June 17, 2014

Volunteering with Jesuit Refugee Service UK

The Jesuit Refugee Service UK is part of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an international organisation that was set up in 1980. Its mission is to accompany, to serve and to plead the cause of refugees and forcibly displaced people. JRS works in over 50 countries worldwide.

JRS UK was formed over 20 years ago by Br. Bernard Elliott, when he established a network of support for Vietnamese refugees. Today in the UK JRS work mainly with destitute asylum seekers and detainees at the detention centres near Heathrow airport.

JRS UK are based at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre in London. Their motto is 'Accompany Serve Advocate' and they do this in so many ways.

The Destitute Programme supports asylum seekers in a variety of ways.The weekly drop-in session offers the opportunity for asylum seekers to come together, to share their stories, to share a meal. JRS give transport costs to cover medical and legal appointments and they have a hardship fund which provides a monthly toiletry pack and small educational grants.

The Detention outreach Programme accompanies people who are detained at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres. Volunteers make weekly visits to individuals to provide emotional and pastoral support. Detainees are enabled to keep their contacts and life on track, by the provision of monthly mobile phone top-ups that allows communication with family, friends and support workers involved in their case. JRS also run a pen be-friender scheme where volunteers write to detainees.

JRS are also actively involved in campaigning for better rights for asylum seekers and refugees both in the UK and across Europe.

As a volunteer with JRS in both the day centre and as a detention visitor and pen be-friender I have been amazed by the generosity, hope, faith and courage of the people I have accompanied. It has been great to share their joy if they have been granted leave to remain, or been released from detention but it can also be painful when detainees are deported. It can be hard knowing that you cannot change the situation for many of the asylum seekers but as a Sister of Mercy I am inspired by the words of Catherine McAuley, 'There are things that the poor prize more highly than gold..among these are the kind word, the gentle, compassionate look and the patient hearing of their sorrows'.

Having the opportunity to be that “listening ear” and recognizing the dignity and worth of each person is a huge privilege.

Messages to: Geraldine Sweeney rsm

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