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A new way of being present

(Mae Hong Son, Thailand) – When I was a novice in Scotland many years ago, our novice master faced the challenges of directing young men in the Jesuit way of life, but at a time when the world and the Church were going through profound changes. The end of the 1960s brought the Paris revolution of the young, and the Church was still grappling with the implications of its engagement with the world after Vatican II. In our little retreat he passed on the values that had kept him and his contemporaries fairly sheltered from such turbulence. His advice about how to "exit" after giving retreats, for example, was based on the premise not even to send a greetings postcard to a retreatant. Though this was his public advice, thankfully for his own sanity he didn’t subscribe to the practice himself. Had he been alive a decade later he would have been entirely happy with the idea of accompaniment as part of a Jesuit work – that of JRS’ triple mission of accompaniment, service and advocacy on behalf of the forcibly displaced, and happy with the notion that such accompaniment could be long-term, constant and mutually fulfilling. 
Although Jesuit Refugee Service had its official birth as one of Arrupe’s last initiatives in 1980, Jesuits had been involved in refugee and displaced ministry from the start of their history. Ignatius, their founder, had attracted the attention of the Dominican Inquisition in Spain: his teachings to them seemed dangerously heretical, and they claimed Ignatius was a refugee in Rome fleeing from their investigations. After their arrival in Rome in 1537 the early companions of Ignatius were confronted with a severe famine and harsh winter such that many people fled to Rome for help, and among them were the sick and dying. Ignatius was given the use of a house where initially 400 were cared for, but this number later grew to more than 3000. All this while the companions were going through the discernment exercise to found the Society of Jesus in spite of considerable Vatican opposition.  
After the Society was founded in 1540, Ignatius continued to urge his followers to have concern for the poor, neglected, and those others who had been forgotten or ignored. While he was General, Ignatius’ own style of assistance, whether it be to prostitutes, beggars, or displaced poor from the countryside, was always discreet, considerate and aimed at long-term sustainability through persuading others to get involved in the work. 
Like the rest of the world in late 1979, Arrupe was struck by the plight of the Vietnamese boat people, but rather than talk and offer symbolic gestures he wanted the Jesuits to be involved in a practical way. His style of governance had been to listen to many shades of opinion on the social questions of his time before issuing guidance to Jesuits and others. A similar model of consultation was initiated before the Jesuit Refugee Service was established in 1980. In the beginning it was seen as a network, intended to be of help to those Jesuits already in the refugee apostolate, and to encourage others to assist, but soon the interventions and the structures grew in response to need. 

When JRS started there were about five million refugees – later we recognized and counted other groups of dispossessed people not categorized in 1980: for example, 26 million IDPs and some 12 million stateless persons. However JRS never lost the sense that it is a small organization whose mission is not to be involved in massive humanitarian interventions but rather to offer a different, personalist service that has its foundation in the experience of Ignatius and the early companions – a service of accompaniment of those who are displaced.

by Fr. Joe Hampson, S.J.
Jesuit Refugee Service — Thailand

  • Foundation of JRS
  • Characteristics - 1
  • Characteristics - 2
  • Characteristics - 3
  • Characteristics - 3 continued
  • Whom do we accompany
  • Conclusion and Footnotes
Accompaniment as foundation of JRS work

The etymology of accompaniment is that of breaking bread with someone, and so it is built on the twin ideas of hospitality and sharing a meal. The biblical roots clearly demonstrate this twin foundation as a religious duty. The story of Job declaring that every sojourner will not pass the night without shelter (Job 31:32), I was a stranger and you took me in, says the Jesus of Matthew 25, and Lydia’s insistence in offering hospitality to Paul’s companions when they came to Philippi to establish the first Christian community in Europe – "she would have no opposition" (Acts 16:15) – all point to the centrality of the New Testament law, to love one another as I have loved you, not contradicting but building upon the Deutoronomical injunction to love the stranger (Dt 10:19). Offering hospitality to strangers is not always a natural instinct, if we reflect on the current hysterical outbursts from politicians and opportunists who rail against the threat from outside, the danger from overseas, problem of the stranger-in-our-midst, the security risk from the foreigner, the menace of the Muslim, the spread of the terrorist. Modern discourse even at times seems to contradict the very value of spontaneous and natural offering of hospitality and accompaniment, arguing that modernity and security both require these values to be overlooked in favor of protectionism and isolationism.

