A show of solidarity

Migrant workers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan play cricket in the Jesuit compound, Beirut. (Photo: Fr Aloysious Mowe, SJ)

Migrant workers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan play cricket in the Jesuit compound, Beirut. (Photo: Fr Aloysious Mowe, SJ)

The Syrian crisis has created the worst humanitarian disaster in decades, with 2.5 million Syrians now living as refugees outside their country


JRS Australia has visited projects run by the international arm of the organisation in the Middle East in an effort to show solidarity with refugees who have fled their war-ravaged homeland of Syria, and to give concrete support to the JRS staff working in four countries there.

JRS Director Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ, and Associate Director Sr Maryanne Loughry RSM, together with Dr Colin McMullin, a psychologist and JRS volunteer, visited Beirut in February to conduct workshops on staff self-care, best practice in management, and JRS principles and procedures. Sr Loughry and Dr McMullin were also able to visit JRS projects in Turkey which support families and provide education for refugee children.

“The Syrian crisis has created the worst humanitarian disaster in decades, with 2.5 million Syrians now living as refugees outside their country. Within Syria, people are dying from the violence, but also from hunger and disease. JRS in the region is engaged in the largest project in our organisation’s history,” said Fr Mowe.

One of the most difficult aspects of the work for JRS staff in the region is that many of the Syrian JRS workers are themselves refugees, and are working with traumatised people who are in fact their families, their neighbours, their friends.

“It’s almost impossible for the staff there to set up the kinds of boundaries that social workers in Australia, for example, are expected to put in place when working with clients,” said Fr Mowe. “JRS Australia wanted to show our support for the work of JRS there by providing training in the area of self-care, at the very least to minimise as far as is humanly possible the stress suffered by the staff so that they can provide the best possible service and accompaniment to the refugees.”

The visit to the projects in Turkey also gave JRS Australia firsthand experience of the needs of the projects there, such as a nutrition program for the refugee children. “We are now planning to provide funding for the projects there that will help give the children fresh fruit and vegetables as part of their daily diet, something that at present the project cannot afford,” explained Fr Mowe.

The sheer number of refugees in the countries bordering Syria is almost too huge to comprehend – one in four people in the Lebanon, for example, is a Syrian refugee – and yet the countries have continued to keep their borders open to provide refuge and protection for the fleeing Syrians.

“Australia needs to look at what is happening in the Middle East, and search its conscience in respect to its harsh asylum policies. The number of boat arrivals in recent years has been insignificant in comparison to the number of refugees crossing over from Syria into the Lebanon or Jordan, and yet Australia has put in place policies that attempt to exclude anyone arriving by boat from seeking asylum, and punishing severely anyone who does in fact arrive within its jurisdiction.”

Read more about JRS International’s work in the Middle East at www.jrs.net

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