Category Archives: Refugees JRS

Immigration’s internal documents: “Reducing applications is urgent”

(Extraction from Asahi Shimbun – May 20th, 2019)

According to UNHCR’s 2017 statistics, the number of people recognized as refugees by the Japanese government was only 20 people, the lowest among the G7 countries. The largest number is 147,671 for Germany. Italy is the second smallest after Japan, but still, it has recognized 5,895 people. Japan is the only country with a recognition rate of less than 1%, as it is pointed out by UNHCR.

And according to the 2018 data released by the Ministry of Justice in March, the number of recognized refugees increased to 42 people while the number of applicants decreased by 47% to 10,493 people.

Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees (JLNR) pointed out, “since the restrictions of repeated applications have tightened, it makes applicants shrank, and there may have been situations where the application has to be withdrawn in order to avoid detention.

An internal document indicating that immigration is trying to artificially reduce the number of refugee applicants is the “notification” within Tokyo Immigration Narita Airport Branch, dated November 16, 2018. This notification requires Sri Lankans that are increasingly applying for refugee status to answer questions by writing on paper confirming if he/she “is going to return within the visa period” or “if the person is in a situation not able to return”.

This is not only discrimination against a particular nationality, but it is also an obvious attitude that they do not want to accept the person. Such measures should not be taken by a contracting party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.” Syogo Watanabe of JLNR says. “There is an absolute contradiction” in the current situation where the same agency carries out immigration control and refugee status determination.


Does not Japan want to accept refugees?

(Extraction from Mainichi Shimbun – May 15th, 2019)

Confronted with a Kurdish father’s long-term detention, his sons cry “Come back”

A Kurdish man from Turkey has been in a detention center since last January. Chorak Mehmet came to Japan in 2004. He has repeatedly applied for refugee status but he was refused and detained when he went to immigration for the extension of his temporary release, last January.

Deportation decrees have been issued to all members of his family, including the second son (11) and third son (8), born in Japan. “The deportation order is contrary to the rules of freedom and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is part of the international human rights treaty, that Japan has ratified, and it is clearly illegal”, according to the attorney, Masaichi Hikawa.

In March, Mr. Chorak, whose long-term detention continued, fell into extremely bad health conditions. His relatives heard the complaint over the phone and arranged ambulances twice, but Immigration officials repulsed them. This issue was taken up by the National Assembly as well.

According to the defense counsel, the recognition rate of Turkish nationals who applied for asylum in the last 17 years is about 35% on average in the world, but in Japan, not a single one has been recognized.

Pope’s Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2015) Page 2 of 2

[Extraction from Zenit’s webpage:–3%5D
Vatican City, October 01, 2015 (

…………  continuation  from Page 1 of 2

Faced with these issues, how can the Church fail to be inspired by the example and words of Jesus Christ? The answer of the Gospel is mercy.

In the first place, mercy is a gift of God the Father who is revealed in the Son. God’s mercy gives rise to joyful gratitude for the hope which opens up before us in the mystery of our redemption by Christ’s blood. Mercy nourishes and strengthens solidarity towards others as a necessary response to God’s gracious love, “which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). Each of us is responsible for his or her neighbour: we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they live. Concern for fostering good relationships with others and the ability to overcome prejudice and fear are essential ingredients for promoting the culture of encounter, in which we are not only prepared to give, but also to receive from others. Hospitality, in fact, grows from both giving and receiving.


From this perspective, it is important to view migrants not only on the basis of their status as regular or irregular, but above all as people whose dignity is to be protected and who are capable of contributing to progress and the general welfare. This is especially the case when they responsibly assume their obligations towards those who receive them, gratefully respecting the material and spiritual heritage of the host country, obeying its laws and helping with its needs. Migrations cannot be reduced merely to their political and legislative aspects, their economic implications and the concrete coexistence of various cultures in one territory. All these complement the defence and promotion of the human person, the culture of encounter, and the unity of peoples, where the Gospel of mercy inspires and encourages ways of renewing and transforming the whole of humanity.

The Church stands at the side of all who work to defend each person’s right to live with dignity, first and foremost by exercising the right not to emigrate and to contribute to the development of one’s country of origin. This process should include, from the outset, the need to assist the countries which migrants and refugees leave. This will demonstrate that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the earth’s goods are essential for more decisive efforts, especially in areas where migration movements begin, to eliminate those imbalances which lead people, individually or collectively, to abandon their own natural and cultural environment. In any case, it is necessary to avert, if possible at the earliest stages, the flight of refugees and departures as a result of poverty, violence and persecution.

Public opinion also needs to be correctly formed, not least to prevent unwarranted fears and speculations detrimental to migrants.

No one can claim to be indifferent in the face of new forms of slavery imposed by criminal organizations which buy and sell men, women and children as forced labourers in construction, agriculture, fishing or in other markets. How many minors are still forced to fight in militias as child soldiers! How many people are victims of organ trafficking, forced begging and sexual exploitation! Today’s refugees are fleeing from these aberrant crimes, and they appeal to the Church and the human community to ensure that, in the outstretched hand of those who receive them, they can see the face of the Lord, “the Father of mercies and God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1:3).

Dear brothers and sisters, migrants and refugees! At the heart of the Gospel of mercy the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself. Welcoming others means welcoming God in person! Do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope and joy of life born of your experience of God’s mercy, as manifested in the people you meet on your journey! I entrust you to the Virgin Mary, Mother of migrants and refugees, and to Saint Joseph, who experienced the bitterness of emigration to Egypt. To their intercession I also commend those who invest so much energy, time and resources to the pastoral and social care of migrants. To all I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, September 12, 2015,
Memorial of the Holy Name of Mary


Pope’s Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2015) Page 1 of 2

[Extraction from Zenit’s webpage:–3%5D
Vatican City, October 01, 2015 ( – Staff Reporter

“Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy”

Here is a Vatican translation of the Pope’s message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Bull of indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy I noted that “at times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3). God’s love is meant to reach out to each and every person. Those who welcome the Father’s embrace, for their part, become so many other open arms and embraces, enabling every person to feel loved like a child and “at home” as part of the one human family. God’s fatherly care extends to everyone, like the care of a shepherd for his flock, but it is particularly concerned for the needs of the sheep who are wounded, weary or ill. Jesus told us that the Father stoops to help those overcome by physical or moral poverty; the more serious their condition, the more powerfully is his divine mercy revealed.

In our time, migration is growing worldwide. Refugees and people fleeing from their homes challenge individuals and communities, and their traditional ways of life; at times they upset the cultural and social horizons which they encounter. Increasingly, the victims of violence and poverty, leaving their homelands, are exploited by human traffickers during their journey towards the dream of a better future. If they survive the abuses and hardships of the journey, they then have to face latent suspicions and fear. In the end, they frequently encounter a lack of clear and practical policies regulating the acceptance of migrants and providing for short or long term programmes of integration respectful of the rights and duties of all. Today, more than in the past, the Gospel of mercy troubles our consciences, prevents us from taking the suffering of others for granted, and points out way of responding which, grounded in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, find practical expression in works of spiritual and corporal mercy.


In the light of these facts, I have chosen as the theme of the 2016 World Day of Migrants and Refugees: Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy. Migration movements are now a structural reality, and our primary issue must be to deal with the present emergency phase by providing programmes which address the causes of migration and the changes it entails, including its effect on the makeup of societies and peoples. The tragic stories of millions of men and women daily confront the international community as a result of the outbreak of unacceptable humanitarian crises in different parts of the world. Indifference and silence lead to complicity whenever we stand by as people are dying of suffocation, starvation, violence and shipwreck. Whether large or small in scale, these are always tragedies, even when a single human life is lost.

Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, exploitation and the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources which are meant to be equitably shared by all. Don’t we all want a better, more decent and prosperous life to share with our loved ones?

At this moment in human history, marked by great movements of migration, identity is not a secondary issue. Those who migrate are forced to change some of their most distinctive characteristics and, whether they like or not, even those who welcome them are also forced to change. How can we experience these changes not as obstacles to genuine development, rather as opportunities for genuine human, social and spiritual growth, a growth which respects and promotes those values ​​which make us ever more humane and help us to live a balanced relationship with God, others and creation?

The presence of migrants and refugees seriously challenges the various societies which accept them. Those societies are faced with new situations which could create serious hardship unless they are suitably motivated, managed and regulated. How can we ensure that integration will become mutual enrichment, open up positive perspectives to communities, and prevent the danger of discrimination, racism, extreme nationalism or xenophobia?

Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself. Many institutions, associations, movements and groups, diocesan, national and international organizations are experiencing the wonder and joy of the feast of encounter, sharing and solidarity. They have heard the voice of Jesus Christ: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev 3:20). Yet there continue to be debates about the conditions and limits to be set for the reception of migrants, not only on the level of national policies, but also in some parish communities whose traditional tranquillity seems to be threatened.