Accompaniment then is quite topical, and it is one of the central ideas of JRS:  it is both a dimension of all the work undertaken, as well as a specific sectoral activity. "JRS is an international Catholic organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced people." [JRS Charter, #9]. Interestingly, the Charter document was not finalized until some twenty years after its foundation, whereas most organizations have their charter document as the basis of their initial foundation. JRS preferred to use an Ignatian methodology of see-judge-act in the beginning, by building on experience that is reflected upon, keeping the structures light, and preferring to "facilitate the involvement of individuals and communities" first, thereafter "promoting regional and global cooperation and networking on behalf of refugees”, and only thirdly and lastly to "undertake services at national and regional levels with the support of an international office in Rome" [Charter, #9] Even these services provided by JRS to refugees are concentrated locally, with the headquarters merely taking on a support role. Colleagues from other NGOs were always amazed when I described JRS structure, for it seemed to them strange that a Jesuit organization could be so decentralized in the matter of, say, finance. Almost all international NGOs would have much more centralized systems of finance, fundraising and accounting.

As well as the distinctive feature of decentralization, a key feature of JRS that marks it out from other humanitarian NGOs is the focus on accompaniment. Accompaniment has three overlapping and mutually reinforcing aspects: 1) it is the critical intersect between faith and humanitarian action, 2) it is an expression of essential attitudes within JRS, and 3) it makes unique structural and programmatic demands on  the work undertaken by JRS. 

The religious-humanitarian intersect

• Accompaniment as companion on a journey  

It is clear from their common etymology that companionship is an important part of accompaniment. In addition this friendship is one shared on a journey, when both are experiencing similar events, when there is no stability, as a journey implies a loss of familiar in travel towards the unknown. In such uncertainty and instability the practice of hospitality and welcome is doubly appreciated. We live in a world that has so many contradictions – greater wealth than ever before in human history, yet more poverty and inequality; instant global communications, yet increased fear of outsiders and the stranger; more goods, services and money passing across the world, but greater restrictions on movement of labour, in spite of the modern economy’s need for a more mobile supply of workers. In this contradiction, the act of accompaniment can reach out beyond categorizations and stereotypes to offer pure friendship. 

• Accompaniment as an Ignatian value 

In the Spiritual Exercises the exercitant is encouraged to have a global perspective, viewing the world in one exercise through the eyes of the Divine Trinity, but is also challenged to accept the concrete challenge of fighting for the Kingdom. This meditative approach in action can often be best expressed in accompaniment, for in the accompaniment of JRS we strive to stand alongside the poor in the spirit of Jesus, with humility. An exercitant following the Exercises also engages in spiritual conversation with the director, a type of conversation where the retreatant is led to discover his true self and his values in a new and deeper way through shared conversation during the director’s accompaniment.  

• Accompaniment as the struggle for peace and for justice 

If our work in accompaniment is that of expressing commitment to the common good, it also entails a very real commitment to the faith that does justice (GC XXXIV, Decree 4). This justice demands an end to the unequal and exploitative relationships within communities and across nations, so that a believer can never rest content with the status quo when that situation is exploitative and unjust. Unfortunately sometimes humanitarian action in its work for peace and justice can be a force that destroys local structures and local civil society. The unintended consequences of humanitarian intervention may exacerbate unjust structures rather than challenge them. 

The $456 million UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has been cited as an example, where displaced indigenous efforts to rebuild Kosovar society were overwhelmed with an overpowering influence of foreign military forces and international aid. One analyst wrote, “[R]econstruction would have been put on a more solid footing if it had been built around civil society instead of humanitarian commodities and services,” noting that Kosovar doctors, teachers, and police officials could earn up to ten times more money by working as a drivers, guards, or interpreters for international agencies than they could at their own professions. “The ultimate net impact was a contribution to the incapacity — rather than capacity — of civil society to rebuild itself on a foundation of tolerance and respect”1. This huge discrepancy between local remuneration and international NGOs distortions will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a refugee camp anywhere in the world. In its accompaniment JRS tries to counter this divide by a simple presence of workers on a remuneration based more commonly on local scales than international salaries, and by stressing a style of intervention where accompaniment is central. 

• Accompaniment as psychosocial support 

The very idea of the presence of a friend, a companion on life’s journey, gives most of us hope and a renewed sense of self. A friend lifts our spirits, reminds us of a world that is more beautiful, full of promise and a future, and gives us a fillip that keeps us going during dark times. Such also can be the effect of accompaniment for refugees, who are in need of such support during critical times in their lives. 

