by the asylum system in the UK or those who have been detained, and the work of JRS. As a person of faith and conviction I base much of that message I share on the values underpinning the mission of JRS. I dream of a new world of dignity and justice, where everyone is treated with equality and compassion. I hope that, when I speak to groups, or at events; when I have meetings with civil servants, politicians; when I attend network meetings of partner organisations; when I write articles, that I am able to speak with truth, compassion and with passion and that the people I address or meet with are better equipped to conceive of and to want to work towards that new world.

It is a big ask - of myself and of those listening - and I am sure that I am not always as effective as I might be. It is also a big ask as we are up against so much. There are too many myths about refugees and asylum seekers. The world is far from perfect and sometimes the issues we are confronted with can seem to be insurmountable. It is difficult to know what response to make to the fact that so many people are being forced to risk dangerous journeys to get to Europe; to the fears that so many people have over competition for resources, jobs, housing or health care provision.

However it is especially at this time when things can seem to be so dark and depressing that it is of particular importance that we do try our best to counter a prevailing message of blame, of not being able to be generous, of not being able to participate together in society.

A new immigration bill was announced recently in the Queen's speech. Unsurprisingly, the highlights make for pretty depressing reading - landlords having to check immigration status of prospective tenants to determine if they can legally rent housing to them, appeal rights only being permissible in immigration cases after deportation, making it more difficult for immigrants to get bank accounts, making money earned from illegal working the proceeds of criminal activity and therefore able to be confiscated, to name a very few. On top of existing restrictions they make the UK a very unwelcoming place indeed.

In the face of this we all need to be diligent advocates. We will be sharing with you campaigns against particular measures - whether to stop indefinite detention; to try and convince our government to resettle more refugees; or to lobby MPs about the immigration bill. But we will also be asking you to listen to the experiences of our refugee friends, their hopes and dreams. And we will be asking you to work with us to dream a new world, to try to be more welcoming ourselves in everything we do or say, to challenge injustice and to pray and reflect. Without our refugee friends and without you, nothing I nor JRS can do will substantially change things.

In London

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by Charles

In a place where I thought that Big Ben is the best sight to see.

In a place where I thought that Buckingham Palace is the best castle to see.

In a place where I saw green because Wimbledon tournament is on grass and green.

In a place where I thought, women are powerful, because the ruler is a Queen.

In a place where women can choose regardless of their background, as dear Princess Diana did.

But London, with hooliganism, you gave us the impression that you are not immaculate.

But London, you start your shy revolution with Protestantism.

But London, you gave us the impression that you are the best place to acquire education.

Although you, London are welcoming, life is hard in you.

Although you, London are very tolerant, racism still exists.

Although you, London are equal, competition is tough – London, you may have saved some lives but you did not save our soul.

This poem was written during a series of workshops organised for refugees at JRS-UK by English PEN and Free Word Centre.

It is wonderful to speak out

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What can we do together to improve the lives of asylum seekers here in the UK? JRS UK staff and advocacy volunteers share what advocacy means to them.

Sr Margaret Baxter SSMN, Detention Outreach Co-ordinator, helped two detainees give evidence to the UK parliamentary inquiry on detention via a video link, co-wrote JRS UK’s submission to the inquiry and herself also spoke at the launch of the report.

"For me, being involved with advocacy means to create an opportunity for the detainees I work with to self-advocate, then to help them prepare. For example, for the detention inquiry, we all wanted to be clear on what we wanted to say, so that it was a balance of their experience. On the moment of the hearing, I sat with them and then took each one into the room and then left, to allow them to speak for themselves. When they came out of the interview, I saw a liberated delight in these young men who had been empowered and now able to speak for themselves. That their stories were taken with credibility was in contrast to their experience of coming into country and making their asylum application against disbelief. There is nothing like the sincerity of the person themselves advocating on their own behalf. And with the detainees, there is a sense of solidarity with one another, even in the midst of their vulnerability."

