In Europe, JRS is chiefly concerned about immigration detention and forcibly displaced people who face destitution. With national policies throughout the region prescribing the detention of undocumented arrivals, stringent asylum laws and practices, and a hostile reception to asylum seekers as likely as not, JRS offices in Europe have their work cut out for them. There are 14 national offices as well as contact persons in another seven countries.
Although JRS Europe was officially established as a region only in 1994, Jesuits had been reaching out to refugees across the continent long before that. One of the very first projects set up by JRS, in 1981, was Centro Astalli in Rome. The first Jesuit charged with the international coordination of JRS, Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ, recalls: "We recognised a severe refugee problem with Eritrean and Somali refugees right on our own doorstep in Rome. So we set up Centro Astalli to provide food and shelter, in the basement of the same building where St Ignatius and his companions had helped the victims on the famine in 1538." Centro Astalli continues its work today, serving hundreds of refugees.
Apart from offering support in the community, JRS teams started to work in immigration detention from early on. Today, JRS teams in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Romania, the United Kingdom, and in the western Balkans regularly visit detention centres to offer psychosocial, pastoral and legal support. In most of these places, and in France and Italy, services are also provided in the community, including food, lodging, social services, healthcare, legal aid, language and computer courses and help to find work.
Externalisation is another pressing concern. In 2008, JRS expanded to accompany asylum seekers who are stuck on the external borders of the EU, unable to reach Europe. Projects were set up in Morocco and Ukraine: a kindergarten and safe place for women in Casablanca and safe accommodation and legal counselling in Lviv, western Ukraine.
In Brussels, the JRS Europe office is active in advocacy at EU level, monitoring and analysing laws on asylum and migration, coordinating regional research, and taking every opportunity to connect refugees’ experiences to policymaking.
As part of the Advocacy Network for Destitute Forced Migrants (ANDES), in 2010, JRS published a report, Living in Limbo
, on forced migrant destitution in 12 EU countries plus Ukraine. The research reveals that destitution is a European-wide problem often caused by state policies that aim to exclude large categories of migrants from society.
The year 2010 was also marked with the completion of research on vulnerability in detention. The conclusion is that detention is a very negative measure that increases everyone’s susceptibility to further harm, not only persons with officially recognised vulnerabilities but otherwise healthy persons as well.
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JRS Europe is one of 10 geographic regions of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an international Catholic organization sponsored by the Society of Jesus. The regional office serves refugee and other displaced persons in more than 14 countries in Europe. Services include: offering support to asylum seekers in detention; giving legal advice to asylum seekers and irregular migrants; counselling to those traumatised by persecution and flight; serving as chaplains in open reception or accommodation centres, as well as, in closed facilities or premises (detention); and providing food and shelter to destitute migrants.
Italy: homeless refugees die in tragic accident, a tragic and inexcusable paradox
Rome, 8 February 2013 – JRS Italy expresses profound sorrow at the death of two homeless Somali refugees who died in a fire in an underground passageway in late January. The men had lit a fire to warm themselves for the night, but the fire became uncontrollable and they burned to death.
Italy: 54 die at sea on the way to Europe, latest tragedy raises yet more unanswered questions
Rome, 30 July 2012 – According to the Jesuit Refugee Service in Italy, the death earlier this month of 54 migrants attempting the sea journey from Libya to Europe is a shocking tragedy.
Europe: put human rights protection into border controls
Brussels, 11 July 2012 – In a letter sent to the Civil Liberties committee of the European Parliament, a group of human rights NGOs expressed concerns that the planned establishment of a European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) fails to provide safeguards for asylum seekers seeking protection in the continent.
Malta: NGOs urge government to initiate independent inquiry into the death of a migrant in custody
Valletta, 3 July 2012 – Nine Maltese NGOs have expressed their condemnation of the use of violence by state officials following the tragic death of Malian migrant, Mamadou Kamara, while in the custody of the Detention Service on 30 June.
Europe: Italy-Libya agreement risks endangering the lives of asylum seekers
Brussels, Rome, 27 June 2012 – Reports of renewed migration cooperation between the Italian and Libyan governments has been firmly condemned by Italian and European human rights NGOs which for years have worked on shining light on EU government dealings with third countries.
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