Accompanying refugees since 1980
In 1980 JRS was founded by Pedro Arrupe SJ, the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, to respond to the plight of Vietnamese refugees.
Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled their homes at end of the Vietnam War in 1975, setting out in overcrowded boats across the South China Sea. Many of those “boat people” did not survive the journey; they were killed by pirates or drowned. Fr Arrupe felt compelled to respond. He called on the Jesuits “to bring at least some relief to such a tragic situation.”
Fr Arrupe wrote to over 50 Jesuit provinces regarding the situation, recognising that the Jesuits, then numbering 27,000 men across the world, were well-placed to coordinate a global humanitarian response. JRS rapidly grew from helping Vietnamese boat people in a few camps in Southeast Asia to working with refugees around the world.
JRS was officially registered as a foundation of the Vatican City State on 19 March 2000.
JRS in Europe
A decade after JRS’ initial founding, the fall of the Iron Curtain encouraged a rise in East-West migration in Europe. In addition, war in the former Yugoslavia led many people to seek asylum in Western European countries. Between 1989 and 1992, across Europe, asylum applications increased from 320,000 to 695,000.
Eddy Jadot SJ quickly responded to Arrupe’s call within the European context. He founded JRS Europe in 1992, which was established as an international organisation, legally recognized by the European institutions. One year later, Stjepan Kusan SJ founded JRS Southeast Europe to specifically provide emergency relief and reconciliation programmes for those fleeing violence and ethnic cleansing.
Today, the network of JRS in Europe extends to 23 countries, with each office able to respond to the needs of diverse national contexts while continuing to uphold the foundational mission of JRS – to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and others who are forcibly displaced.
JRS in Romania
Due to the growing number of refugees in Romania, a JRS center became necessary.
JRS Romania started its activities in 1996 as the National Office of the JRS Europe Regional Office based in Brussels.
JRS Romania had at that time a missionary priest from Belgium and a young student ready to take on a serious challenge. In Romania, the Jesuits responsible for the regional office have decided to address the needs of so many refugees arriving from Congo, Sudan, and Iraq. They also want to raise awareness of their plight in Romanian society.
With the consistent assistance of the French and English speaking Catholic communities in Bucharest, the work began in the basement of the French Church in Bucharest. This parish service was constantly improving and, in 1999, became an official humanitarian assistance program recognized by the Romanian authorities, which was able to serve thousands of people.
Every year, thousands of refugees and displaced persons arrive in Romania from all over the world.
The first were young Christians from Southern Sudan who were persecuted for their religion. Many Congolese immigrated after them during the civil war. Our concerns were intertwined with those of other Christian communities and organisations. This is how, next to the French Church in Bucharest, a small working point of JRS Europe was born. In 1996, we were included in the European JRS structure" (Fr Luc Duquenne SJ, former President of JRS Romania).
In 2000, JRS Romania became a non-governmental organisation according to national legislation.
In 2002, the Pedro Arrupe Social Service Centre was born, bringing hope, shelter, and a new path for migrants.
Through all of these years, thousands of refugees and migrants have received some form of support, including social, educational, and material support.
In time, more and more new issues have arisen, and the organization's activities have had to evolve through a constant search for solutions that would improve the socio-economic and legal situation of refugees and migrants.
Many of the solutions have been achieved with the support of other organizations in Romania and abroad, and through effective collaboration with Romanian institutions competent in the field. Lastly, we owe our success to the dedicated efforts of people who support our organization. Hundreds of people visit the JRS center or other locations where we work, demonstrating that our services are of high quality.