Souleyman Sow, refugee poet and anti-detention campaigner, used to attend JRS UK’s Day Centre and now often speaks at events to explain the negative impacts of detention on the lives of vulnerable detainees, most recently at a school sixth-form education day.

"To be honest, before getting involved in campaigning, I did not know where I was, I had nowhere to start. It lifts me up and puts me on my feet and without it I would be somebody else. My main message is detention. It has an impact, it keep people in limbo. So to decision makers, I say that we have to put detention on trail, it is a waste of tax payers’ money. And let’s have a time limit on detention and we will see some of the problems for detainees ended. It is wonderful to speak out, I have been a tour guide, I have spoken at the parliamentary inquiry. Advocacy is not about money, it is not about food - you have to get involved in the community, after your release what have you contributed to the community? When I see my colleagues, I tell them come and get involved. So just involve yourself!"

Reflections on my work with Asylum Seekers in London

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I have been working with Asylum Seekers for the past almost 16 years, first in Oxford and for the last 6 years in London at the Jesuit Refugee Service UK. The latter is based in Wapping in East London. Most of the people we befriend are based in this poorer area of London.

The Mission of JRS is to: 1) Accompany asylum seekers and forced migrants, our brothers and sisters, 2) Serve them as companions and 3) Advocate their cause in a largely uncaring world. We have a particular concern for those who are detained under the immigration rules and for those who, having had their asylum claim refused – sometimes many times – are left both destitute and homeless in the UK. We try to carry out this work in a spirit of dignity, mutual respect and solidarity and in collaboration with other similar organisations. Our Mission is based on our faith in God, who is present in human history, even in the most tragic circumstances. Our values are: Compasssion, Hope, Dignity, Solidarity, Hospitality, Justice and Participation. We welcome people of every nationality; of all faiths and none. At JRS we do not refer to those who come to us as clients but as friends. To quote one of our friends: “JRS are family for me now. JRS supports me morally and motivates me.”

JRS is open 5 days a week but definitely the highlight of the week is the Thursday Day Centre when we welcome an average of about 100 people. I believe that the most important aspect of what we can offer is that of welcome - a welcome to those who otherwise feel unwelcome in our society. This begins by the welcome given at the door which is so appreciated by those who come. This was brought home to me recently by one young woman who said to me:” I was feeling very nervous when I arrived but I felt so happy when everyone greeted me with a smile and was so kind to me.” Or as another person described it:” We feel welcome as a new person in a new country.” This is so important when they have been anything but welcome in their own country and have met only with hostility on arriving in this land.

As well as the initial interview, the centre gives an opportunity to speak about their situation with volunteers; to receive advice on various matters; to be directed to other organisations e.g. centres for food, clothing, legal aid, health needs, courses for English and other studies; to make friends and sometimes speak their own language over a cup of tea or coffee or just to rest. They can receive a sandwich and fruit lunch and a monthly hygiene pack of toiletries. We also provide travel money for access to critical legal and medical appointments, emergency mini-grants for newly destitute individuals.

I, myself, participate in this work as a volunteer twice a week. My main role currently, together with another Sister of a different Congregation, is to conduct the initial assessment interview of each newcomer to the Centre. We do this in as friendly and informal manner as possible as we know this can be daunting for some of our friends who have had previous traumatic experiences of being questioned. It is gratifying when some, who arrive very nervous and traumatised, leave the room relaxed and smiling. Sometimes the experience for us of listening to what is a harrowing account of what they have undergone, both in their own country and during the asylum process here, can be heartbreaking. I always find the fact that so often, having escaped very difficult and often tragic circumstances from their country of origin, they are received here with both suspicion and hostility. Some of them in the course of the process have been detained in Detention or so-called “Removal Centres” for longer or shorter periods. I myself have visited people in various of these centres and know what a traumatic experience it can be for innocent people to be virtually imprisoned for an indefinite period of time. This is particularly so when children are involved. Another source of trauma is the often long waiting for a decision from their Hearings. Some of the people we interview have been in the UK for 10 years or more without any positive outcome of their claim for asylum. This frequently leads to both mental and physical stress and depression and even suicide attempts. Conversely the UK does currently offer excellent medical care for which they are hugely grateful. There are also some wonderful charitable organisations to which they can have recourse, such as the Medical Foundation for the Prevention of Persecution.