Thailand: Migrant workers face continued hardship

(Dana MacLean, JRS Asia Pacific Communications Officer)
[Edited by Ando Isamu, SJ, from Tokyo Jesuit Social Center]

Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 171 / June 15th, 2013

[Here is a recent Report on the situation of about a million and a half irregular migrant Burmese workers in Thailand. The author is the Migrant Outreach Officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Thailand.]

Society must develop a new attitude towards migrants and refugees
Bangkok, 7 March 2013 — Last month Thailand’s estimated two million irregular migrant workers were granted a four-month extension, until April 2013, to have their nationalities verified by their governments in order to register for Thai visas and work permits.

Although this is a welcome step for the time being, after the new deadline passes, irregular migrant workers will face the same risks of arrest and deportation as they do currently, according to Kohnwilai Teppunkoonngam, the Migrant Outreach Officer for JRS Thailand.

JRS believes that “Society must develop a new attitude towards migrants and refugees: those in need of protection and assistance must receive it,” as outlined in the JRS Hospitality Working Paper.

Programs in Mae Sot— where 70 percent of the population are Burmese forced migrants― include advocacy, labor rights trainings, and opportunities for livelihoods activities.

After April, undocumented migrant workers already in Thailand may be unable to register as the deadline is unlikely to be extended again.

Instead, the government plans to recruit new workers residing in Laos PDR, Cambodia and Myanmar, under bilateral agreements signed between 2002-2003, according to Teppunkoonngam.

The nuts and bolts of NV and registration
In the past, nationality verification (NV) — which provides migrants with a temporary passport allowing for greater freedom of movement and legal rights— has been a costly exercise. Migrants paid up to 15,000 baht, or US $500, to brokers, according to local Thai news sources, when their average daily wage is less than 300 baht or US $10.

In 2011, many migrants failed to register before the initial deadline due to poor public awareness or understanding of the process and the complicated, bureaucratic nature of the procedure, which made it lengthy and confusing, according to Andy Hall, a researcher at Mahidol University’s Migration Centre based in Nakhon Pathom province.

But two weeks ago, the Royal Thai government announced the opening of several one-stop service centers for NV scattered throughout Thailand, making NV more affordable and accessible until the April deadline.

The new registration costs will total up to 9,000 baht, the equivalent of US $290— a little more than half the previous cost, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Thailand.

“The one-stop centers may make nationality verification much easier for the migrants,” said Teppunkoonngam, who added that more permanent measures need to be put in place to allow ongoing registration.

“[While] being documented does not necessarily improve the conditions of work, it does decrease corruption and provides more opportunities to integrate,” said Jackie Pollock, the executive director of MAP Foundation, a Chiang Mai based advocacy NGO.

Migrant work undervalued
In the past two decades, Thailand has come under increasing scrutiny for policies that fail to protect irregular migrant workers from exploitation and abuse.

Despite migrant work contributing an estimated four percent to Thailand’s annual GDP, unaffordable registration costs and a lack of enforcement of labour protection standards continues to leave migrant workers vulnerable.

“Framing human beings as cheap migrant labour reduces their worth solely to economic development or worse, a source of profit,” said Fr Bambang SJ, JRS’ Asia Pacific’s Regional Director.

Roughly 300,000 are currently undergoing registration, but an estimated two million more migrants remain outside of the process, according to MAP Foundation.

“They still manage to find work in Thailand and stay,” said Pollock.

“In our accompaniment we would like to help the migrants to make their stories visible,” said Fr Bambang SJ. “It is a way of raising their concerns, and strengthening their voices,” he added.

Debt bondage increases trafficking risk
Since average wages are less than 300 baht, $10 per day, under the previous regularization processes, migrants stashing away half their daily earnings would still have to save for at least five months before being able to afford it.

This is one of many reasons why numerous irregular migrant workers failed to register in 2011.

“These are highly inflated costs that cause debt bondage,” said Hall.

Debt bondage— borrowing from relatives, friends, brokers, and even employers— increases vulnerability to illegal exploitation and trafficking, according to Teppunkoonngam.

“Although the one-stop centers improve access to NV in the short-term, closing this door permanently, instead of leaving both doors open, may not be a long term solution,” said Teppunkoonngam, who also recommends that Thailand sign on to the 1990 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Report from JRS Asia Pasific in Thailand

Patcharin Nawichai, JRS Mae Sot Project Director
Dana MacLean, JRS Asia Pacific Communications

Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 170 / April 15th, 2013

1. Let’s get rid of Landmines
April 4 is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, when thousands of people in more than 70 countries remember the survivors and communities affected by landmines and call for an end to the curse of anti-personnel mines.

Thailand wants all landmines cleared by 2018 in accord with the deadlines set out in article five of the Mine Ban Treaty.

In 2001, Thailand had around 2,557 square km of mine-affected areas. After 10 years of de-mining by NGOs like the Thailand Mine Action Center (TMAC), around 528 square km of suspected and confirmed hazardous areas are now left to be cleared, according to the Level 1 Survey by Norwegian People’s Aid.

“Raising awareness and providing assistance for mine action and victims is very important. Thailand has made significant progress over the past 13 years. The survivors’ life quality has improved significantly, but some of my friends still cannot get easy access to specialized services. We sincerely hope that the effort will continue and that victims on the ground will be more greatly benefited by this. I don’t want to see any more new victims in Thailand in the future,” said the leader of the Pong Nam Ron Landmine Survivor Network in Chanthaburi province, Chusak Saelee.
Source: JRS Asia Pacific Web: THAILAND, “Today is the day to push for clearing 500km of mines”

2. Voices from the factory
January 1, 2013
JRS has been working with migrants in Mae Sot since 2006 to assist with livelihoods for vulnerable communities Mae Sot, 31 December 2012 — Thailand is home to hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers, more than 100,000 of whom are employed in Mae Sot’s factories.

1- Rose*, 28, originally from Taunggyi in southern Shan state of Myanmar, was brought to Mae Sot by her father when she was 12 years old. At the age of 13, a broker took her to Bangkok to work in a noodle shop where she earned 1,000 baht (US $34) per month. Three years later, after getting married and becoming pregnant with her first child, Rose returned to Mae Sot to escape the anxiety of being arrested, which migrants face daily in Bangkok. Rose’s experience is not unique.

2- Poe Poe*, 18, from Phyu township in eastern Myanmar, has been working in a garment factory since the age of 13. Long working hours without breaks or sick leave, the struggle to save money, and the absence of proper safety standards and labor rights characterize the experience of Rose, Poe Poe, and thousands of other migrant workers in Thailand.

Work Conditions
Rose cleans the floors and tables of a garment factory for 150 baht per day (US $5), working for more than ten hours each day. For every one hour that the workers are late for their shift, they lose three hours of wages. Similarly, the consequence of missing one day of work is three days of work without pay.

Yet Rose is grateful for her job. “I like to work here because I receive good pay,” she told JRS Mae Sot staff. But she admits that economic difficulties are a constant source of stress. “I still need money to pay for my children’s education,” she said. “I once paid an agent 4,500 baht to take me back to Bangkok by walking through the jungle so I could find a higher income job. We were cheated and left in the middle of nowhere,” she says, disappointment brimming in her eyes.

But Rose is one of the lucky ones who have never felt endangered in the factory. Her workplace maintains a sound reputation for good management. “I never felt unsafe, but cleaning floors and tables is not a comfortable job,” Rose affirmed.
Poe Poe, on the other hand, works in a different garment factory and feels unprotected in the dormitory, as there are no separate lavatories or showers for women. Although she has not been physically attacked, Poe Poe feels unsafe when taking a shower as she is often watched by men.
In addition, the equipment in the factory is not always safe. The older sewing machines used to make the garments are dangerous, according to Poe Poe. “The owner hasn’t listened to complaints. We are really afraid to use those machines… Newly employed workers handle the old machines because they have no choice,” she said.

Labor Rights
In 2012, JRS Mae Sot sponsored two group discussions led by the Overseas Irrawaddy Association for migrant workers on labor rights.
“Our rights are not fully respected because we are not given enough breaks,” said Rose. Poe Poe sews for more than ten hours per day without stopping. “We don’t have enough rest. It’s not fair at all,” she said. Although she wants to find another job, she feels trapped because her parents are there with her in the factory. “I really want…better conditions and higher pay, but if I quit, my parents will have no place to stay,” Poe Poe said.
Both Poe Poe and Rose maintain dreams about returning to their hometowns in Myanmar to farm. “I like living in Thailand because it’s safe and there are many ways to earn money. However, if my parents, who are currently staying in Myawaddy, want to go back to Taunggyi, I will go with them. We still have available land to do farming,” said Rose. “If I can save money, I will take my family back home to do crop farming. There we’ll have a happy life,” Poe Poe sighed.

