Sr Angela Murphy recently joined Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) staff and volunteers who gathered for their Annual General Meeting in Lisbon to discuss how to provide better protection to urban refugees. Here she reports on the experience:
“Working with urban refugees was the theme to JRS Europe’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), held from 10-13 October in Lisbon. The gathering was hosted by JRS Portugal who nearly exclusively works with migrants and refugees in cities.
The participants at the meeting were from many different countries yet each country had a sense of mission of finding God in all things which was evident when we attended workshops and visited the local JRS office. The workshop I attended was: Mental Health for the most vulnerable.
Many people are well before they leave their own country but after 6 months or so they may experience symptoms of stress. They suffer because they want to live. They may have been trafficked, experience loss of family, detention, finding themselves destitute experience an attitude of hostility towards them, are unable to find a safe space, suffer a lack of hygiene conditions if they are sleeping on the street with no support system – all these factors mitigate against their physical, social, spiritual and mental well-being. These people may present themselves with specific health problems.
We discussed the need to raise awareness in other professions to the different set of vulnerable dynamics these people suffer from. They have been made sick by the circumstances in which they find themselves. The urban refugee comes with a sense of hope yet this is often shattered when they don’t get leave to stay. Their goals are shattered; human beings need to be able to control the present. They have a need for understanding.
To give the urban refugee a voice JRS can help break some of the misunderstandings and mistrust. In caring for the person as a whole JRS can accompany, empower, give them time, we may not be able to change everything but we can help people to take a risk and look forward, looking at things through a new Prism. We can network with schools, begin to change the vision of society, increase networking in the Churches to which the urban refugees belong, lobby local governments, encourage new approaches to hospitality and make good use of the media. Get the urban refugee to speak about their lives in schools, train teachers to teach students that the urban refugee has a right to welcome and respect and they can positively contribute to their host communities. Humankind is one big family and we need to be open in our hospitality to our brothers and sisters”.