Our JRS program teams around the world have displayed remarkable resilience in the last year. Often, our teams’ jobs changed in a matter of days, having to adjust to teaching hygiene and sanitation practices, distributing much-needed food or essential supplies, or helping to make and distribute masks and other personal protective equipment.


The quick response work was critical, but also highlighted the vulnerabilities and disparities of those JRS serves around the world.


As Claire Lefort, the national program officer in Cameroon and Central African Republic (CAR), explained, “COVID-19 is a medical and sanitary situation but there were risks before, and those risks are still here. The pandemic just increases them, as there is a general situation of stress and extra vulnerability.”


Even in our COVID-19 response in the last year, JRS’s priority areas — education and livelihoods, reconciliation, advocacy, and mental health and psychosocial support — remained critical areas of work, while staff worldwide adapted to new circumstances and needs.


With support from JRS/USA donors, JRS was able to provide direct and immediate response to the needs brought on by the global pandemic in many countries around the world, including (pictured here top to bottom) Iraq, Chad, Afghanistan, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. (Jesuit Refugee Service)


Social distancing and masking requirements were put into place in classrooms in Chad so that refugees could continue their studies.
(Jesuit Refugee Service)

“I was unhappy with the closure of schools because of coronavirus. I welcomed the program on the radio with great joy and satisfaction"


Number of people served worldwide, with support from
JRS/USA: 445,334
Number of countries: 50

Even when classrooms were shut down, JRS education and livelihoods programs around the world carried on. Education is a core activity of JRS, and when faced with the crisis in the last year, we found unique ways to ensure that displaced children had the opportunity to learn and thrive. Classrooms went online, broadcast on the radio, and into WhatsApp; teacher training continued remotely, and JRS continued to provide opportunities for refugees to get training and earn a living.


For example, in Central African Republic (CAR), thanks in part to support from JRS/USA donors, we adjusted our activities to ensure displaced children continued to have access to education. JRS gave training to parents and provided them with the tools to continue school at home, providing play and education kits to help children learn, and hosting community radio broadcasts when teachers provided live lessons.


“I was unhappy with the closure of schools because of coronavirus. I welcomed the program on the radio with great joy and satisfaction,” said Mirabelle, a JRS student in CAR.

Learn more about Mirabelle’s experience with remote education.


Number of people served worldwide, with support from JRS/USA: 40,003
Number of countries: 22

Even during the pandemic, JRS hosted a reconciliation workshop for community leaders of both host and displaced communities in Nigeria.
(Jesuit Refugee Service)

“All over the world, there are increasing stereotypes about refugees, about who they are, about why they turn up, about the risks they supposedly pose to life as we know it"

In 2020, JRS/USA continued our commitment to the promotion of reconciliation, or “recreating right relationships” among the refugees we serve, between refugees and host communities, and among our own teams around the world.


In the United States, we have long held that bringing light to the refugee experience is critical to reconciliation, dispelling fear, and creating a culture of welcome for all refugees and migrants. In early 2020, before travel restrictions cut down our ability to visit schools and communities around the country, JRS/USA hosted a speakers tour in five cities across the country to share a new book JRS co-published, Dying to Live: Stories from Refugees on the Road to Freedom. Author and international director of reconciliation programs Danielle Vella brought the stories from her book to St. Louis University, Regis University, Creighton University, Seattle University, and Georgetown University, as well as St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Baltimore, MD, and Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, DC.

“All over the world, there are increasing stereotypes about refugees, about who they are, about why they turn up, about the risks they supposedly pose to life as we know it,” Ms. Vella explained to audiences. “So, refugees welcome the chance to set the record straight and to say, ‘No, this is my story, this is my country, this is why I left it, and this is my journey.”


Danielle Vella speaking at Creighton University during the Dying to Live speakers tour.
(Jesuit Refugee Service)

Learn more about Dying to Live and the stories of the refugee experience.



Advocates continued to support refugees, even while remaining physically distanced in 2020.

(Jesuit Refugee Service)

Number of people served worldwide, with support from JRS/USA: 29,262
Number of countries: 21

Even as people learned to social distance in 2020, our supporters and advocates did not distance themselves from advocating and raising awareness for refugees. In 2020, JRS/USA continued to promote refugee stories and advocate to legislators and other decision makers on behalf of forcibly displaced people. More than 4,000 letters from JRS/USA supporters were sent to elected officials, asking for support of refugees.


In May, JRS/USA brought awareness to important policies that affect displaced people and published a report, Stranded: The Impact of US Policies on Asylum Seekers, which shared the testimonies of people who are facing the real and often heartbreaking consequences of US asylum policies.


Our advocates expressed their solidarity with refugees all over the US. In October and November, more than 400 JRS/USA advocates logged over 17,000 miles in solidarity with refugees as part of our 40 Miles for Refugees program.


“The JRS #40Miles4Refugees challenge has been a breath, perhaps some very heavy and fatigued breaths, of fresh air at a time of great turbulence and uncertainty...The challenge has helped me escape from the small world we are restricted to and to refocus on the larger global issues at hand, such as the challenges 80 million refugees and displaced people face every day,” shared one participant, Lucas.

Learn about more ways that JRS/USA has created opportunities to advocate for refugees while social distancing.

JRS staff meets with a refugee in Beirut, Lebanon, where JRS provides home visits and other MHPSS services.
(Jesuit Refugee Service)


Number of people served worldwide, with support from
JRS/USA: 108,399
Number of countries: 44


The challenging factors that contribute to forced displacement cause lasting mental health and psychosocial problems heightened by the disruption of relationships and practices that foster resilience and healing in individuals, families, and communities. With the challenges, fear, and isolation that COVID-19 have caused, the mental health and psychosocial support needs of forcibly displaced people have become even more acute.


In the last year, JRS continued its work to provide mental health and psychosocial support to displaced people around the world. JRS held support groups online, continued home visits with personal protective equipment and social distancing, and provided the support normally given in person through the phone.


In Ecuador, JRS provided members of a gender-based violence (GBV) support group with phone credit so they could continue remote sessions and have ongoing access to JRS staff who are trained in GBV prevention and response. JRS also continued to provide shelter and a safe haven for particularly vulnerable displaced families in Ecuador. This includes a woman name Louisa, who fled with her son who has a disability from Venezuela right before the pandemic hit. JRS was able to give Louisa a safe place to stay, provide support for her child, and accompany her through the difficult transition.


“You are not just changing my son’s life, but you are saving it,” Louisa said. “You have been more than mothers and fathers; you have given us protection and safety. But beyond that, we as a family and as refugees are deeply grateful, because we know that today the situation is tough for those who are outside, for our families that we left in Venezuela, and for us who are here, facing a new challenge.”


JRS MHPSS staff visiting with
a displaced person in Iraq.
(Jesuit Refugee Service)

Learn more about Louisa and her story.