[Edited by Ando Isamu, SJ, from Tokyo Jesuit Social Center,]
Source: JRS Asia Pacific Web “THAILAND: Voices from the factory” Maesot, 31 December 1012
(*1,2 :Names have been changed to protect identity)

Strengthening the migrant ministry network

Extract from the Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference (Submitted on August 18th 2012)

Jesuits and collaborators working with migrants and refugees in Asia Pacific gathered in Manila recently to share insights and ideas for co-operation among the migrant ministries within the Conference.

The two-day meeting organised by the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific was held on June 30 and July 1, in conjunction with a migration conference, “Migration, Religious Experience and Mission with Migrants in Asia”, organised by the Loyola School of Theology and the Scalabrini Migration Center.

This is the second time the migration network has met since migration was identified as a common priority for the Conference in July 2010.

One of the key observations of this meeting was the increasing connection between migrant ministry and refugee work; and the importance of closer coordination to address their concerns.

Migrant work at the province level also needs to be strengthened, and some practical areas of project collaboration were explored. One possibility that was discussed is for UGAT Foundation, the established migrant centre in the Philippines, to assist with the setting up of migrant ministries elsewhere in the Conference, particularly in sending countries.

Fr Denis Kim SJ, the JCAP Social Apostolate Coordinator, said that the meeting re-emphasised the need for a migration coordinator at the Conference level and this point was made to the major superiors at their July Assembly.

The group of 23 participants from 10 countries – Indonesia, Korea, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Vietnam and Cambodia – also explored greater collaboration between the migrant ministries and Jesuit Refugee Service.

Nikola Errington, Legal Officer of JRS Cambodia, found the meeting a great exchange of experiences, stories and reflections and said it was a perfect forum to reflect upon the common elements that bind the work of JRS and the migrant ministries.

A JRS Cambodia publication raising the issue of protection space for asylum seekers in South East Asia.

“Together we listened to stories of migrant workers in Taiwan and Korea struggling to maintain fair working conditions with unscrupulous employers and apathetic authorities. We heard stories of strength, with perseverance paramount to those supporting families in their home countries of Indonesia and the Philippines. We heard stories of the suffering of families torn apart, sometimes for many years; children without mothers; and women isolated due to cultural and social divides. We also heard stories of those who built solidarity amongst workers in receiving countries and became strong advocates for their own rights, and those of their peers,” she said.

Nikola said the JRS was able to contribute the point of view of refugees, a distinct group that has particular protection needs because they cannot return to their home country. The JRS teams gave examples of the risks refugees are exposed to because they often remain undocumented or are not seen as different from migrants in the eyes of a State. Also discussed was the importance of identifying refugees within the context of broader mixed migration flows.

At the end of the meeting, the group took the opportunity to update the network contact list to encourage and facilitate cooperation especially on cases that cross national boundaries.

Caption for main photo: An illustration from Dr Maryanne Loughry, RSM AM of JRS Australia showing the increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia so far this year.

JRS publishes guide for advocates in Southeast Asia

Extract from Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference (Submitted on July 17, 2012 – 7:12 pm)


Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific has published a practical guide for advocates of asylum seekers and refugees in five countries in Southeast Asia. Entitled “The Search: Protection Space in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines and Cambodia in Practice”, the document will help advocates in these countries to give accurate information to asylum seekers and refugees about the realities of protection space in the region.

Protection space for asylum seekers and refugees in Southeast Asia is limited and constantly changing, and asylum seekers and refugees face many challenges in negotiating the difficult, long and confusing refugee-status-determination (RSD) processes that will ultimately decide the direction their lives will take.

In a region where only three countries, Cambodia, the Philippines and Timor Leste, are signatories to the UN refugee convention, the challenges of living in an urban setting are amplified on a daily basis as people struggle to make a living, avoid detention, send their children to school and tend to their medical needs.

The guide covers five broad themes: protection concerns, convention obligations and domestic legal frameworks, refugee-status determination, durable solutions, and an outline of the realities of living in the region in relation to employment, education, healthcare and housing. Given the range of challenges, it is essential that those that work with asylum seekers and refugees know as much as possible about the asylum options available in urban areas in the capital cities of Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila and Phnom Penh.

The Work of JRS with African Refugees

KOMOGUCHI Tadayoshi (Teacher at Hiroshima Gakuin)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue:  No. 141 / December 15th, 2007

Holidays in Rome

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), a manifestation of the ideal of persons dedicated to serve others, was founded in 1980 by Fr. Pedro Arrupe the General Superior of the Society of Jesus, successor of its founder Ignacio de Loyola. Fr. Arrupe lived in the Jesuit House of Hiroshima before becoming the Provincial of the Jesuits in Japan. Later, he became Superior General. JRS is a Catholic inspired organization founded to serve refugees that cross frontiers, in danger of their lives, escaping from war and hunger. Its motto is “to serve,” “together with” and “advocacy work.”
The main office of JRS is located at the back of the Church Il Gessu (Rome) where there is also a Secretariat that takes care of refugees living in Rome. There, at the entrance of a small chapel there is a mosaic depicting the Child Jesus riding on an ass. Fr. Magrinya, JRS International Director, pointed smiling at the inscription carved on the mosaic: “The Child Jesus had to escape as a refugee, brought by Mary and Joseph. Do not give up. Cheer up.”

Meals are served there for refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq. There is also a small clinic attended by 2 volunteer doctors. From 4:00 PM about 400 people come to eat at a dining room there.

 Although I volunteered to serve the meals, I was refused because people only spoke Italian and it would be quite hard for me to be of any use. I felt a bit disappointed. Fr. Magrinya just arriving late at night from Genova spoke with Fr. Giovanni, the director of the Italian JRS organization, about the new refugee centers of Milan and Genoa. Thanks to such a dedicated work many people that are helped recover hope in their lives. How worthy is such a work! At the same time, without God’s gifts and human talents this will be totally impossible. Fr. Magrinya has two academic degrees and speaks several languages: Italian, English, French, German, Portuguese, Latin and Spanish. But, the most important issue is the complex situation surrounding the refugees, like the economic and political, the ethnic and geographic issues. To establish a conversation about world refugees there is a need to master all that knowledge concerning geographical and ethnic realities and to be able to address so different JRS staff and so many kinds of refugees living in the midst of many delicate conditions. There is no place for me to help. Instead, I will do my best as much as I can.

Refugee Camp in Kenya
We talked about how to reach a refugee camp. A camp is not a tourist spot. To begin with, the only way to go there is by taking one of the fixed planes of the UN or of the UNHCR. In order to board the plane one has to show his proper documentation and the purpose of the visit. And in case one takes the ordinary route, one must know how to reach Lokichokio from the nearest airport. Now, how to go to the camp from there? All taxi drivers refuse to take you. Driving along a flat road one can only see far in the horizon some small trees scattered around. There is only one straight road. Using special binoculars one can hardly see far off in the distance a car running the opposite direction. Road construction is done by lining up stones. It often happens that drivers who get off their cars to keep away road stones are shot and the cars are stolen. This, seemingly, is a common practice among bandits. To avoid it, groups of about 5 cars move together escorted by UN and police patrols. This is called a convoy. In my car there were clearly two bullet holes.

Refugee camps change according to the times. Once the emergency and critical situations, as well as famine and disease settle down the whole general system is properly maintained. That is the case for living conditions, fresh water and waste, distribution of food and ordinary rules. Public order is restored and schools and clinics function. But, unless hopeful solutions to restore their former countries of origin are provided, together with a smooth maintenance of the present camps, refugees do not know how to go back and, consequently, just remain in the camps.

JRS not only runs educational programs but, at the same time, contributes to alleviate and solve the traumas the refugees experience. Refugees return once their countries of origin acquire peace and safety so that their lives are not in danger. And unless they receive education their dreams to rebuild their nation could not be fulfilled. JRS is not only involved in Primary education, it continues its support on middle and high level education through its network system. A high level training of personnel is totally needed for rebuilding a nation. It is a reality that, very often, the opportunity to get education ends when Primary education is over. To solve that, JRS continues offering opportunities to advance to Secondary education levels.

Nevertheless, new problems arise due to the lack of educational facilities, no matter refugees feel secure back in the countries of origin. And even if such facilities exist the education given will be useless unless the curricula are adjusted to present needs. Again, JRS has the plan to build schools in countries where the refugees return using the same curriculum system. The issue, though, is the overextend of the services to refugees from the point of view of administration, with the results that direct assistance to refugee camps becomes thinner, because of the need to channel aid for the rehabilitation of the countries of origin that would require tremendous quantities of finances and personnel in the fields of hard and soft goods. Once the camps are established tribal problems and fights start to come to the surface. It helps people to escape from dangers to their lives, but they soon come to realize that they have to live together in the same camps with those that threw them out of their countries. Again, the camps hold people of different languages, believes and customs that occasion all kinds of problems outsiders could not be able to solve by fair thinking. Although UN and JRS staff will not tell in public to any outsider the truth about how fearful those camps are, the problems remain under cover. There is no way to confirm how real the conflicts could be, but the expression in their faces is sufficient to make one believe that the situation is tense.

