September 10, 2003

Think-Tank Days in Johannesburg: September 4th- 7th 2003

Mercy Refugee Service

Sponsored and facilitated by Mercy Refugee Service Australia

At the Mercy International Association Leaders' Conference, Dublin, 2002 one of the themes reflected on by the Leaders was the displacement of peoples in our world.

It is this issue of 'displacement' that was taken up for further in-depth reflection, analysis and action at a recent meeting in Johannesburg. Concerned with forced displacement and other international issues that impinge on our humanitarian responses to those who are suffering, eight Mercy women gathered in Johannesburg to participate in a think-tank.

Participants came to Johannesburg from the following workplaces:

  • Joanne Whitaker - Namibia
  • Cathy Solano - Uganda
  • Denise Coghlan - Cambodia
  • Joan Pearton- South Africa
  • Thuy Nguyen - Zambia
  • Maryanne Loughry - United Kingdom
  • Gwen Garland - Australia
  • Margaret Moore - Australia

As a result of our work together during these days, our sharing, analysis, reflection and prayer has led us to this final statement.

We wish to circulate this statement among our Mercy groups worldwide for further reflection and action.

Statement from the Group of Mercy women who met in Johannesburg September 2003


"We will centre on the lens of displacement... where we are involved in ministry with displaced people, we will share what we are doing with the wider mercy family... " (Mercy International Association Leaders Team Conference 2002)

"I know the Mercy of God is pushing through the porous places- birthing in the places of dislocation." (Anne Campbell. rsm Meeting Place Responses. Mercy Website)

At this meeting of Mercy women in Johannesburg September 2003 we affirmed the global response to refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people, those in detention and those in post conflict situations.

We reflected on:

  • our experience in camps in Uganda, Namibia and other places, with urban refugees in South Africa, and those in post conflict situations in Cambodia and detention in Australia.
  • the experience of repatriation ten years after in Cambodia and on impending repatriation in Angola, Sudan and Congo.
  • atrocities committed by rebel groups particularly to women and children
  • the ongoing conflict and displacement in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq
  • our relationship with UNHCR, Jesuit Refugee Service and valued characteristics of partnerships.
  • the present day realities of international politics as they impinge on our work, especially in creating new conflicts and the consequent reshaping of humanitarian work as exemplified most recently in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan.
  • the role religion, the great faith traditions and newly emerging local religions and international sects play in shaping the context of our world.
  • the richness of the cultural diversity of the people we work with but not unmindful of the social evil that can be enshrined in cultures including our own.
  • the extreme poverty and suffering in countries where we are working and the impact this has on peace. the role of United Nations, global governance and civil society.

Our reflection, prayer and analysis challenge us to bring these insights to our Mercy global networks and to each Sister of Mercy.

Aware that the needs and aspirations of those displaced is the starting point of Mercy response.
We ask you Mercy Sisters everywhere and especially Mercy Leaders to consider the following actions:

  1. A Mercy presence in places like East Timor and Afghanistan that is faithful to displaced people in post conflict situations
  2. To further strengthen international networking of Mercy women who are engaged with refugees, internally displaced people, asylum seekers and those in post conflict situations by an annual meeting.
  3. To strengthen our research and analysis for understanding the complexity of political realities always mindful that grass roots presence gives credibility to advocacy at national and international levels and that the Mercy lens can enhance the analysis of displacement.
  4. To tell the 'untold stories of displacement' that do not attract international attention.
  5. To bring to prayer the grief of those displaced, and to do this in solidarity by praying for the displaced people of our world on the first Friday of each month. (cf preparation of prayer leaflet)
  6. To monitor, describe and analyse the situations of refugees and displacement in countries where Mercies are working, by involving Mercy Sisters and their friends with the appropriate skills so that we can bring a credible voice of Mercy to policy makers.
  7. To set up workable structures and processes at international level to move forward energetically in addressing the issue of displacement
  8. To work in partnerships and coalitions with groups that honours the values of our Mercy tradition.

In our partnerships we stress the importance of reflection and analysis, of acknowledging God's Spirit in all religious traditions of inclusiveness and respect for the equality of women.

To serve the poor, sick and ignorant in areas of displacement is a Mercy challenge for all of us today.

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