Our Programs

Responding in Crisis

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Education & Livelihoods

Gahizi, from Malawi, was just 13 years old when she ran away with her sister after soldiers killed their parents and burnt their house to the ground. Without a plan or hope for the future, they simply ran for safety.  Eventually she connected with JRS’s Digital Inclusion Program—in partnership with Konexio, an organization based in France— which teaches digital skills to young refugees.  Gahizi took classes through the program and now is equipped with the technical knowledge she needs to secure jobs online as a freelance writer. “Now I feel confident and empowered, and have hope in my future,” she says.

 

JRS recognizes that the opportunity to work and be self-reliant is one of the most effective ways for refugees to rebuild their lives and make a positive contribution to their communities. To help refugees gain these skills, JRS provides language courses, resume review and development, and vocational training in various fields. JRS also supports refugees to grow their businesses through the distribution of seeds and tools needed for agriculture, and by helping them to obtain other resources through grants and loans. One of the key aspects of the program is the support lent to refugees to help them rebuild their networks, thereby increasing their access to markets’ economic and social capital. This is accomplished through strengthening service provision at establishments such as orphanages and schools, helping beneficiaries access land, and facilitating connections to private companies.

Reconciliation

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JRS’s program in Bertoua, East Cameroon, is in an area which has become a safe haven for refugees from the Central Africa Republic fleeing from conflict and extreme poverty at home. When displaced people are forced to flee to an unfamiliar country, they lack resources and opportunities. This can trigger prejudices and hostility from the host community, leading to social exclusion. JRS Cameroon’s aim is two-fold: work to end discrimination against Central African refugees and build bridges between communities while supporting young refugees to build their own futures. Close to 70 percent of the students are refugees, while 30 percent belong to the host community.

JRS Cameroon provides vocational training to young students like Zari and Ezechiel and helps foster bonds of cooperation and community among them. The eight-month program provides housing and training services to refugees. The experience of learning cooperatively and living side by side helps create intercultural bonds, hospitality, solidarity, and fellowship between the students. The program is executed in partnership with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees (PRM), Missio Aachen, among others.

 

“This training has advantages for both Cameroonians and Central Africans,” explains Zari, a native Cameroonian in the Health Assistant course. “For the Cameroonians, [it means] benefiting from the discovery of new cultures and ways of life.” Ezechiel, from the Central African Republic, echoes Zari’s feelings: “My classmates and me strive to take decisions as a group,” he says. Ezechiel and Zari have learned to interact in health care settings by learning in a cooperative environment provided by JRS.

Advocacy

Around the world, JRS supports refugees in their efforts to claim and exercise their rights, lobbying governments and institutions for better and just responses to refugees and situations of forced displacement. JRS also aims to enhance the public perception of refugees, countering xenophobia and indifference while promoting integration and social cohesion.

 

“Being a former refugee myself, I love the opportunity to advocate for my fellow refugees,” says Esther Ngemba, a student at John Carroll University and a recent participant in JRS USA’s annual Advocacy Day. Esther was one of 125 advocates who spoke to members of the U.S. Congress on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers.

 

“It is a success for me that people are listening to my story and refugees are being heard,” adds Mina Mushtaq, a student at Arizona State University who  experienced a, rushed evacuation from Afghanistan. Since then, she has passionately worked for reform surrounding refugee resettlement and for the rights of Afghan women.

By meeting with U.S. policy makers and sharing first-person accounts of refugees’ harrowing journeys–then proposing specific actions to help them–JRS strives to make a direct and lifesaving impact on the well-being of refugees and forced migrants.

Further, recognizing that only five percent of refugee students around the world have access to post-secondary educational opportunities– severely limiting their ability to seek employment – JRS/USA has released a policy brief titled, “A Path Forward: Building a Future for Refugee Students Through Post-Secondary Education.”  The brief includes stories of refugee students as well as recommendations for how the U.S. and others can support them with an increase in post-secondary educational opportunities.

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Advocating in Emergency

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During times of crisis and emergency, JRS issues calls to countries in the affected region, requesting safety and protection for displaced families seeking refuge; protection for refugees already within their borders; and a halt to policies that would force refugees to return.

 

In Myanmar, for instance, more than 60,000 people have fled or have been internally displaced as a result of the recent military coup, and neighboring countries have imposed strict border restrictions to refugees seeking international protection. Pope Francis has appealed for peace -- “I too kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say: stop the violence! I too extend my arms and say: let dialogue prevail!” – so likewise JRS has emphatically requested that government and military actors refrain from all forms of violence against civilians, peaceful protestors, and journalists.  JRS has asked the nearby countries (including China, India, Thailand and Malaysia) to respect the fundamental human rights of all refugees, including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, and free flow of information.

 

In northern Ethiopia, where tensions erupted between Tigrayan regional forces and the Ethiopian government, JRS Ethopia designed an emergency plan with information and support systems to care for staff in the conflict zones, and support the most vulnerable displaced persons and refugees with psychosocial support and counseling. JRS Ethiopia also launched advocacy and lobbying efforts toward the Ethiopian government and UNHCR, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, to address the security concerns and enhanced protection of refugees.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

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Forced displacement often disrupts relationships and practices that foster resilience and healing in individuals, families, and communities. Recognizing the importance of providing refugee families with psychological and social support as they heal from the trauma of displacement and adapt to new, unexpected circumstances, JRS integrates mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) into all of its programs.

The JRS Nigeria team, for instance, is working with Wirngo, as aspiring lawyer who escaped Cameroon – and likely death – when the military destroyed his home as retribution for his government criticism. JRS Nigeria provided him with food and supplies, and connected him with other refugees from Cameroon who shared their experiences and counseling regimen. The group eventually formed a savings and loan association to support their start-up businesses.

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With safe spaces and activities for vulnerable groups; case management services; and individual and group counseling, JRS’ MHPSS programs aim to strengthen community and family supports by emphasizinghope, restoring human dignity, and strengthening social cohesion.