On the other hand, the propagation of mobile phones has made it easy to find out immediately whenever conflicts arise and rush out for solutions, but this fact has also increased the burdens on the staff. Certainly, there are now more possibilities of seeking a right judgment, instead of leaving decisions to each different site. At the same time, the transfer of responsibility has become easier and cases that obstruct answers adapted to local circumstances have started to appear. ‘One-ring’ phone calls have become common and when the staff checks the incoming calls and realizes a refugee has called is forced to phone back. This practice sends the phone costs skyrocketing and puts pressure on the staff.

New fearful problems, once the situation in the camp has somehow stabilized, are the “budget cuts,” “bird flu” diseases that have been found near the horrible situation in the camps.

The Establishment of the Camps

A site near the border is needed but, it is impossible to find good places for people to settle down. Such places have been already selected by the population to live there. To tell the residents, “get out from here because we need to build a refugee camp” could not realistically be done without creating problems. Consequently, a camp cannot be built where populations already exist. A totally empty land is not available, but camps are built in similar places.

Turkana is a dry region in a severe environment with normal temperatures of 40 Centigrade degrees. The Turkana tribal people make there their living grazing cattle. Without any consultation with them the Kakuma refugee camp was built there. Kakuma expanded up to a population of 80,000 people. It has become the 4th biggest city in Kenya, population-wise, and its extension covers an area one kilometer wide and 15 kilometers long. Thus the population density is very high.

Formerly not too many people lived there, because of lack of available water and now tons of water are needed to fill the needs of 80,000 people, but there is no way to do it properly. The distribution of water is rationed from the beginning. There are two faucets and each community can use them for only one hour. 200 members constitute a community and before the time for their turn comes many water containers line up near the water faucets. It becomes impossible to fill with water all of them in just one hour. Well, there were still left empty containers since the day before unable to be filled with water.

Then, what happens to those who could not get water the day before? The only possibility is to get it from their neighbors. Life in the camps is unbearable unless people help mutually each other. Many refugees are often handicapped because of the persecution experienced in their own countries and the hardships involved in escaping. If communities are not able to accept entirely the difficult situations of each individual will not survive. It could be cruel to demand generosity when the resident members of the community were, formerly, living in tense relationship.

Women and children usually line up for water under the strong rays of the sun. Children are an important labor force. What about schooling? The highest priority in their lives is not to attend school but to get water. This is a very heavy job for women and children. Their image transporting the heavy containers of water going back home, under the blazing sun, resembles the one when they return to their countries of origin in the midst of insolvable problems.

I was allowed to climb to the water tank tower. It was a fearful experience. My hands full of sweat slipped holding the 15-mt. high iron ladder. It was not the height that made me afraid but the rusty weak iron ladder.

 Once I went up I got amazed at the view of the camp from above. It was all green and it was easy to determine the border lines separating communities and households. The land was full of green vegetation. The water was, maybe, not enough for the survival of 80,000 refugees but they brought it from some place nearby. Without thinking about having to go down the same ladder again I enjoyed the view from the tower. There were some deserted dry places and it looked to me that even there green plants were growing due to the people occupying the land.

 A Visit to Somali Refugees

The local JRS staff arranged for me to accompany the counseling service team visiting refugee families. There were no families that had left their countries without reason. When trauma develops rehabilitation in the midst of such hard situations is near impossible. On the other hand, there is no other organization in the camp that helps people to overcome their traumas. The activities of the counseling service to families fulfill a very important task in the refugee camp where the life environment is so hard.

I visited a family from Somalia. The mother had requested counseling. The husband lying in bed could not move and attend the daycare center. Five family members live in a place surrounded by a fence made of a sharp-edged type of tree. In spite of the heat, the man covered with a blanket was lying down under the hot rays of the sun. He hurt his backbone while escaping the country. He half-recovered once, but due to overwork he felt pain again and since then he could not get up from bed anymore. Now the wife does all the work by herself at home, attends the husband and takes care of the children. She has no time to plan the return home and the future of the children and spends day and night attending her husband. It is a very tiring and psychologically demanding task. She hardly can see and the uncertainty over the future of the family and the anxiety over her blindness exert such a pressure on her that she cannot sleep. She would like to go to a doctor but does find neither time nor money to pay the bills. The counselor just listens to her realizing that there is no answer available to refugees. The next family we visited was again a Somali family. The small house facing the main road was splashed with muddy water whenever it rained. The house was not built and given by the UN, but the family moved in arbitrarily. The husband is from Somalia and his family lives a few kilometers away building a community. He was infested with AIDS and sent away his husband and kids, without handing them out his food ration card. He was most probably afraid of transmitting the disease to his family or maybe, according to the counselor, he sold the right to obtain food for the family in order to have some income to cover his disease. In any event sending out his family without the ability to get food was the same as letting them die.

They have 3 children. The eldest one is a healthy 11 year-old girl, but the 2 younger ones, a girl and a boy suffer from some disease. The JRS staff thinks that they are HIV infested. But none of them have ever had an HIV check, because they are afraid of the results. Although the kids are still growing they do not have access to food. The UN does not take on the issue because it is only “a family problem.” But such an attitude does not lead to any solution. The counselor confronted with a difficult problem that requires a real answer believes that the cause is not trauma or mental distress, but cannot find a clear solution. He tries to imitate the Good Samaritan and desperately feels that he can only listen to their suffering, and no matter how close he is to the refugees he feels profound suffering because of his powerlessness. I felt a deep respect in front of them.

A few days later, when I went to the camp to say farewell to the refugees I knew, I met again there the Somali lady with sick eyes and asked her, “How are your eyes now?” Feeling relieved she replied, “Yes, it could be a matter of putting on glasses, but I don’t have any money. I thought that talking to the counselor JRS will give me money for the glasses.” I asked the JRS guide to come again to visit the family and apologized for not being able to do anything useful. “Of course” he answered with a smile. I did not do anything else but listening to the family, but he assured me that he was coming back again.


As soon as I met Mary I realized there was something wrong. She suffered from a deep wound and nothing could be done about it. It was clear that to call her by her name will provoke more suffering to her and I did not want to know her name, but the JRS staff guiding me introduced her to me as Mary. She was living in Sudan at the age of 10 when her village was attacked. They shot both parents and herself was wounded in her back. She fell on the ground with the trunk of her body burnt and both legs unable to move freely. She lost all relatives. She spent 3 years in a hospital at the border with Kenya and was sent to the Kakuma refugee camp, but life there is almost unbearable to her. She says that she has lost all hope. Although she does not have any relative alive, she was placed in the refugee community of those persons that remained alive from the former Sudanese village where she lived with her family. Everybody is kind to her.

JRS has given her a special scholarship and although she is 19 now she is in her 7th year of Primary school. Finally she could enter School. It is not clear whether she could recover her confidence and make her living. Since she likes studying Biology I encouraged her: “Maybe you can become a medical doctor, a good doctor that can understand people’s suffering.” She answered sadly, “Yes that would be wonderful.” Nevertheless, I felt her words were not convincing. She continued, “I do not know anybody in Sudan any more. When this camp shuts down there is no place for me to go. If I study a little now and become a typist, I think I would be able to survive.” Will there be, from now on, a need of typists? Certainly computer programmers will be on demand. Nevertheless, she cannot find any other concrete way of making a living.
When classes ended she returned to her home, walking on crutches. Her body and arms are very thin and she does her best walking with her crutches. A few days later I met her at the JRS office. She looked very pretty wearing not the school dress but an ethnic custom.

Nairobi Refugees

I arrived in Nairobi. I had a short visit permission and, on top of that, I thought I could not digest anything more than what I had seen, but making a last effort I decided to pay a visit to the slums of Nairobi. Sister Mercy, a JRS staff that belongs to a diocesan organization assisting to the most abandoned people guided me. We went to meet an Ethiopian female refugee with a 2-year old child. That was during the rainy season. The roads with bad drainage had become rivers of mud, there were water holes everywhere and the traffic was stagnant. There was an outbreak of malaria mosquitoes. I followed carefully the foot steps of the Sister. We entered an old building in a small street and went up to the 4th floor, climbing a narrow stair case. There was there a three tatami-size room where the mother and the little child were living. There was only a hole like a window with no glass. Naturally anything could enter there. The only furniture was a bed and a small cabinet. Of course, neither water nor toilet. The Bible and a small bottle of medicines were on top of the cabinet. She married a refugee and, 2 years ago, she gave birth. Her husband left her and run away with another woman. She went for help to the Church. Her only source of income is washing clothes, but she is not healthy and cannot do the laundry for others any more. Lately, the nights are cold and she cannot afford to buy a mosquito-net.