Another traumatic factor for these people to deal with is literally becoming both destitute and homeless when they have exhausted their Appeals. Some are fortunate enough to have good friends who will give them somewhere to sleep but very often they find themselves on the street or sleeping on buses etc. I know of at least one middle-aged Congolese lady who has been in this situation for the last 6 months. We do our best to find places for these people but there are so few available and they are usually full.

We are always so happy when we are able to register those we interview and therefore provide for them the little financial and other help we can on a regular weekly basis. It is truly humbling to witness their gratitude for even so little. This frequently reminds me how grateful I should be for the many blessings I receive on a daily basis.

Another inspiring aspect of my relationship with these people is the weekly Prayer Group for women held every Tuesday. This was requested by the women themselves a few years ago. There is also a similar group for men. A Cenacle Sister and I organise this, taking turns to lead the prayer weekly. At present all the participants are Christian: Catholic and Orthodox but all faiths are welcome. They represent various African countries, including Eritrea and Ethiopia and are English, French, Tigrine and Amharic speaking. I find their deep, simple and devout faith, love of prayer and capacity for silence both moving and inspiring in the face of all they have suffered and are still suffering. Again, I receive far more from them than I can give. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work with these beautiful and endearing people. I can truly say;” I feel privileged to meet and learn from each one of my refugee friends. My association with them continues to enrich my life and I give thanks that I have been given the opportunity to participate in this work of God,”

This article first appeared on http://www.assumptionreligious.org/news/151/19/Assumption-focus-on-refugees.html  

The story of a refugee is a story of great courage

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Rome, 20 June 2015 – Refugees do not choose to become refugees. They become refugees out of compulsion. They experience separation from loved ones, starvation, discrimination, fear, trauma, indefinite incarceration and worst of all, the demonization of their human dignity. They hope not only for survival, but for a peaceful and decent life, free from persecution and discrimination. Even when they eventually do make it to a safe refuge, it is very hard for them to restore their lives by themselves. During this time, their hope for education and equal opportunity often fades away.

My name is Antony Mukui*; I'm 28 years old and I come from Kenya. My story, though tragic, is sadly not unique.

I should say that compared to the millions of refugees across the world, my journey has been through God's grace a fairly easy one.

It was the night of 5 November 2013, when my family and I were attacked in our home by a gang of about 12 men armed with crude weapons: machetes, axes, knifes, etc. I was outside of our house talking to my cousin Joseph inquiring why the electricity shut off. As we talked, this gang confronted us. They took me hostage and ordered my cousin to go back to sleep. Little did I know that was the last time I would see him alive.

I was led to the house and the ordeal began. All the while, they were looking for my mother, who was then an employee in one of Kenya's security services. This ordeal lasted just about an hour, and at the end of it all I was injured terribly. My young sister, 12 at the time, had gone through an attempted rape; my 92 year old grandmother had been harassed and traumatized; and my friend and colleague Peter was seriously injured and had to spend two months in the hospital undergoing reconstructive surgery on his mouth.

As you can all imagine after such a traumatic event, we lived our lives in fear, sleeping in shifts at night. While the local police guarded our compound, we stood watch too. The investigations were going nowhere; and after four months of this, we made the decision as a family to leave the country that we had called home for all our lives into an uncertain future.

A new home. We arrived in Italy on 21 January 2014. Based on the recommendation of by the Kenyan Superior of the Jesuits and with permission of the Superior General of the Jesuits, Franciscan Cappuchin priests took us in their San Lorenzo di Brandisi college, where they usually house foreign students who are studying in Rome. We have been living with them ever since.

They have helped us not only by offering us a roof over our heads but also a place to heal our inner wounds by providing us with spiritual counseling and allowing us to be part of their family. We eat meals together, have discussions, play football and watch games together from time to time.