• Accompaniment as pastoral care 

Sometimes the idea of pastoral care has been used in church circles in a very narrow way, implying a purely sacramental and denominational approach to care. However the true, wider meaning of pastoral care is that of a holistic approach covering mind, body and soul. JRS accompaniment believes in a pastoral care that goes beyond denominational and boundary concerns, so that the refugee can be met and understood in his or her completeness. This does not exclude religious practice, but nor is it exclusively identified with it either. The differences in emphasis are often reflected in differing ecclesiologies:  the narrow approach could be seen as that of a maintenance church, while the wider one would be part of a mission church. 

• Accompaniment as option for the poor 

To walk with those who are poor, or suffering, or marginalized, is not always easy. To be identified with the victims means taking the side of the poor, and therefore against those who exploit or those who misuse their power. This can lead to conflict with the powers that be. The Church has announced its preferential option for the poor, as Jesus made his mission clear in the synagogue at Luke 4:18 “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” I remember being happy with the work of JRS in a camp in Zambia when I was told that one exasperated UN official had said in public, “the trouble with JRS is that it is always on the side of the refugees!” Interestingly what he thought was criticism I took to be high praise. The Pope has reminded churches, communities and governments that the notion of Christian welcome and hospitality is to be applied to migrants and refugees, even those deemed to be “illegal” migrants.  

• Accompaniment as compassion

All the great religions enjoin on their followers the responsibility of showing compassion to those who suffer. Yahweh of the Old Testament required of those who would walk humbly with their God, that they do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8). The accompaniment of refugees can be a powerful exercise of this virtue of kindness or compassion, showing that religious responsibility is not merely seeing the stranger lying by the side of the road, but with the Samaritan “when he saw him he had compassion” (Lk 10:33). Buddhism is known as the religion of wisdom and compassion.  


• Accompaniment as listening 

To listen is to offer the refugee space and time to tell his or her story. Sometimes in the hurly-burly of flight and of coming to a refugee camp or of living in a hostile urban environment, it is the first opportunity of a human encounter where one person devotes their attention and empathy to the refugee. Ensuring that basic needs are met can be an overwhelming responsibility, and the chance to sit and listen to "clients" is simply not there. JRS believes that a key part of their presence and activity must be devoted to listening to refugees, so that their stories may be told, even preserved and taken to other fora and gatherings where the voices of refugees are rarely heard directly. In offering refugees the chance to be heard in a respectful and attentive way, JRS could be making a small stand against the "commodification" of humanitarian action, where increasing spheres of human and social relations are seen in terms of exchange value. The act of listening in respectful attention to another’s story has value that cannot be calculated economically. 

• Accompaniment as sharing in solidarity 

The concept of solidarity is a very important pillar of Catholic Social Teaching, "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all" (#39, Solicitudo Rei Socialis). The U.S. bishops used the virtue of solidarity as an appeal to their Church members to take up the cause of refugees and migrants: "Solidarity is action on behalf of the human family, calling us to help overcome the division in our world. Solidarity binds the rich to the poor. It makes the free zealous for the cause of the oppressed. It drives the comfortable and secure to take risks for the victims of tyranny and war. It calls those who are strong to care for those who are weak and vulnerable across the spectrum of human life. It opens homes and hearts to those in flight from terror and to migrants whose daily toil supports affluent lifestyles." (Called to Global Solidarity, 1997). 

This sharing in solidarity is most vividly demonstrated by the spontaneous reactions of poor communities on the borders of the world’s hot-spots. For weeks or even years, when refugees flee persecution, friendly local communities on the other side of the border provide a welcome in solidarity that can far surpass the responses of the international community, both in speed of reaction and in sharing of resources. One of the world’s poorest countries, Malawi, hosted one of the world’s biggest concentration of refugees (from Mozambique) for years. Of course Mozambican refugees were helped by international humanitarian agencies, but were it not for the welcome provided by Malawi, a much more serious outcome would have taken place. In the borders of Zambiaduring the Angola war; in one of the world’s poorest countries, Guinea-Conakry, during the mayhem in Liberia; in Kenya while Somalia is rent by civil war, often these frontier communities are hosting more refugees than are officially recorded by the humanitarian agencies. This hosting is done without fanfare, without recognition, and usually without thanks or acknowledgement afterwards when the refugees go home. Official repatriation exercises involve all the panoply of UN and INGO interventions, but unofficial or undocumented refugees quietly return to their homes, grateful for the solidarity and support shown by their neighbors, and sometimes aware that it may not be long before they in turn could be offering reciprocal hospitality when their neighbor looks for it later. 