The medicine on top of the cabinet seems to be distributed to retard the advance of AIDS. I asked her whether her child was an HIV carrier. Luckily the child is not infected. I asked later the Sister about the possibilities of survival of the mother about 2 years from now on. She also agreed that, most probably, there were zero possibilities. How to take such a situation? Are there any good solutions? All kinds of feelings, like suffocating and powerlessness, irritation and endurance, came into my mind, bringing me into confusion. Then, I heard Sister Mercy inviting me to pray. We took the Bible and prayed quietly, confronting in despair a reality without a way out. These people living in adversity are strong. “Is this faith?” My journey drew finally down its curtain in amazement.

The Present Situation of Refugee Acceptance in Japan

Kogure Yasuhisa S.J. (in regency, Jesuit Social Center)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue:  No. 140 / October 15th, 2007

At the beginning: my regency for the last six months

Six months have already passed since I started my two-year regency at the Jesuit Social Center in April 2007. I began my new social service determined to “see and try,” that is to go out and get involved, to be with the people in the field and get the feeling with my skin of “what is happening.” This is the only way that I can learn. I intuitively know that this kind of observation in the field is God’s call. I am convinced that my mission during regency is to find “the signs of time” with “the people in the field.”

Three years ago the Japanese Province prioritized three important issues in present-day Japan. Among the three, I decided to tackle two; one was “Global Marginalization” and the other “Migration.” The issue of “Global Marginalization” in Japan uncovers up a new growing social gap between “the Haves and the Have-nots” and the existence of the so-called “working poor.” Through neo-liberalistic globalization, “poverty” and “social exclusion” are steadily growing even in a developed nation like Japan. The words, “self-responsibility” and “self-sustenance” often imply the word “social exclusion.” At the scene of the “movement to help the homeless people” by themselves and their supporter, we cannot help noticing the present situation of “unstable employment” in this society such as using “part time workers sent to the working spot temporarily, hour by hour and day by day (so-called spot-haken),” and “the unique refugees who spend the nights at Internet cafes (so-called Internet cafe refugees).” The present government intentionally tries to separate the “issue of homeless people” from the “issue of Internet cafe refugees,” although it is obvious that both have sprung out of the same structural cause.

The issue of migration in Japan includes both “migrants / migrant workers,” and “refugees / applicants for refugee status.” It is a fact that not only executive, judicial and economic circles, but also Japanese society lack consideration for and disregard the human rights of the migrants in Japan. Therefore the migrants are automatically forced to lead hard lives. When I was together with the migrants and their children at the gathering of the “Musubi no kai / group of together-being” in Adachi Ward in Tokyo and another gathering with Kurdish and Burmese applicants for refugee status, I became aware of the very severe, sometimes even cruel, conditions into which they were forced and realized that this inhuman situation was intentionally veiled from public knowledge.
From my six-month survey and through many encounters with various people at the “spots” and events, I can say with confidence that there is a strong connection at the root between the issues of “global marginalization” and “migration.”

Here I report my experiences and encounters with two refugees in Japan relating into what kind of situation they are put. “Refugee Seclusion” — a fact in Japan “Approval of refugee status” is as difficult as passing a rope through the eye of a needle.

What is the policy for refugees in Japan? Refugees are defined as ”those who Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

In short, they are the people who were in peril of their lives in their own countries. This is a very crucial point. In 1981 Japan became a member country of the United Nations with its “Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.” Furthermore Japan became the second largest donor to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees thus appearing in the public eye as if she gave a great contribution to improve the refugee problem in the world. However, Japan in reality is one of the strictest countries to accept refugees as can be seen in the table below. Over the last 25 years there are only 410 persons who have received refugee status based on the “Convention relating to the Status of Refugees,” the so-called “joyaku-nanmin.”

As one can see from the small number of “joyaku-nanmin” gaining “approval of refugee status” is as difficult as passing a rope through the eye of a needle.

There are two reasons for doing nothing. One is a plausible reason and the other the real reason. The official stance is to pose before the international community as a big donor to the UNHCR while camouflaging its real intention to refuse refugee’s entrance to Japan. A symbolic representation of the contradiction is the way that Japan has been recognizing refugees in accordance with the law, “Immigration Service and Recognition of refugee status.” In other words, the officials involved in the administrative branch of Immigration and Residence of Foreign Nationals are also the judges approving or denying refugee status! This fact unfortunately shows that the “refugees who are supposed to be protected” are looked at only as “objects of the administration.” This is a fundamental structural obstacle in Japan.

This deep gap between refusing to admit refugees to Japan and posing before the international community is one of the main causes of tragedies. In short, Japan only appears to be a country protecting refugees based on the “Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.” So many people come wishing to obtain a refugee status in Japan. Of course, there are sometimes other reasons to choose Japan. After they have arrived in Japan they have, on the contrary, been treated like criminals, as illegal entrants/stayers, deprived not only of their right to live, but also of their right to work, and consigned to the detention center, and sent back to their home countries. This is the reality that they have to face in Japan. It is not too harsh to say that it is as if Japan ostensibly opens the door to lure refugees.

As long as such a situation continues in Japan, it is impossible to grasp the real number of refugees and applicants for refugee status in Japan. They are put in such a condition that they cannot even apply for refugee status because they are afraid of arrest, consignment and deportation. How can those who recently came to Japan know the “rule of sixty days” that is, that they have to apply for refugee status within 60 days after their arrival in Japan? [However the rule of 60 days was abolished in May 2005 when the system for approving refugee status was modified…] Many would be refugees actually did miss their chance to apply within 60 days, and then the authorities arrest them as “illegal overstayers / criminals” and confines them. Some people describe this Japanese refugee policy as persecution by assaulting them unawares. A great number of refugees and applicants facing these present severe obstacles wonder of why they ever ended up coming to Japan.

Encounter with many refugees and their supporters

1. The nationwide Japan workshop of the Christian Network for problems that refugees and migrant workers face, the “Nan-Ki-Ren()” — the issue of immigration consignment

I had a chance to meet many refugees and their supporters at the workshop sponsored by Nan-Ki-Ren at the Japan Christian Hall in Nishi-Waseda, Tokyo on the 8th and 9th of June 2007. A total of 110 participated in the workshop: NGO members and the people from Christian churches taking an active part to counsel and support non-detained refugees, some refugees themselves and supporters working for the problems that refugees and migrant face at the three detention centers in Japan. The three centers are Ushiku-city, Ibaragi prefecture, Ibaraki-city, Osaka prefecture and Omura-city, Nagasaki prefecture. The issue of “immigration-detention” was given priority at this meeting. First Dr. Junpei Yamamura of the Yokohama Minato-machi Dispensary related that he has gone to the Ushiku detention center and carried out a survey by listening to refugees detained there since 2001, he had experienced refugee camps as a doctor also in other countries. However, he could interview the refugees only from behind a glass-partition and for a limited time span. Therefore it was impossible for him to check refugees medically. However, various symptoms especially insomnia, then weight loss, lack of appetite, headache, pain all over the body, stomach ache, and tremors could be observed during the interview alone. He reported that all these symptoms are the consequences of their unstable mental conditions caused by confusion, distrust and anger against unjust detention, anxiety or anguish over their unknown future, the daily inhumane treatment, and terror in their hearts from verbal abuse in the center.

On the other hand, at the Minato-machi Dispensary temporarily released refugees are medically examined and screened and if necessary a specialist such as a psychiatrist is asked to further exam them. According to Dr. Yamamura almost all of them suffer from more or less mental depression and psychological disorders such as Psycho-Traumatic Stress-Disease and Acute-Trauma-Stress-Disease. Also physical diseases such as gastritis / duodenal ulcer, lame hips, high blood pressure, and skin disease are reported.

It was evident that medical attention is not given to the refugees at the detention centers: Some questions about the medical doctor at the center were raised. (1)When the refugees complain of) pain, the doctor neither examines nor listens to them, nor explains their sickness to them and gives medication that might have some side effects.(2)At the time of a physical exam, language becomes a big obstacle without an interpreter and there is no communication between the doctor and the refugees (3)Sometimes the doctor shows several different pills and asks a refugee to choose one or two by him / herself. Furthermore the office workers at the center who are not medical personnel give out medication to the refugees.(4)There is no medical screening test, and so the health condition of each refugee is not clear. This was an astonishing report exposing the medical problems from the viewpoint of Dr. Murayama, a medical professional.
Next speaking were those、working for the refugees in the three detention centers. They emphasized the importance of mutual communication and cooperation among themselves. For instance sometimes a detained refugee is suddenly moved from the Ushiku center to the Ohmura center without any advance notice or good reason. For example, Mr. A, a refugee from Burma, was detained in the Ushiku center and started meeting a group of lawyers, his supporters from Tokyo, who came to see him frequently. Then, he was suddenly relocated to the Omura center. We could easily agree that this was done in order to separate him from his lawyers.

