Everybody's Challenge: reflection on JRS after 30 years

Bernard Hyacinth Arputhasamy
Fr Bernard was the regional director of JRS Asia Pacific from 2005-2012. Born in Malaysia, he spent two years working with JRS Malaysia and joined the JRS AP team again five years later as regional director.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fr Pedro Arrupe, who founded JRS in 1980, wanted this service to be “everybody’s challenge.”

Thus, from its humble beginnings JRS was shaped by Jesuits, the religious, lay people, and those of other faiths and persuasions. We have also been blessed by many partners and benefactors these 30 years. It’s been a shared solidarity to directly and personally be present with refugees and displaced people, responding to essential needs and justly defending their cause. The refugees themselves have defined for us how we are to respond and the appropriate structure that is needed for us to be flexible and available.

Fundamental to this, and which has become the hallmark of JRS, is accompaniment—being true friends who remain with them through sorrow and joy, hope and grief. Listening attentively to their unheard voices, we walk the journey together with those who have suffered the loss of their homes, land, livelihood, family and friends. 

And yet their human dignity remains undefiled. It is all they possess. They courageously, and sometimes desperately, search for ways to hope for the day when they no longer have to live in exile. 

The categories of refugees for JRS includes people displaced in their own country, by climate change and natural disasters, people anonymously surviving in cities and in detention centres, and vulnerable migrant workers. The realities of their lives define our response to and with them. The challenge remains—not to create dependency through a paternalistic approach but to creatively and imaginatively build together, they themselves taking responsibility for what they can do in limited circumstances. 

However, in our globalized and resource-rich world, the protection space has decreased for them. Countries are closing their doors to them—“stop the boats” — or are using detention as a way of containing them. They flee out of desperation, for their safety. 

Who wouldn’t? 

They still lack a place to call home or a welcoming and protected space. Hostility greets them instead of hospitality. Geo-politics-economics and resource trading couched in the language of development takes priority over integral protection of people.

Education is a rooted way for us to hope for a better future with the refugees. There are many like Mu Reh who thirsts for education and is committed to remain in the camp for the sake of others. Unfortunately, those detained in detention centres or live anonymously in cities cannot access education. It is a missed opportunity for them. 

It is a missed opportunity for us to live and express the finest of our humanity towards shared solidarity.  It still remains everybody’s challenge.

Bernard Hyacinth Arputhasamy, SJ

Regional Director JRS Asia Pacific