"Human solidarity, as witnessed by any community that welcomes refugees and by the commitment of national and international organizations that care for them, is a source of hope for the real possibility of living together in fraternity and peace."2 

• Accompaniment as respect 

The dignity of the human person is a central tenet of Catholic Social Teaching, because we believe that each person is a reflection of the presence of the divine. God is with us, and he is present in each of us, so every person is a reflection of the image and likeness of God himself. There is a dignity and sanctity to human life, and showing this respect also entails respect for each person’s rights. 

• Accompaniment as being with rather than doing for 

This aspect of accompaniment means that the barrier between worker and refugee, between professional and client, between the have and the have-not, between the world of employment and the world of dependent shame, can be crossed, if not broken altogether. Though the worker does not live the life of the refugee, a genuine accompaniment can however give him or her a sensitivity and empathy to the refugee situation, and allow an equal relationship of mutual respect and friendship to grow. One of the best examples of this option for humanitarian presence was shown to me by the JRS Zambia team, who went to the border with Angola when there was a new influx of refugees fleeing the war. They lived in tents with the refugees for six weeks, in part doing a needs assessment, but also living out this option to spend time to listen and be with the refugees, seeing the world through their eyes. The fruit of this time was a very well-designed school support project that had a strong sense of ownership from the refugees.  

• Accompaniment as friendly reality-check 

Sometimes the claustrophobic world of refugee camps, or the numbing anonymity of being a non-person in a large city, combined with previous traumatic experiences and flight, can lead refugees to have quite distorted impressions of reality. One of the important contributions JRS workers can make in their accompaniment is gradually and gently to introduce a level of realism, or even a note of criticism where necessary. Sometimes outsiders conspire in preserving a dangerous bubble of illusion, whereas the real gift would be to provide a friendly picture of reality.

Structural and programmatic implications

• Accompaniment as capacity-building 

A commitment to capacity-building is a commitment to stepping back from the usual demands of program delivery, rejecting the model of goods and services being parachuted in from all-supplying, all-powerful centre to beneficiaries deemed to be passive, not involved and not able to be involved. Capacity-building implies a commitment to training, but since no amount of training can demonstrate automatically that capacity-building has taken place, it is not identical with training, and needs to go further if it is genuinely to empower. The goal of capacity-building is therefore to reinforce performance, skills, attitudes and knowledge at the institutional level -- strengthening a local community, or local community organization, or some other institution – or at personal level, so that effectiveness and sustainability are improved. Capacity-building should be a natural foundation for the next structural characteristic of accompaniment, that of empowerment. 

• Accompaniment as empowerment  

It is natural that empowerment should be a core activity and a dimension of all JRS’ work with refugees and displaced, considering how much emphasis is put on the values of empowerment and self-determination. In the humanitarian world it is now accepted theoretically that beneficiary participation is an essential requirement for any program, but often in practice the level of participation is minimal, even non- existent. 

In refugee camps or IDP settlements throughout the world there are often great differences in ethos: whereas some suffer from a permanent malaise and passivity, sometimes exacerbated through severe shortages in basic rations and services, violence and ethnic rivalry, others can be a remarkable source of collective action, leadership and organization. 

One researcher told me that some 200 community based organizations had been found in nine Karen refugee camps along the Thai—Burma border. My own experience has shown how there can be tremendous resilience among groups and individuals whose lives have been shattered by flight from war or persecution. 

It is that spirit that JRS seeks to capture and nourish when it accompanies IDPs and refugees in their journey in a camp or in urban anonymity. Empowering refugees is to give them back dignity, self-worth and hope for the future. Involving refugees in the plans people make for their lives is not only sensible but a psychological and moral necessity.

Structural and programmatic implications

• Accompaniment as predictable and reliable support 

A refugee camp, like any other centre of humanitarian action, is often a focus of intervention for a large number of NGOs and INGOs, assisting in the supply of water, sanitation, food, shelter, education, and other social services. Under the coordination of government and/or UNHCR, these agencies have varied mandates, varied understandings of their mission, and unfortunately also varied levels of effectiveness. The donor world increasingly demands transparency and effectiveness, calling on humanitarian workers to be able to show the impact of their work – in other words to measure their success. These can be heavy demands, in an area sometimes where there is no agreement on how to measure the impact of humanitarian actions. Donors too can be fickle, and if the donors are swayed by national or regional politics, often are more concerned about short-term results than long term impact. These situations mean that donor funding can be unpredictable, and even those funds that are allocated can often not be used efficiently and effectively. The end result at the level of the refugee or forcibly displaced is a life of uncertainty – uncertainty as to the humanitarian work being done, and an inexplicable (to them) weakening or withdrawal of services. Sometimes NGO staff are also caught up in this uncertainty, worried about their job or their short-term future. 