Attending were some actual refugees, in the strict sense of the word. Some were former refugees, applicants for refugee status, or those who are in a lawsuit against the denial of refugee status. One was a former refugee who gave up residence in Japan and decided to immigrate to Canada. I cannot forget the vivid appeals from a few、as one by one, they told us how hard life was at the immigration center, and how terrible it is to lose what they used to have. All these testimonies of their bitterness made us ponder what kind of nation Japan has become that it torments them so. As I mentioned before, refugees are the people who came to Japan in order to escape from their own countries where their lives were in danger. Even if they want to go back to their own countries, they cannot. Why does Japan give these already suffering more pain and agony? Their testimonies shocked us very much. There is a cry of appeal to those who impair their human dignity, the dignity of God’s children, and also a cry to Japanese society to recover a humane heart, to convert its way of thinking.

Through the workshop, I was encouraged by the following people: Dr. Junpei Yamamura of the Minato-machi Dispensary, Ms. Kimiko Tanaka of the group concerning the Ushiku Detention Center, Mr. Kenji Iwata of Osaka RINK (Kansai Network to protect the human rights of all the foreign workers and their family members), Pastor Hiroshi Yunohara of Nagasaki International Church in Ohmura, as well as by supporters for refugees, the staff members of the refugee team at Amnesty International Japan, the staff members of NCCJ (National Christian Council in Japan), and many other members of NGOs and Protestant churches who are deeply and compassionately involved in accompanying immigrant workers and refugees. Of course among them there are the members of CTIC, Saitama Diocese and other Catholic groups. At the end of the workshop on the second day the participants declared that they would continue to closely watch the Immigration Office, request the Ministry of Justice and the Immigration office to improve the treatment of refugees at the center, and to strengthen their internal network support.


2. The nationwide workshop of Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan — acceptance of “the view to accept foreign labor workers”

Another workshop of I-Juu-Ren() was held for two days on the 9th and 10th of June 2007 at Showa Women’s University with close to 200 participants. The Nan-Ki-Ren is also a member of I-Juu-Ren. At the workshop several questions were raised over the “view to accept foreign workers,” which the Executive Office, the Cabinet Secretariat, and the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations has proposed. Due the rapid decrease of the number of children, Japan will face a shortage of labor in the near future. To be concrete, they propose an increased acceptance of foreign workers with high technological skill, and a system for training f student apprentices in order to secure the future labor force. They also propose that the administration and control over foreign residents be strengthened. To put it plainly, the government would make a system that would keep able foreign manpower while being able to expel foreign residents at the convenience of the government.

The enactment of the law, in 1985, and several revisions of the law, in 1996, 1999, 2003 of dispatching labor force, that is, labor force in the unsettled labor condition, point out that the workers can be laid off anytime, and the restructure of domestic enterprises made Japan unstable for Japanese labor force. This might be the real reason for wanting a cheap labor force to be brought in from abroad Japan has a very poor concept of human rights and considers foreign workers to be cheap and controllable laborers. This attitude springs from the same roots for the refusal of the human rights of refugees needing protection. A Kurdish family with Turkish nationality, for example, went on a sit-down strike in front of the United Nations University in Tokyo in 2004 and was given mandate to seek refugee status by the UNHCR. However two of the family members were suddenly sent back home by the Japanese government. Many refugees and immigrant workers, members of NGOs and individual supporters were shocked at the “poor sense of human rights of the Japanese government.”

Turkish-Kurdish refugees — Mr. Eldar Dogan’s family 

Although the Kurdish family of four is in danger in Turkey and has a high level of refugee status, the close political relation between the Japanese and Turkish governments is behind the fact that none of 778 people, most of them Kurdish, are give refugee status in Japan. This shows a factual and deep gap between the Japanese regulations for giving refugee status and the UN refugee convention. The family, finally, left Japan for Canada, a third country, on July 10, 2007. They had been denied refugee status, had not been given permission to work, and their pride had been impaired. They spent their days in Japan being repeatedly detained and released. Mr. Dogan, who had a strong desire to live in Japan, left for Canada with saying “I have had enough of Japan.” His last words are imprinted deeply in my mind and will stay with me forever.

Encounter with Mr. K, a Burmese Refugee, at his talk in Sophia University.

I got acquainted with Mr. K through Professor Yamamura. In 1988 the Burmese military Junta began shooting and clamping down on students and others who appealed to the junta for the democratization of Burma. At that time Mr. K. was a public servant in Rangoon and with his colleagues took part in the movement for democratization. Later on, the junta discovered this and, his colleagues were fired one by one. He felt himself to be in danger and decided to leave Burma arriving in Japan in 1990.

I wanted young college students to listen to his talk about his ordeal in Burma and his present life in Japan. Therefore, I got in touch with Fr. Semoto asking to give a chance for Mr. K to talk to his class in July, 2007. That day I also invited to Mr. K’s talk Dr. Yamamura, who had introduced me to Mr. K., the members of the Refugee Team of Amnesty International Japan, and the members of Burmese Citizens Forum. Mr. K. told us the following.

In Myanmar there are government spies at every place of work watching the workers and their activities. People who are arrested go through a cruel interrogation under torture. The oppressed in many different minority groups in Burma are killed and raped. It is a concrete fact that violations of human rights are everyday events under the Junta.He also talked about his hard life in Japan, having to do hard labor to survive after his arrival. He could not get a work permit while applying for a refugee status. Does that mean that he is supposed to live on air? He could not, of course, get any government social security and health insurance. In the meantime, he got sick and he had to pay expensive medical fees, entirely from his own pocket. In fact he had a major operation and has been paying for it ever since. Japan gives Japanese nationality only to a baby of a Japanese parent, based on the blood line. Therefore, a baby born in Japan but from foreign parents cannot get Japanese nationality. Mr. K’s baby born in Japan is without nationality.

In spite of Mr. K’s hard life, he has been giving financial and material support to his fellow countrymen, those who also have a difficult time in Japan and those internally displaced in Burma. His deeds speak to us without words the “truth” that only those who suffer can give compassion to their suffering neighbors.

At the end of his talk he begged the students and others in the classroom that he is allowed to live in Japan as a refugee until he can go back to Burma and lead a safe life there. This one simple sentence of his appeal deeply touched each one of us and was more powerful than the appeal from his supporters. Some responses by the students were, “I did not know before what was happening in Burma.”, “I, for the first time, realized the hardship of the refugees in Japan.” “His talk made me ponder over our Japanese society.” I hope that the students who listened to Mr. K’s talk would get interested in and pay more attention to the recent violence by the Junta toward the demonstrating Buddhist monks and people in Burma.

This is not only a problem concerning refugees, but one instance of the present situation where “exploited people” are segregated and eliminated from this society, without letting the public know about it. When we listen to the cry of the less privileged people, their cry reaches us as if it is the voice of God; touching our conscience and giving us a grace-filled opportunity to receive precious knowledge. The most important point is that we have to make efforts to listen to this “small voice” in order to build a society where everyone can have a happy life, in a society rooted in God’s kingdom of love.

25 Years of Jesuit Refugee Service: Past & Future

Fr. Ando Isamu, SJ (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue:  No. 129  /  December 15th, 2005.

On 21 October 2005, JRS held a press conference to mark 25 years of service to forcibly displaced persons, in the Institute Maria S.S. Bambina, Rome.
Fr Lluis Magrina SJ, JRS International Director, provided an overview of forced displacement and JRS activities worldwide. He presented two new books on spirituality and education, which reflect on the way JRS has accompanied, served and advocated for the rights of refugees through life, death, hope and difficulties for 25 years.
The two books by ex-JRS staff were presented at the conference with a short explanation.God In Exile: towards a shared spirituality with Refugees was presented by Fr Pablo Alonso SJ. He described how the book seeks to give meaning to the rich spirituality that underlines the journey in exile and the specific JRS response. It is a practical book, echoing the structure of JRS, and always reflecting on people’s experience. “We must deepen our spirituality in order to find God in camps, detention centers and closed borders. A shared desire for a better world brings hope, a gift that refugees can offer”, said Fr Alonso SJ.

Horizons of learning: 25 years of JRS education was presented by Sr Lolin Menendez RSCJ. “Education can give displaced people hope, and in this sense it is as important as food, shelter and water. A time of exile can be used to provide skills and a sense of future in a terrible situation. Education is not just about schools, books and academic learning. Programs such as education about conflict resolution are very useful, and can mobilize leadership, monitor human rights abuses and even improve health. The book is a celebration of efforts made by refugees to educate their children or themselves. It also celebrates JRS workers worldwide who believe in the power of education,” said Sr Menendez RSCJ. On 14 November 1980 when Fr General Pedro Arrupe SJ called on Jesuits to establish a service to accompany, serve and advocate for refugee rights, there were 16 million refugees in the world. Jesuits accompanied Vietnamese boat people and provided humanitarian assistance and education services. Today, with 50 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, the context in which JRS works has changed dramatically and the number and scope of services provided has increased radically.

