Canadian Jesuits International: A Just Future for All: Jesuit Refugee Service Colombia
“A Just Future for All” is the theme of Canadian Jesuits International’s (CJI) 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign. It is a response to the deep inequalities in our society revealed by COVID-19 and the urgency to build a new future that is based on equality, justice and dignity for all. This is the second of a series of three blogs submitted by CJI and its overseas partners to explore this theme. To learn more, please visit: canadianjesuitsinternational.ca.
Colombia is a country facing a number of serious challenges: armed internal conflict; massive flow of migrants and refugees; and high levels of inequality and poverty. Now COVID-19 has contributed to the worsening situation in the country. In this context, Jesuit Refugee Service Colombia (JRS Colombia), with the support of Canadian Jesuits International (CJI), has offered hope to victims of violence; Venezuelan migrants and refugees; and people living in poverty.
From the Colombian perspective, “a just future for all” is a call to create opportunities for everyone, no one excluded. It is a cry to make the invisible, visible. JRS Colombia responds to this call with a deep commitment to social justice and solidarity.
The Colombian context
Since the signing of the peace agreements between the Government of Colombia and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016, an additional 400,000 people have been forcibly displaced internally due to the continuing conflict between different armed groups and the state. This is according to the June 2020 report on Global Trends in Forced Displacement published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The report also ranks Colombia as the country with the second largest number of refugees in the world. This is largely due to the massive influx of Venezuelan refugees and migrants. Colombia currently hosts 1.8 million Venezuelans, with 1 million living in precarious conditions.
The country already has one of the highest Gini indices, a gauge of economic inequality, in the region. Due to COVID-19, Colombia’s inequality and poverty indices have worsened. The unemployment rate also went up to 16.8% at the end of August and the poverty level is expected to reach 38% by the end of 2020. This equates to 19 million people, 5.6 million of whom have just recently fallen into poverty.
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS): Accompany, Serve, Advocate:
Inspired by the love of Jesus Christ, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, so that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future.
In Colombia, JRS has been working for 25 years serving forcibly displaced persons in conflict zones, as well as migrants. JRS Colombia accompanies people with a holistic approach. This includes: humanitarian assistance (providing psychosocial and legal support as well as humanitarian aid), local integration (education and livelihood programs that provide skills development and opportunities for integration into host communities), prevention (programs to prevent or mitigate risks of forced recruitment, xenophobia, gender-based violence, etc.) and advocacy (campaigning for the rights of internally displaced people, migrants and refugees).
Accompaniment of women in the municipality of Barrancabermeja:
According to the Unidad para la atencion y reparacion integra a las victimas (Office for the Support and Integral Rehabilitation of Victims) the municipality of Barrancabermeja, in the Magdalena Medio Region, hosts 60,000 internally displaced people from various regions of the country. This is equivalent to approximately a quarter of its current population. The municipality which is already facing a high level of poverty, is also hosting thousands of forcibly displaced people from Venezuela, many of them women. As of June 2020, it is estimated that there are over 6,000 Venezuelans in Barrancabermeja.
With the support of CJI, JRS Colombia has been accompanying groups of women who face gender violence in this municipality. The women who exemplify resilience, focus on peace building and hospitality, welcome people affected by forced displacement and are involved in livelihood initiatives to ensure food security.
JRS Colombia seeks to strengthen the participation and leadership of women in personal, family and community development. This allows them to mitigate the impact of violence, internal displacement, migration and poverty, which has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Women have participated in a School of Leadership and Gender, which focuses on increasing awareness of their human rights, relevant legislation and its enforcement, as well as how to exercise active citizenship. Through this process, women’s networks have been strengthened, while political advocacy at the municipal level has sought to make women’s rights a priority in public policy.
JRS Colombia has also promoted and strengthened individual and community livelihood strategies, including agricultural initiatives or small businesses. Most of the women have been participating in educational and entrepreneurial activities focusing on food security and food sovereignty. Some community projects bring together the host communities and newly arrived people to foster better relations among them. It is a way for them to recognize one another and work together to build an environment conducive to coexistence.
JRS Colombia fully embraces the call of the Holy Father Francisco: to welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate migrants, refugees, internally displaced people and victims of violence. With the support of CJI, JRS Colombia wants to continue working on behalf of those in need for making real “A Just Future for All.”