I think part of the ideal of accompaniment for JRS is to offer to refugees, as much as possible, a predictable and reliable presence and source of support. This support will not be unending, but any departure has also to be predictable and negotiated with all parties as an acceptable exit strategy. JRS accompanies refugees until its presence is no longer required or helpful. Ideally at the very start of a project JRS informs the beneficiaries of the length of time JRS support will be available, and the exit strategy thus becomes known to all from the beginning. 

• Accompaniment as effective support 

Predictable support also implies that what is done by JRS makes an impact and produces change. As we said, it is often difficult to measure the impact of humanitarian work, even if we can for example track and monitor food distribution or supplies of non-food items5, but the difficulties grow exponentially when JRS is dealing with the more intangible aspects of camp or urban work, such as peace education, conflict resolution, psychological support, empowerment, promoting self- worth, pastoral care. For these issues beyond pure delivery of identifiable services, the measurement of impact and the analysis of success is more difficult, but JRS still has to find ways of contributing to the international debate on effectiveness and accountability of funds.  

Accountability is another principle that JRS has developed through its practice of accompaniment in service, and linked to the idea of efficiency. Donor funds are supplied for the works and projects undertaken as a result of needs assessment and in dialogue with the refugees themselves, and JRS is committed to providing the donors, and the international community, the public evidence that the funds have been spend efficiently, efficaciously, and in a timely manner. 

• Accompaniment brings the frontiers “home”

Refugees are usually placed in camps far from the centers or capitals of the host countries. Such camps are isolated, on the frontiers of society both literally and metaphorically, out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes these ‘invisible’ refugees or IDPs can live in the urban centers of the world, but unseen, unrecognized and unwanted by officialdom. By the physical act of accompaniment, of personal presence, JRS affirms that the companionship and welcome, and brings the frontier into other people’s homes and lives. Accompaniment gives JRS’ role of advocacy a powerful and authoritative voice in a world of competing self-interests. 

JRS can also bring the frontiers home in another sense by its promotion of a culture of conflict resolution and reconciliation. Going beyond boundaries and bridging frontiers to express the solidarity of human brotherhood and sisterhood can be the final step in overcoming that evil which has broken the bonds of love and solidarity within the human family. “From the perspective of those living at the margins, globalization appears to be a massive force that excludes and exploits the weak and the poor, which intensifies exclusion on the basis of religion, race, caste and gender” [GCXXXV, Decree 3, #25]. 

• JRS accompaniment leads to service and advocacy 

It is clear from the above characteristics of accompaniment that the mere fact of presence, no matter how compassionate, empathetic or attentive this presence be, is not a sufficient holistic response to the evils of refugee and IDP situations. The situation demands that the struggle for justice involve assisting and protecting those whose rights are violated, create conditions where these violations cannot be repeated, and advocate for justice for the victims. Advocacy and service are intimately linked with the JRS response of accompaniment, and we find in practice that genuine accompaniment leads spontaneously to a commitment of service and advocacy.

Whom do we accompany?

The JRS Charter spells out to whom the organization has a mission. We have already seen that #9 of the Charter speaks of the triple mandate of accompaniment, service and advocacy as applying to “refugees and forcibly displaced people”. However JRS follows Catholic social thought in applying the word to those who experience the trauma of forcible displacement, even for the five reasons outlined in the Geneva Convention, but who do not cross an international border, and therefore whose right to international protection under the convention cannot be claimed. The Church speaks of such forcibly displaced as de facto refugees, even though they cannot benefit from a dedicated treaty and institution designed for their protection. Commonly referred to as IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), the international community and the UN system has been struggling with how to address one of the most serious and distressing phenomena of the last decades, particularly acute in Africa. 

Though there is no international legal instrument, Francis Deng’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1998) gives a normative framework for governments and agencies to respond to the needs of IDPs with thirty principles on protection, humanitarian assistance and resettlement. These principles have become widely disseminated, and have become a guide for humanitarian action and even a standard for measuring the effectiveness of such action. 

