My Experience with Jesuit Refugee Service

Monday, November 7th, 2016
Grace, Information Advocacy Officer for JRS Manado

Grace, Information Advocacy Officer for JRS Manado

I heard about JRS for the first time on my second year in university. I was following a seminar by one of JRS staff about landmines, as part of JRS involvement in International Campaign to Ban Landmines. I got more information about JRS when I visited their national office with my friends from Magis community in Yogyakarta. I got to know more about refugee issues and JRS work, especially for refugee and asylum seeker in Indonesia.

Some of my Magis friends had already joined JRS as volunteers for their Jogjakarta project. I heard a lot from them about their meaningful experience meeting with the refugees. I started to feel the desire to also meet refugees and to apply as volunteer. But I still had doubts, I was worried I couldn’t carry out my duties responsibly, as I was still finishing my final thesis.

In September 2015 I volunteered in JRS fundraising activities, then I finally decided to join as voluntary teacher. And finally this year I joined them as staff in JRS Manado project to accompany refugees and asylum seekers held in the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) Manado.

I have learnt many things since I join JRS. Meeting with refugees and asylum seekers shows me how important it is to always have hope, even in the most difficult situation. In Yogyakarta I had a chance to teach a refugee from Myanmar. We called him Uncle. He’s a very cheerful 44 years old man, who is always very eager to learn. He always had hope that one day live will get better when he would be accepted in a third country.

Through that experience, I recalled the memory of my 2 classmates from Afghanistan when I was in elementary school in 2003. They are now finishing their study in a university in the country where they settled.  They are lucky that they are now together with their family and able to start building on their hopes and dreams in their new live. Just like my 2 friends, there are many young people who flee their country, where they left everything behind. Everything became uncertain for them, including their future. These are the situations of people I meet in Yogyakarta and Manado.

But what I find in Manado now is quite different to my experience in Yogyakarta. The refugees in Yogyakarta community house can live quite comfortably, but those in Manado have to live in confinement. As detainees –how those refugees and asylum seekers are called in immigration detention- they cannot live freely. The detention center walls are the limits to their space to live everyday. Their activities are enclosed in the IDC walls. In this place I meet so many struggling faces, but their difficult living conditions does not make them lose their hope. They are the people fleeing war, driven to leave their family and flee their home country for a safer life. They told me many stories about their family and home, also about how difficult it is to live in detention, full of uncertainty, waiting for a very long time, and not knowing about their future.

Living in such stressful situation, they get so easily provoked, even by a very small annoyance. This also causes conflicts at times, triggered by simple misunderstandings. I realized it’s not easy living in such a condition. I often imagine how difficult their life is and it gets me emotional, even brought me to tears sometimes. In this situation, I got the strength from my teammates. By sharing our stories and experience, we encourage each other to keep accompanying our refugee brothers and sisters.

JRS Manado team posing with their  #WithRefugees World Refugee Day messages

JRS Manado team posing with their #WithRefugees World Refugee Day messages

Nowadays, the world’s attention is drawn to the refugee issues. But there is still not many people moved to accept the refugees’ presence. As our brothers and sisters, refugees deserve to be accepted and treated as our fellow human being. They are just like us, whom longing for peace, safety and comfort, education, a proper job, and family. But they couldn’t access those things because of their present situation. I hope we as society would no longer consider them as burden and obstruction, but to realize that refugees are part of our life.

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