Fr. Bambang A. Sipayung SJ, Director of JRS in the Asia-Pacific, visited Arrupe Place during his recent stay in Australia, where he spoke with caseworkers, staff and volunteers.
“I was impressed by the work at Arrupe Place which embodies accompaniment as one of the core values of JRS, and does it in a collaborative way with a number of partners,” he said.
The visit to Arrupe Place, Fr. Sipayung said, showed him that Australia’s international reputation for harsh policies towards people seeking asylum was not “the whole story”.
“I think that this is the importance of Arrupe Place and the people who volunteer there to help asylum seekers adjust to Australian society,” he said. “This is lived advocacy that shows Australians taking a critical stance against their government’s policies through their practical support for asylum seekers.”
Fr. Sipayung said that the growth in the number of displaced persons who leave refugee camps or bypass them entirely, preferring to settle in urban communities where they hope to find jobs to support themselves and their families, has led to a shift in the focus of JRS’s work in the region.
Over the last five to ten years many of the services provided to people seeking asylum have increasingly been located in major cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta, and Sydney.
“In the past most refugees lived in rural or remote camps, but refugees today are more often than not to be found in urban settings; this shift provides us with different and unique challenges.”
“The education, psychosocial, and pastoral elements of our work will still be our main priorities in the region, but probably within a more urban setting.”
“JRS is currently supporting some of the 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers living in urban areas in Indonesia, either in the community or in detention centres,” said Fr. Sipayung. “In Thailand there is also an increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers seeking protection in urban areas, with close to 10,000 registered by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).”
“The interfaith dimension has also been a crucial part of our work from the beginning, but our engagement with other religious traditions has become a more critical need because we have to interact with people coming from myriad religious traditions and a secular world at the same time.”
“It will be a challenge for JRS in the region, but it will be a productive and healthy challenge to take on.”