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“We aim not only to help refugees get back on their feet to earn a living, but to restore dignity and hope and facilitate integration as well.”

JRS and RotaryPhoto: Refugee students sit in the computer lab at the JRS compound in Dzaleka camp (Giulio D’Ercole / Jesuit Refugee Service)

Rome, 22 April 2016

The conference is the opening event of the Jubilee of Rotarians programme, organised for Rotarians from all over the world for the Year of Mercy. The programme will continue with a private audience with the Pope on Saturday, 30 April. Rotary works to address the needs of refugees worldwide by providing food, shelter clothing and medical treatment. Fr Smolich will specifically focus on education for refugees and other practical ways to support refugees to enable them to restart their lives and become self-sufficient.  Rome, 22 April 2016 – On 29 April, at LUMSA University, Fr Thomas H Smolich SJ, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) International Director, will speak on a panel discussion hosted by Rotary International to discuss the needs and challenges of refugees as well as sustainable solutions. Fr Smolich will speak alongside Carlotta Sami, Spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office for Southern Europe, and John Hewko and K.R. Ravindran, General Secretary and President of Rotary International respectively, to discuss the theme “Helping refugees to start over.” 

Currently, the UN has recorded 60 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution and oppression. It is the highest number ever recorded and the biggest humanitarian crisis. Pope Francis has spoken out on several occasions about the urgency of addressing the challenges refugees face. During his recent and historic visit to Lesbos he said “we need an education for integration. Walls do not bring solutions. A wall does not resolve anything. We need to build bridges, but we need to do it with intelligence, through integration.”

For 35 years, JRS has focused on education as a means to build peace and foster the development of more resilient and cohesive societies. When Pope Francis said “to give a child a seat at school is the finest gift you can give….For children forced to emigrate, schools are places of freedom,” JRS responded by launching the Mercy in Motion fundraising and advocacy campaign to implement its Global Education Initiative, a five year programme aiming to robustly expand both formal and informal education programmes – spanning from primary school to university, and including vocational and teacher training. 

Whether offering refugees opportunities to better integrate into host communities, or to be prepared for the return home or resettlement to a third country, JRS seeks to promote self-sufficiency, and it does so by providing access to education. “JRS’ education and livelihood initiatives go beyond the mere economic aspects of life, reaching more human and social dimensions. We aim not only to help refugees get back on their feet to earn a living, but to restore dignity and hope and facilitate integration as well,” said Fr Smolich.

On his visit to Lampedusa in 2013 to confront the reality of refugees, Pope Francis has said the world is suffering from a “globalisation of indifference,” ignoring those who cry out for mercy. “We can no longer take the suffering of others for granted,” he said. Inspired by these words Fr Smolich looks at a future collaboration with Rotary and says, “we must come together and mobilise our compassion to make a globalised difference. It is the role of each one of us to ensure those who have lost their homes do not lose their hope. JRS does this through education, and Rotary’s global commitments seek to do the same.”

To watch the video of Fr. Smolich’s speech at the Rotary International Conference (29.04.2016) please click here.

Republished with permission by the Jesuit Refugee Service.