While I am writing this article a letter from Jesuit General, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, addressed to all Jesuits on the 25th anniversary of JRS has just arrived.

On 21 October 2005, a Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated at the Church of Gesu (Rome). In the homily Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao said (excerpts): “People still follow Jesus the Messiah. They believe in the value of non-violence, instead of killing children. They accept sacrifices instead of giving in and watering down values of truth and love. They are convinced that Yahweh God will realize a full life for people, through his power, becoming visible in people and their attitudes; through our hands and the hands of those who will follow. And his word comes to us: Today, I call you, my daughter, my son, from Egypt.
We all are here because we responded to that call, in one way or another. We remember with gratitude the twenty-five years of service of JRS. In perseverance and with faithfulness they remained in difficult situations. An organization that is alive and present with so many displaced people. The Jesuit Refugee Service is a blessing for them and enrichment for those who share in their experiences.

JRS directly engages with people at grass roots, being at their side, looking into their eyes and listening to their stories. In camps where food security is threatened, with youngsters in educational projects, in protective places where women at risk are counseled, in detention centers visiting innocent people, with Christian communities coming together to celebrate the hopes and sorrows of daily life. A future has to be realized. That same attitude brings the Jesuit Refugee Service also in the corridors of the United Nations and the European Union. To tackle the causes of the problems, to lobby, to be involved in advocacy and to persuade politicians or civil servants so that signs of hope are realized for those who do not have a voice. Indeed, that is the Jesuit Refugee Service at work. They are an example of faith-centered action which is an inspiring example for many to follow.
Bringing individuals together, in dedicated service, seemingly powerless, but prepared to go his way, following Jesus the Messiah. Believing that together with others it is possible to realize signs of that Kingdom. I hope and pray that we remain such people. After all ‘the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the women and men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way oppressed, these are the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties, of the followers of Jesus Christ.'”

Bangkok, the origin of the Regional office of JRS fully involved in its beginning with Vietnamese Boat People, Cambodian and Laotian refugees celebrated quietly the 25th anniversary of JRS. A Jesuit of the JRS team there reflecting on his experiences says: “One thing is clear: refugees are dangerous people. All governments instinctively realize this fact. Why else do nations and their media treat refugees as unwanted criminals, the source of all evils in the countries they enter?

Once they enter your life, as they did mine, they change a person, as they did me. They challenge deeply held, albeit probably largely unexamined, assumptions and presumptions. Just by being who they are, refugees will discover for you that many of these assumptions and presumptions are empty of true value, and even full of unseen violence. Let a refugee enter your life and touch it, a person will no longer be able, without terrible violence to the self, to view the world and its mechanisms from the comfortable viewpoint of before.

Refugees rewrite the history of the world, from the point of view of the dispossessed and powerless. Refugees enable people, like me, to begin to re-configure our own lives, again from the point of view of the disadvantaged, unwanted and marginalized.
Refugees are dangerous because they mediate conversion, change. And personal change implies change in all and every aspect of life. For many, this is a most disturbing reality.

This is, of course, a highly charged spiritual process of conversion and of subsequent adjustment to the call of that Divine Reality Christians call ‘The Father.’ Other faith traditions and other people of good will have their own ways of referring to this personal experience. The call is to see every human being as a sister or brother, children of the same ‘Father’, to remove violence far from ourselves.

Refugees reveal the sin of the world, and what the violence of sin does to human beings, ourselves included. Refugees reveal the structural sin embedded in the world’s contemporary systems, be they political, economic, military, educational, social, medical, etc. Despite the good efforts of so many good, intelligent, well-qualified and well-motivated people using their talents and their efforts to improve society, refugees reveal the rottenness at the heart of all systems. Above all refugees reveal, to those who dare to be touched by them, the complicity, again often not noticed, of all people, myself included, in this sin of the world. Refugees reveal a task still to be accomplished.

So, my refugee friends, whom I deeply admire for your incredible courage, resilience, creativity and humanity, a huge ‘Thank you.’ Your retention of your own humanity despite your often appalling treatment and experiences, is, for me, a mystery of the power of God’s tremendous loving compassion in your lives, and is a challenge to a world so clearly in need of loving compassion. I thank my Jesuit superiors and JRS for allowing me the opportunity to meet you, to know you, and to be touched by you. Above all, thank you, my refugee friends, for befriending me.”

On 15 October, a gathering of ninety present and past JRS workers came together at River View College in Sydney to celebrate 25 years of accompanying, serving and defending the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced people. It was an evening for sharing reflections and reconnecting with old friends.

But the night was also tinged with sadness. Currently, 50 million people worldwide are forced to move from their homes either within their own country or across national borders. The goal of Fr Pedro Arrupe was to establish an organization that would provide practical, unobtrusive assistance to people displaced by the Indochinese war. When JRS was founded there were 16 million refugees worldwide: as that population has expanded year by year, so has the work of JRS. Fr Mark Raper SJ, International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service from 1990 to 2000, spoke at the JRS dinner. In his talk, Mark recalled refugees and volunteers who had helped shape the spirit of JRS.

He reiterated the philosophy that drives the organization, a style that begins in accompanying refugees, and shapes its service and advocacy from that accompaniment. It also sets out to work where there are few resources and where the greatest need is.

“Discussion and the search for solutions on migration issues must start by recognizing its human aspects,” said Fr Michael Schoepf SJ, Assistant Director, JRS Europe, addressing a conference on ‘Migration in Europe: Political Vision for Change in European Societies on 21 October at Institute Maria SS Bambina in Rome. The Conference was organized to mark the 25th anniversary of JRS.

Ms Angela Martini, European Commission Directorate for Justice, Liberty and Security, a main speaker at the Conference stressed the three European priorities of the Hague Program, as it is known: a clear consolidation of legal immigration, which would involve securing legal status for all regular migrants; a fight against irregular immigration involving the strengthening of European Union borders and more cooperation between migrants’ countries of origin and the EU member states; and a safe and generous asylum policy.

After congratulating JRS on 25 years of service to refugees, her contribution concentrated on what she called the ´asylum-migration-development nexus´, meaning the difficulty of distinguishing between migrants and asylum seekers, and the importance of working together with refugee producing countries on development policies to combat the reasons why people flee. She also saw integration of asylum seekers and refugees as important. To this end, she supported policies that allow asylum seekers to work.

The origin of JRS is closely linked to the issue of Vietnamese Boat People and although Japan was never willing to accept refugees as many other industrial countries did, she has been very generous in providing financial assistance especially to UNHCR and other international organizations caring for refugees. As regards our Japanese Jesuit Province it is worthy to note that around the time JRS was starting to get organized, first the Asian Relations Center of Sophia University (Tokyo) and later on the University itself became actively involved in the issue of Khmer and Vietnamese refugees sheltered in the temporary camps of Thailand. Under the leadership of the University at the time, many students had the opportunity to work as volunteers in those refugee camps for short periods of time. Although this program had a short life many young people were able to experience how miserable the life of refugees was. The camps degraded people humanly and spiritually. Thousands of displaced persons were refused the status of refugees, treated as illegal occupants and even evicted from a few feet of beach to sit or lay their heads. Refugees are political beggars and they are deprived of the most elementary human right. Two publications of the Asian Relations Center: “Documentary: BOAT PEOPLE, Today’s Untouchables” (1978) and “REFUGEES, the Cry of the Indochinese” (1980) recall in vivid images the tragic situations that provoked the establishment of JRS by the Jesuits. At present the Institute for the Study of Social Justice of Sophia University keeps contacts with JRS in Africa where sponsors some programs for refugees there. The Institute also sporadically has held some international symposia on world refugee issues.

The Jesuit Social Center of Tokyo, the liaison office for JRS in Japan, has been deeply involved with various JRS programs in East Asia mainly through the Regional office in Bangkok (Thailand) and has promoted national campaigns in Japan against anti-personal landmines in collaboration with JRS Cambodia. The center promotes independent development programs in Vietnam and Cambodia together with other Japanese groups. In Japan, as well, has been involved with advocacy activities for refugees and displaced persons from the Indochina region living in Japan. At present because of the serious situation of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers that are now working in Japan one of the main focuses of our work is their pastoral care and advocacy tasks.

(This article was edited from the reports on the site of JRS International.
For further information see

A short history of JRS Asia Pacific

Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 99 / December 20th, 2000

The history of JRS Asia Pacific begins in the lives and work of Jesuits already involved with refugees in the region in the 1970’s. By 1979 the plight of vast numbers of refugees in Africa and Asia had reached a critical point and was arousing ever greater worldwide sympathy. Fr Pedro Arrupe, as Superior General, was clear that the Society of Jesus had to respond to this emergency. His letter of November 1980 to all Major Superiors of the Society of Jesus became the foundation document of the Jesuit Refugee Service. In the late 70’s and early 80’s some ten Jesuits around Asia were already working directly with refugees in camps. In September 1982 Mark Raper was appointed to coordinate JRS in Asia and the Pacific. This included all of South Asia, which was later to become a separate JRS Region.

