Who We Are
Founded by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ on 14 November 1980, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an organisation that works to accompany, serve, and advocate both for and on behalf of asylum seekers, refugees and other displaced persons. The goal of JRS is to work in areas where there is a real and present need among forcibly displaced people and where other agencies are not present.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, took it upon himself to house 300 forcibly displaced people in Italy during the winter of 1538. Inspired by Ignatius’ work, Fr. Arrupe contacted Jesuits in different nations across the globe pleading for assistance to the tragic situation facing refugees in Cambodia. When he received overwhelming support from Jesuits around the world, Arrupe realised that the Jesuits were uniquely positioned to serve refugees in a way other organisations could not.

From its beginnings in Cambodia, JRS now operates in ten regions around the world spanning more than 50 countries.
The southern African region faced a number of conflicts during the Apartheid era in former Rhodesia and Namibia. The nations of Angola and Mozambique plunged into civil wars and bitter fights for power following a sudden independence from Portugal in 1975. Decades of conflict destroyed both countries, exacerbated by the conflict of Apartheid in South Africa. At some point, tensions in the region eased following peace negotiations, which led to elections in Mozambique in 1992. Along with elections in South Africa in 1994 that ended Apartheid, the region has been slowly regaining stability.

As a result of the conflict in the region, JRS Southern Africa was established to handle the hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans fleeing into Zimbabwe and Malawi. The generous laws for refugees and asylum seekers made post-Apartheid South Africa a very attractive place to seek refuge, protection and a better future. Following a major displacement crisis in 1994, along with the renewed outbreak of the war in Angola in 1998, there were many groups of displaced people seeking asylum. Tens of thousands of refugees moved towards South Africa from the Horn of Africa, the Great lakes Region, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

JRS Southern Africa now consists of offices in Malawi, South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe, with a regional office located in Johannesburg, South Africa. Efforts in this region focus on emergency services and support, education, training and legal assistance. Through the efforts of the regional and country offices, JRS has assisted over 22,000 refugees and asylum seekers in 2012 through the work of 245 core staff in the region.

JRS focuses globally on education with the aim of providing and strengthening pre-primary, primary, secondary, tertiary and adult education. On average, a refugee spends 17 years in a refugee camp, so there is a need for those within camps to be given necessary education in order to thrive when their stay is over. JRS Southern Africa recognizes this need and involves itself in all levels of education throughout the region. Due to the success of its education programmes, the Dzaleka refugee camp has become a pilot site for Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins (JC:HEM). JC:HEM is an educational programme designed to provide university diplomas and Community Service Learning courses to refugees or others on the margins of society.

As part of its focus on education, JRS conducts vocational programmes designed for individuals to learn the skills necessary to generate their own income. With skills and livelihoods, refugees are better equipped to integrate into their new communities. The vocational programmes offered in South Africa and Malawi includes training in computing, hairdressing and cosmetology, sewing and tailoring.

Upon entering a new country, JRS works to ensure all refugees understand their rights. JRS also assists refugees in applying for legal documents they might need. JRS also works to assist asylum seekers in filing appeals when their refugee status is denied.

  • Mission

The mission of the Jesuit Refugee Service is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. As a Catholic organisation and a work of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), JRS is inspired by the compassion and love of Jesus for the poor and excluded.