In this region, JRS accompanies, serves, and defends thousands of people displaced by the Sri Lankan conflict, on the island itself and in neighbouring Tamilnadu. Another long-running programme has guaranteed quality education for thousands of Bhutanese refugees in camps in Nepal; these refugees are now being resettled in third countries. Most recently, JRS went to Afghanistan, supporting returnees through education, healthcare and livelihood activities.
The people displaced by Sri Lanka's civil war have been a cause of great concern for JRS and its founder, Pedro Arrupe SJ, since the eighties. Mark Raper SJ, then Director of JRS Asia Pacific, recalls a visit to Fr Arrupe who was almost paralysed after a stroke in 1981.
"It was clear that Fr Arrupe… wanted to ask me a question but could not find the words, so Br Bandera, the infirmarian, brought him paper and pencil. With his left hand, Fr Arrupe shakily drew a map of India, then the droplet shape of the island next to it. By pointing to the island clearly he was asking me, What is JRS doing to help the people of Sri Lanka?"
Fr Arrupe would have been happy to know that JRS has faithfully accompanied, served and defended thousands of people displaced by the Sri Lankan conflict. Back in the eighties, a small Jesuit team maintained a strong pastoral presence in Mandapam, the transit camp for Sri Lankan refugees arriving to the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu, a boat trip away from Sri Lanka.
In 1995, JRS grew in South Asia; a regional office opened and two Jesuits went to northern Sri Lanka under the JRS banner amid massive war and displacement. The following year, JRS started to provide education and community development in myriad small camps for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamilnadu. At about the same time, JRS got involved in the Bhutanese Refugee Education Programme, organising the schooling of tens of thousands of Bhutanese students in refugee camps in eastern Nepal.
JRS remains involved in all three places, Sri Lanka, Tamilnadu and Nepal, adapting its services to fit the changing circumstances. The war in Sri Lanka is over. After accompanying the people in the war zones of the north-east for years, JRS is now supporting them as they return home and rebuild their lives. In seven districts, JRS serves IDPs and returnees by organising emergency aid, social services and community development, education and livelihood activities. Individual accompaniment is an integral part of the JRS presence. In Tamilnadu, while continuing to offer its services in the camps, JRS encourages healthy debate among the Sri Lankan refugees about possible durable solutions for them.
In Nepal, the number of students and teachers on the education programme has dwindled thanks to the ongoing resettlement of the Bhutanese refugees; in August 2011, the total of refugees resettled since the start of the process in early 2008 passed the 50,000 mark. JRS continues its work, which includes Spoken English classes for refugees about to be resettled.
In 2008, JRS ventured into new territory, going to Afghanistan. A team of South Asian Jesuits is accompanying returnees and implementing education initiatives. In the returnee township of Sohadat, near Herat city, JRS runs a school, a clinic and livelihood programmes. Members of JRS lecture at university in Herat and Bamiyan, and teacher-training is conducted in these cities as well as Kabul, Chagcharan and Daikundi. Trainees volunteer with the JRS English Access programme, which reaches disadvantaged children.
Stan Fernandes SJ
+91 11 4310 4661; +91 11 4953 4106
JRS South Asia is one of 10 geographic regions of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic organization sponsored by the Society of Jesus. The regional office in South Asia serves Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, Srilankan refugees in the Indian State of Tamilnadu and internally displaced people in Sri Lanka. Services include: education, skill training, economic programmes, healthcare, psychological support, disability centres, community development and emergency assistance.
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