In JRS, advocacy involves empowering forcibly displaced people to claim the rights to which they are entitled, and assisting them to exercise those rights. This involves promoting the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced persons; advocating for governmental and institutional action to address root causes of forced displacement; and working towards sustainable and durable solutions. Advocacy also includes activities to enhance public perception of refugees and forcibly displaced persons, and their integration.
JRS advocacy draws on the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, widely acknowledged to be the cornerstone of refugee protection. However, to guide its advocacy and service, JRS uses a wider definition of ‘refugee' than that of the Convention. In a 1992 document entitled Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity, the Catholic Church expanded its understanding of the term 'refugee' to include 'de facto refugees', encompassing victims of armed conflicts, erroneous economic policy or natural disasters, as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs).
JRS advocacy builds upon synergies among forcibly displaced people: JRS team workers and others who serve refugees; academics; human rights advocates; the public who support our work; and, in some instances, government and UN officials. We share the common hope that all those who have been forced to flee may regain the opportunity to live in freedom and dignity.
JRS advocacy is characterised by the following key principles:
- It is rooted in proximity to refugees;
- It flows from accompaniment and service and is linked to JRS projects;
- It is based on Jesuit values, inspired by Ignatian spirituality;
- It is built on solid research.
At every level, JRS advocacy is linked to, and dependent upon, the knowledge and understanding derived from our close relationship to the refugees themselves. The ability to mobilise the entire network to bring the voice of refugees to those who are in a position to effect positive change gives JRS advocacy its integrity – and is what makes it so effective.
"I think that the Christian faith is very strong on justice for the poor. If you are helping people who have been injured by landmines, justice demands that you also advocate that the cause of the suffering be stopped; that you ban landmines and call producers to account. Mercy requires that we serve the poor, the sick and the ignorant. Some people think children are ignorant, but I think ignorant people are those who make weapons and don't know, or block from their minds, the consequences of what they are making money from. Faith-inspired organisations can help align the interests of the people with the political interests of the leaders".
Denise Coghlan RSM, JRS Cambodia Director
JRS carries out advocacy by:
- Seeking opportunities to advocate for those whose needs are forgotten by others;
- Addressing both the immediate needs as well as longer-term policy objectives of specific groups of refugees and other forcibly displaced people;
- Being close to the people concerned, and supporting their hopes and aspirations;
- Giving people the opportunity to tell their stories;
- Creating spaces for dialogue between the centres of power and those who want to bring about positive change;
- Tailoring our approach to make it appropriate to local conditions, reflecting local needs, resources and opportunities; and
- Prioritising our efforts on the basis of the value that JRS can give to supplement the work of others.
JRS advocacy takes place on many levels. In the field, JRS staff frequently advocate on behalf of individual refugees who need help to protect their rights and dignity or to meet their basic needs. Such person-to-person advocacy is often carried out by project staff who observe and respond to refugee needs in the course of their daily work. For instance, when people were displaced after the Mt. Merapi eruption in Indonesia, many were not given material assistance because they chose not to live in displacement camps, but sought shelter from local villagers. JRS Indonesia staff mobilized after the eruption to provide assistance to those the government and other NGOs were not assisting.
Accompaniment becomes advocacy when an appeal is made by a JRS staff member, on behalf of a refugee, to an outside party that can provide help. Some examples: helping a refugee to enroll in a camp programme from which he/she has been mistakenly excluded; helping a refugee with a disability to access specialised care; arranging legal representation for a refugee in trouble. Observing a wide pattern of needs can lead to field advocacy on behalf of certain categories of refugees as, for example, when JRS staff approach camp managers, local government officials or the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to ask for changes in policy or practices to better protect vulnerable people.
Apart from being a spontaneous part of the daily work of JRS staff, advocacy for individuals is also a structured aspect of many JRS projects, especially in urban areas, where lawyers are engaged in casework related to asylum applications and other issues.
JRS advocacy also takes place a country level: when changes in national law or policy affecting refugees or IDPs are called for; when national resources could be directed towards better meeting refugee needs; to promote integration and combat xenophobia. Since refugees and the political, social and economic issues relating to them cross national boundaries, JRS can be organised on a regional basis.
Our advocacy has a significant regional component, with advocacy staff at this level charged with monitoring the situation of refugees and IDPs in the region, collecting information on developments, and helping to draft organisational positions on relevant issues. Advocacy personnel also work with communications staff to inform national offices of developments that could provide opportunities for advocacy.
Finally, JRS advocates at international level. Our offices in Rome, Geneva, Brussels, Nairobi, Washington and Bangkok present the concerns of the JRS network to governments and institutions that can improve conditions affecting refugees, and put pressure on other actors to do so as well.