11/14/2005, 00.00
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The Jesuit Refugee Service celebrates its 25th anniversary

by Danielle Vella

The Ngo at the service of refugees all over the world published 2 books on spirituality of people in exile.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The spiritual meaning and values represented by the world's refugees are at the heart of 25th anniversary celebrations of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

JRS, an international Catholic organisation with a mission to accompany, serve and defend the cause of refugees and other forcibly displaced people, runs a range of pastoral, educational, legal and other projects in more than 55 countries worldwide.

To commemorate its anniversary, JRS has published a book, God in Exile: Towards a Shared Spirituality with Refugees. JRS International director, Lluis Magrina SJ, told AsiaNews: "This publication is the fruit of endeavours to meet a felt need in JRS, that of giving expression to the rich spirituality underlying the journey in exile and the specific JRS response."

The very first JRS workers to share the journey in exile served in camps for Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees in the early eighties. It was the suffering of Asian boat people, and also of Eritrean and Somali refugees in Rome, which moved the former Jesuit superior-general, Pedro Arrupe SJ, to set up JRS "as a material, spiritual and pedagogical response" to their needs. "God is calling us through these people", he wrote when announcing the birth of JRS on 14 November 1980.

Jesuits, other religious and lay people have responded to this call, contributing to the steady growth of JRS over the years; many have shared their testimonies, biblical reflections and articles based on the spirituality of St Ignatius (the founder of the Jesuits) in the book, God in Exile.

JRS has also launched another book to mark its anniversary, Horizons of Learning: 25 Years of JRS Education, described by Fr Magrina as "a testimony of JRS service in the field of education, which has always been a focal point of our mission".

Both books aim to highlight signs of hope amid the suffering of exile, hope which is ever more urgently needed as increasing numbers of people are displaced by manmade or natural tragedies. When Fr Arrupe set up JRS in 1980, he talked of "16 million refugees" in the world; now estimates point to 40 million refugees, internally displaced and other forcibly uprooted people.

"As JRS marks 25 years of existence, the needs of refugees and other people on the move are more urgent than ever," said Fr Magrina. "The number of people forced to leave their homes has increased phenomenally as has the complexity of predicaments they face."

The diversity and difficulties are reflected in Asia, where JRS runs projects in several countries, including Thailand, Indonesia, India, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. The last was singled out by Fr Magrina as cause for particular concern, especially in the lead-up to the 17 November presidential election. "Our main worry is that current signs of intransigence and war mongering displayed by all parties involved – the LTTE, government and Sinhalese political parties – do not bode well for a peaceful resolution to the conflict," he said.

JRS workers reaching out to internally displaced people in Sri Lanka are facing increasing restrictions to reach out to internally displaced people in the north and east due to increased political tension and security restraints. "Our team reports that although it is not impeded from working, members are constantly stopped at both army and LTTE checkpoints. This makes life hard for NGOs and even more, for the local people," said Fr Magrina.

The JRS International director also drew attention to another, often-forgotten, displaced population in Asia: around 100,000 Bhutanese refugees who have lived in camps in eastern Nepal since they were expelled from their homes in Bhutan years ago.

"We continue to be very concerned about the long drawn-out plight of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, some of whom are now in their 15th year of exile," he said. "While welcoming a meeting held between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal in mid-September – the first in nearly two years – as a positive step, we urge both parties to take a truly serious commitment to resolving the situation once and for all, in a way which respects the rights and aspirations of the refugees."

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