Welcoming the Stranger – Part 3
Of course, the Jesuit Refugee Service doesn’t only accompany refugees; we are also there to offer services. Our mission consists in accompanying, in offering services and in defending the rights of refugees and of people who have been forcibly displaced.
The JRS works pastorally among refugees and the communities which welcome them by offering an extensive program of rehabilitation and of supportive activities.
In Quebec, first and foremost, we have a sponsorship service. Refugees arriving in Quebec via our service benefit from home visits, conversation groups, and psycho-social integration groups.
For example, in our psycho-social integration groups, where we discuss culture shock, the feeling of guilt for having left family and friends behind, etc., one of the participants commented: “Because of these meetings, I began to respect my tears, my anxiety and my sadness. I found a place where I could share my deepest feelings without any shame for being so fragile. I have become patient with my wife and children and with myself.”
But we also respond to new needs and new groups. You may be aware that there is a growing number of asylum seekers crossing the border irregularly from the United States into Canada. In Québec, most of these asylum seekers are temporarily housed at a YMCA. When they get their welfare cheque, they need to move out.
The welfare cheque is barely enough for housing and food. In essence, they are moving into empty apartments. A Facebook book group has been started where asylum seekers can post their needs and other people can post items they want to give.
JRS’ part in this Facebook group has been to offer transportation. Oftentimes, people have furniture to give but there is no transportation. And so, I found myself delivering furniture once or twice a week to asylum seekers who are so appreciative.
Now, where do we go from here? We have welcomed the stranger through those “God Encounters”; but where does that lead us? We have made a friend. We have gotten to know him. We want to help her out.
She tells us about her family members that are still abroad. We would like to sponsor them as well. However, the government has imposed a moratorium on new applications for privately sponsored refugees.
We find out more about this moratorium and the number of refugees that will be admitted this year compared to the backlog of refugees whose applications are being processed.
We also find out that the number of displaced people worldwide keeps growing. We ask ourselves: “How is Canada and how are Canadians responding to this growing need?”
He also starts to tell us stories about his country – things we don’t hear in the news. We start to think that the mainstream media may not be giving us the full picture or even the correct picture. We start to ask ourselves, “Why are there refugees coming from Syria, South Sudan, Burundi, etc.?”
Everybody knows the adage “Give somebody a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime”. A Jesuit friend of mine added a twist to that by saying “And what if the fish are poisoned and you find out that there is a factory upstream that is polluting the water”.
People continue to leave their countries. Why? There is war. There is environmental devastation. There is gang warfare. But what is behind these situations? That’s where, as faith-based organizations, we also need to go. We must educate ourselves. And once we know why the fish are being poisoned, what do we do about it?
It is therefore crucial not only to accompany “the poor” but also to defend them. We must ask our governments, in light of the increasing numbers of displaced people, to increase the numbers of refugees we take in.
We must also speak the truth about our government’s direct or indirect involvement that leads to the displacement of people across the world and ask that they support peace efforts. In the end, we must close down the factory that is poisoning the water and the fish.