This transition has not been easy on my family, leaving everything behind: a good house, good jobs, a car, all our friends and family. The life of a refugee is not an easy one; there are many challenges that one has to go through including the lack of employment, housing and proper documentation.

Rebuilding through faith. Worse for me is the feeling of not belonging, of not being human. As a refugee, every day you cling on to the hope that the next day will be better than yesterday. This hope and our faith in God is what have kept our family together over the past year, despite all the difficult times that we have faced. It is the faith that as long as we have our lives, we can always rebuild and achieve greater things.

Every day, I am inspired by the stories of my fellow refugees that I meet from all over the world. Many of them are young men and women like myself who have undergone so much pain and suffering in their young lives, but who all have two things in common – hope and determination to make something of their lives despite all the challenges they face.

Ultimately, I must say the story of a refugee is a story of great courage. It is a story of a people who refuse to give up when everything around them seems to crumble, who chose to hope when it would be so easy to give up.

I challenge all of you to look at refugees as your fellow brothers and sisters, as human beings.

I believe that we can all do our part to help those who are suffering. As Pope Francis reminds us, we must all be able first to see, and then help others to see that migrants do not represent a problem to be solved. They are brothers and sisters who need help and should therefore be welcomed and loved.

Each one of us must answer the Holy Father's call not only by helping to provide housing, food, employment and education, but more importantly to tackle the root causes that cause people to flee and find durable solutions to those problems.

Opposing the war in Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr., said "a time comes when silence is betrayal." That time I believe has come for us as far as the refugee crisis is concerned. The time has come for all of us to not only speak up, but to act. This I believe is our duty not only as Christians but as human beings, and in doing so, we will love our fellow man and "Push forward, not back."

*Antony currently volunteers at the Jesuit Refugee Service International Office

This piece first appeared on the JRS International website: http://en.jrs.net/index

A safe and shared space to be together

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Mary, Bernadette and Brigitte share their perspectives on coming together as women at JRS UK for their regular prayer and peer support sessions.

The initial aspect for the prayer circle is that the women want to come together to have some expression for their faith. For all of the women this is very important. They have a very strong belief that God will see them through. Also too there is a whole sense of they always want to pray for needs of their families wherever their family members are, they have a very strong connectedness to that, God only knows what those circumstances are. So, it is a place they don't have to talk out anything they don't want to talk out, but they express as they need to.

Because the project has now existed for 4 and a half years, there is a sense of community and of trust, and they feel safe, which is very important to them. Although they don't always talk about their problems, they are sharing with others who have been through similar traumas. It is a space for that one hour or so they can almost let go of the things that are bothering them, where to sleep or find food. There are times when we have celebrated which is important too.

The other element is the respect that they have not been respected in life, so there is a respect that they can pray in their own language, they translate for one another, they can be something about who they are, regardless of language, culture or belief system. It is not about religion, it is about their faith and spirituality. For one it was coming to 'church' and coming together and to pray and to share. Before the formal part, they come to chat and support one another, it is a safe, common space. What happens for them, builds and strengthens them.

These women have a very deep faith and a great trust in God. By giving them this opportunity, it helps to strengthen them for what they are going through in their lives. It is very helpful being together and being able to share their faith. They also like the silent prayer, but the mutual support is good. They do go to church many of them, but the fact of praying and sharing on a deeper level with people who have had a similar experience, because you don't want to talk to everyone about being a refugee or asylum seeker. It gives them an opportunity to express themselves is very valuable.

It is important for women to come for the prayer circle to keep them a little bit busy because when they come only at the Day Centre it is not enough for them. When we pray, we pray according to the situation where they are in, it is a good consolation to their problem. When they come, they are happy to meet other friends in the group and share some ideas.