Prior to Fr Arrupe’s letter of 1980 some Jesuits had been working with displaced persons in their own country. Thus after the Indonesian invasion of December 1975, Joao Felgueras, Jose Martins and Daniel Coelho served the people of East Timor.

Others had found new demands placed on their already generous commitments by the arrival of Indochinese refugees. In Macao, for example, Luis Ruiz, whose generosity to Chinese refugees was already almost legendary, extended his work to welcome the Vietnamese as well. Other Jesuits worked with refugees in Hong Kong on a part time basis.

After refugees began to arrive in greater numbers in the countries neighboring Vietnam. Laos and Cambodia, some Jesuits offered themselves for pastoral work among them. The heaviest concentration of Jesuits working with refugees was in Thailand. Some Jesuits had gone there during the crisis of the 1979, while others had answered the call for the short-term volunteers in 1980. The number of Jesuits involved and the variety in their vision made them particularly important in the subsequent shaping of JRS.

In South Asia around this time large numbers of-Afghan refugees had settled inside the borders of Pakistan and Iran. In Sri Lanka many people were forced from their homes in 1983, when the ethnic Singalese reacted violently to armed campaigns by the ‘Jaffna’ Tamils. In other countries less affected by the immediate influx of refugees. Jesuits had been drawn into the lives of refugees by their research or advocacy. Ando Isamu in Japan was involved in community education, and through a social institute focussed Japanese concern upon the plight of refugees. In Indonesia, Fr. Hardaputranta, who carried the responsibility for coordinating the care for East Timorese refugees on behalf of the Indonesian Catholic Church, was involved with Indochinese refugees from the beginning through the Bishops Institute for Social Research and Development. The interest of Australian Jesuits in refugees was awakened and encouraged by Asian Bureau Australia (ABA) under the direction of Mark Raper.

A meeting was held in Bangkok on August 6, 1981 between Fr. Arrupe and all the Jesuits in Thailand – both those of the region and those who had come to work with refugees. It came at an opportune time, for out of it came a broad framework within which Jesuits would work with refugees in Thailand. It also left open many of the larger questions. At the meeting Fr. Arrupe commended the work already undertaken, and supported strongly the desire of the participants that the work should continue in some form. He recognized the delicacy of the work in a volatile political climate, and also the demands that the commitment to refugees would make on an already thinly stretched Thai Jesuit community. He insisted that Jesuits working with refugees should cooperate with others and particularly with non-Christian groups. He was aware that charges of ideological bias might be made against Jesuits, but accepted the risk as part of the cost of any worthwhile enterprise. After this meeting, the Jesuit commitment to refugees in Thailand took shape and began to expand.

The plight of the boat people only worsened during the 1980s. The number of refugees fleeing from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia grew enormously. At the same time, commitments through the JRS expanded in the camps in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Philippines. Most projects were concerned with education, technical training, pastoral formation and health.

The period that followed the establishment of the Office of JRS Asia Pacific in Bangkok was one of consolidation. It concluded late in 1989 with the appointment of Tom Steinbugler to replace Mark Raper as the Regional Director of JRS Asia Pacific. Mark had been chosen to replace Dieter Scholz in Rome. JRS Asia Pacific still supported the Jesuit work with refugees in Sri Lanka and India. Elsewhere, lrie Duane and [Lizzie Finnerty] undertook a small commitment to Afghanistan refugees in Pakistan at the end of 1989. The meeting at Chachoengsao in Thailand in November 1989 perhaps pointed to the future directions of JRS. The meeting sent Mark Raper to Rome to replace Dieter Scholz and welcomed Tom Steinbugler as director of JRS-AP.

As the 1990’s began the work of JRS included very large programs and large numbers of personnel. JRS was perhaps the only NGO represented in every one of the many camps that had grown up around the region. By this time the governments involved in giving shelter and resettlement to Vietnamese refugees had decided to bring the crisis to an end by naming a cut-off date for new arrivals, and instituting a screening process to distinguish between refugees and non-refugees (the Comprehensive Plan of Action). ‘Screened-out’ asylum seekers were to be repatriated. This was a time for JRS to discern how it could best accompany the many groups of refugees who were destined for repatriation. The anxiety and needs created by the Comprehensive Plan of Action created a need for counseling and for competent legal advice. Accordingly, from 1990, JRS established programs of legal and social counseling. Many young lawyers volunteered their time and expertise to help refugees.

At the same time a program to monitor the condition of people returning to Vietnam was begun in Ho Chi Minh City. Even before the Cambodian refugees returned home in 1993, JRS programs were begun in Cambodia. They built on many years experience gained in the camps, particularly in work with the handicapped, including mine victims. The work in Cambodia was conceived as a service to much-needed national reconciliation.

As the screening process concluded and the Vietnamese asylum seekers were either repatriated or resettled, Tom Steinbugler handed over to Quentin Dignam as Regional Director early in 1994. Quentin presided over the downscaling of JRS programs with Indochinese and the withdrawal of JRS workers as these camps were closed. As the JRS work in Cambodia was clearly a work of development rather than a commitment specifically to refugees, responsibility was transferred from the JRS to the Jesuit Service Cambodia and to the Jesuit Provinces of Asia in 1995. In June 1993 Fr Vincent Mooken was appointed as the first Director for the new JRS Region of South Asia, although JRS Asia Pacific maintained responsibility for JRS programs with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal until the end of 1997.

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s refugees from Burma fled the risk of imprisonment, torture and death. In 1988 some 7,000 students had left Burma to seek refuge in Thailand or to set up camps in territory effectively controlled by minority tribes. In the year 2000 there are over 120,000 refugees from Burma living in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. There are hundreds of thousands more victims of the Burmese junta displaced inside Burma or living precarious lives as illegal migrant workers in neighboring countries.

Steve Curtin took over from Quentin Dignam as Regional Director in January l997. Steve continued the work that Quentin had been doing to strengthen JRS programs with refugees from Burma taking refuge in Thailand. Around our region in the year 2000 we see countries in various stages of growth away from totalitarianism towards greater liberalization and democracy but the cost is high and in some places the progress is painfully slow. In 2000 with new and massive forced displacements having occurred in Indonesia and East Timor, JRS Asia Pacific is continuing new programs in both those countries. Andre Sugijopranoto from the Indonesian Province will take over as Regional Director from 1 Jan 2001 with responsibility for projecting the concern of the Society of Jesus for displaced people into the Asia Pacific region which includes China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia and other Pacific island states.

JRS is very grateful to be able to harness the skills and resources of many workers, Jesuits, friends and benefactors in touching the lives of displaced people in the Asia Pacific region. Regional Directors have come and gone but the refugees and their long term friends in the Regional Office and at Suan Phlu, Phnom Penh and other places near and far are the heroes of JRS Asia Pacific.

Perhaps the end of this short history of JRS Asia Pacific is the place to remember some of our workers who have died whilst serving with JRS. In November 1985 shortly after the office moved to Bangkok, Neil Callahan died. He had been unwell at Phanat Nikhom, was diagnosed as terminally ill when he returned to the United States, and eventually died after a prolonged and painful illness.

At the beginning of 1988, Surimart Chalemsook (Look Nut) died. She had given herself tirelessly in giving life to JRS workers during the time she worked in the office. She had then begun herself to find a rich life in the border camps. She was killed in a road accident on the Chonburi road. At the beginning of the next year Bill Yeomens also died after a short illness.

Ma Yee Yee Htun was not a JRS worker but a refugee who grew very close to the hearts of the JRS Bangkok team in 1989. Yee Yee fell ill at the Burmese border and was nursed at the JRS Office in Bangkok until her death aged 29 in January l990. In 1992 Sr Carmelita Hannan RSJ fell ill soon after arriving to work with JRS in Thailand. She died from cancer in Melbourne soon afterwards.

In 1996 Richie Fernando SJ, aged 26 years, was killed by a hand grenade released by a student in the Jesuit Service technical school for the handicapped near Phnom Penh. On 11 September 1999 the JRS East Timor Director, Fr Karl Albrecht was killed in Dili, Fr Dewanto a newly ordained priest was killed on September 6th in the massacre in Suai where he had been sent to help the Parish Priest to minister to thousands of people seeking refuge in the church.

These deaths were all tragedies. But they also brought home sharply what is involved in refugee life. They were experienced as a call to share the life of refugees. They recalled the prolonged agony of life and the way in which so many refugees experience life as a slow process of dying. They recalled the precariousness of refugee life, where sickness, violence and war always threaten. They recalled finally the extraordinary courage by which many refugees contrive a generous life out of wholly inadequate materials.