The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an international organisation affiliated with the Catholic Church, was founded in 1980 under the responsibility of the Society of Jesus. Its mission is to “Accompany, Serve and Defend” refugees forced into displacement and any migrants in particularly vulnerable situations, and it is currently represented in around 50 countries.
In Portugal, JRS was created in 1992 and, since then, we have supported our beneficiaries in the following areas: social support, psychological support, medical and medication support, legal support, professional training, guidance and support towards employment, providing accommodation for homeless immigrants in particularly vulnerable social situations (Pedro Arrupe Centre) and supporting detained immigrants (Santo António Residential Unit). JRS has also been on the front line for Relocating and Resettling refugees in Portugal, through its role as institution responsible for the Technical Secretariat at the Platform to Support Refugees (PAR), as a hosting entity for several families at independent accommodation and through its presence in the Temporary Refugee Welcome Centre (CATR), a space run by the Lisbon Municipal Council. Within these programmes, JRS followed, either directly or indirectly, 60% of the refugees hosted in Portugal since 2015.
In our service centre, in Lisbon, we provide support to around 1,300 people per year who need help with their social, legal and socio-professional issues. On average, the JRS receives 40 people per day looking for social support, psychological support, medical and medication support, legal support and job integration and training support.
JRS receives 40 people per day looking for social, psychological, medical and legal support, as well as job integration and training support.
Every day, JRS works actively towards the vision of a society defined by a culture of hospitality which is enriching to all and where migrants, particularly the most vulnerable, may find the necessary conditions to participate actively as fully-recognised citizens and may have access to the necessary means to become independent. The values which have guided our actions include compassion, hope, solidarity, hospitality, justice and participation.
Today, due to the humanitarian crisis we have been witnessing, JRS’s role and mission have been facing new and greater challenges, namely in terms of employability of this part of the population. One of the main problems faced by those who come to JRS is lack of training and skills which leads, more often than not, to unemployment. Other causes of unemployment include social exclusion, barriers in communication and low self-esteem which, ultimately, lead to financial dependency, inactivity, mental health issues and social exclusion. These consequences bear real impact not only in the lives of the people they directly affect, but also in the societies where they are inserted, especially as far as waste of human capital and talent is concerned.
In order to address this scenario, the JRS Academy has been investing in greater self-sufficiency for immigrants and refugees, according to their life goals, by developing several training and empowering projects which promote their integration in the job market through acquiring several skills and, more importantly, which promote the potential and talent of those who seek our support. The project’s strategy is based on three main stages: personal development, which includes developing soft skills, learning Portuguese and encouraging self-knowledge and self-esteem; on-the-job training, which promotes learning within a real working environment, in collaboration with several partners, and which provides multiple tools which can be used in a future work position; and employability, the stage when JRS continues to accompany and support these people in their job search and after they have been employed.
Over the last 5 years, we helped 1,517 people find jobs and the Academy provided training to 1,139 immigrants and refugees. However, this journey could not have been taken alone. These figures would have been impossible without JRS’s partners, especially for the on-the-job training stage. In 2014, the need to include other agents, especially from the private sector, led us to invite the Jerónimo Martins Group to collaborate with us. Since then, we have already developed three projects together: Capacitação4Job, Capacitação4Refugees and Integra+. In total, together we trained around 80 people, young and adult immigrants and/or refugees who otherwise might never have experienced recognition of their value.
The experience we shared confirmed the idea that only by getting several stakeholders involved in the integration process can lead us to reflect on its success. What we have witnessed, in this and other projects, is that these people are motivated, honour their commitments and show great determination in working for and contributing to their hosting societies. At a time when the subject of migrants and refugees has divided opinions, especially about the real capacity of societies to integrate these people, our experience in the field tells us that investing in the potential and not wasting the talent of those who escape war and conflict, or who merely seek a better life, can really be a process where everybody wins.