A fruit of my country

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By Anon
Teach you a fruit of my country
I invite you to share some of
tasty fruit of my country

Let us eat dates, brown and sweet
large and small – hard and soft
easy to plant but long time to get return

difficult to harvest but easy to store
easy to export but difficult to pack
let us enjoy date and have a date in my country

This poem was written as part of a series of workshops facilitated by English PEN at JRS UK

A simple mind and heart to reciprocate

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Paul Anthony, a Jesuit scholastic and member of the Hurtado Jesuit Community that lives with JRS UK, reflects on a recent conversation about migration.

I was fortunate to attend the session on ‘Migration Conversation’ by Br Stephen Power SJ at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre. It was very informative and the statistics presented were an eye opener. Later, we had a discussion in different groups and I was very much drawn to their sharings. Some of the participants were migrants themselves. Many shared their feelings of sentiments, and what they did with migrants and refugees. What they said was inspiring and heart touching and came from deep down themselves.

When I was in Andhra Province (one of the South Asian Provinces of Society of Jesus), I used to share more often about JRS and its mission to the novice candidates, and in my Vocation Promotion talks to them. The little knowledge I was gleamed from books and newsletters of our congregation I never had met any refugee or volunteer working in JRS. Now I am fortunate enough to be placed in the Hurtado Jesuit Community, in London, as a part of my theology studies. JRS is part of Hurtado Jesuit community’s mission, now I can meet people involved in refugee works as well as asylum seekers and refugees as well. My interaction with refugees is short but it has created a huge impact on me. Simple ‘smiles’, ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ produce ripples of happiness and joy in their faces. I am not able to advise them on legal matters but simply present myself and share the rapport of a mutual smile. My experience has been similar to that of all those who shared during the discussions, though their sharing has enriched my understanding and feelings towards refugees and migrants.

It is not qualification and experience which matter to have but a simple mind and heart to reciprocate ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’ to those who are in need. ‘When I was hungry, you gave me to eat and when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink’. People not merely long for the satisfaction of physical needs but also for emotional and relational needs. They are hungry for the food of communication and communion and thirsty to receive the water of compassion and acceptance. They desire a space to share their feelings.

The sharing was a great breakthrough and showed me how I need to respond and grow spiritually. It made me realise that the best present I could give to the refugees is my pleasure at our presence together. I have discovered ways to make others happy and to be happy myself.

We look to the positive for each other

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Women 4 Women meets monthly at JRS UK as a peer support for women who have been made destitute by the UK asylum process. Facilitator and participants share why it matters.

All the ladies who come have no way to get money so we have to help them for transport and also for food, so they can eat first. Sometimes they are hungry when they come, so a fruit or biscuits helps them.

“For me, it has improved my life, otherwise, there is nothing for me to do in the day, you take it away, you take away my life. The others, they need it too. The staff are very friendly, we look to the positive for each other. I appreciate it very well.”

For the women's peer support group, it is a very clear piece of time for them, doing exercises, learning how to do massage or some mediation, it is time out for them. It is about their wellbeing, to feel, they can focus on themselves, such when we do creative things. They do drawing or colouring, expressing themselves in some way, they have gone back to a time in their lives that they can't have now, when they can just be.

We started off with 4 and those who have moved on have their papers, but it allows others new to come in as others move on. There is now a stability (in the midst of very chaotic lives). This year we started with a couple of Eritrean women who have now brought their friends. There is a sense of belonging and connectedness, it is not just a piece of fruit or the bus fare that they benefit from.

It depends on the person, but it can give a certain confidence. Some come uncertain and withdrawn, but now are more expressive and relaxed around people. It helps them more to be themselves also. Their confidence has been shattered with what they have been through.

“As asylum seekers we have lost our competence. I would like to improve, to do some training, share skills in cooking, baking, sewing, drawing... all creative things where we can have the satisfaction that we have made something from start to finish. To have some skills where in future I will be able to learn to stand again on my own two feet.”

A couple of participants now help lead. One has come out of herself and has more confidence and tremendously helpful. They help with preparation and good to see women who have had the same experiences can now lead.

Make a donation to help pay the bus passes of the women who attend: www.justgiving.com/jesuitrefugeeservice

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