JRS usually finds itself working with both refugees and IDPs in a particular country. Although it is a truly international agency present in over 50 countries, a very strong presence is found in Africa, and much of the institutional fund-raising, support and advocacy work is focused on the continent. Africa, with 12% of the world’s population, hosts nearly one-third of the world’s refugees, and half of the world’s 25 million IDPs. Of the ten top refugee-producing countries, half are in Africa, and three of the top ten hosting countries (Tanzania, Chad, and Uganda). Of the twenty countries in the world with the highest ratio of refugees, eight are in Africa, and nine out of the 24 top countries in the world with the highest ratio of IDPs in their population are in Africa6. These figures show that it is appropriate for JRS to focus much of its work and service in the continent. 

This African focus also corresponds to a disturbing trend of growing forced displacement on the continent. Jeff Crisp writes that “the precise reason for the rising number of IDPs in Africa, as well as its relation to the decline in the size of the continent’s refugee population, remains unexplored and to a large extent unexplained”7. He adds that such growth has put great pressure on both the principle and the practice of asylum, the cornerstone of international protection for refugees. 

Asking the question whom we accompany in JRS is another way of asking whom we do not serve. Because of the strong humanitarian and religious motivation of our staff, because our mandate is wide, because we offer many types of service, it can be hard to say that we are limited in our help. Nevertheless internal struggles in JRS over the past decades tend to show the wisdom of applying limits and boundaries to our work. JRS decided to make an option for refugees and forcibly displaced in most of the regions where we work, but we felt that migrant work per se was too broad a category for us to identify with. In other words, we work with forcibly displaced, even those displaced at times by natural disasters, but do not normally work with migrants, those who are workers moving away from their families in search of employment. 

Yet we are acutely aware of the increasing ‘gray’ area between migration and refugees. The forced nature of some flight (for example, Zimbabweans fleeing the situation in that country, or Burmese so-called economic migrants in neighboring Malaysia and Thailand) make it very hard, even artificial to hold onto the distinction between flight induced through persecution, or any of the five grounds for consideration as refugee, and the flight of an “economic” migrant who has no other choice to provide for his family after persistent exploitative abuse than to go elsewhere. When people feel forced to move to find alternative livelihoods, the governments of their home countries at best ignore the situation, at worst promote the move in the hope of remittances, whilst the receiving countries routinely criminalize such migrants, or consign them to a twilight world where they are neither seen nor heard. For example, Thai provincial regulations for migrant workers from Burma and Laos include a prohibition from driving motor bikes, using cellphones, gathering together in groups larger than five, and being outside their designated quarters after 8pm.  

Refugees and asylum seekers often travel to other countries in the company of others who have different, non-protection needs. Quite often they can literally be in the same boat as undocumented migrants, trafficked by criminal middle-men, their journeys marked by inhumane conditions, and exposed to exploitation and abuse. Governments can react badly to these arrivals, treating them all as security threats. UNHCR has tried to address this situation of what is called mixed migration through a plan of action that calls for, amongst other actions, greater sensitivity of how potential refugees are handled, dealing with different cases in differentiated ways, and reinforcing the principle of non-refoulement, or preventing forced return of refugees9.

One of the most striking examples of accompaniment in daily life has been my experience in almost every part of sub-Saharan Africa, where it is considered normal that a visitor leaving an office or homestead be accompanied for some part of the return journey. After becoming accustomed to such habits, it always strikes me that normal “European” etiquette for bidding farewell to a visitor is rather cold and impolite. In many Bantu languages there is even a word for such type of accompaniment of a visitor at the end their visit – for example, in Shona kuperekedza. It is with such sensitivity that I think JRS has approached the accompaniment of refugees in their life of displacement and exile. To conclude with a definition that might sum up what we have said in this article: JRS accompaniment is the purposeful and open presence to individuals or communities, through a response deriving from religious and humanitarian concerns, and which has special implications for service and advocacy work.


1 Example from Tom Keating and A Knight, Building Sustainable Peace, UNU, Tokyo 2004 
2 Refugees: a Challenge to Solidarity, Cor Unum, Rome, 1992, #37 
5 “The humanitarian system currently lacks the skills and capacity to successfully measure or analyse impact” says a 2004 ODI [Overseas Development Institute] HPG report (Measuring the Impact of Humanitarian Aid by Charles-Antoine Hormann, Les Roberts, Jeremy Shoham and Paul Harvey, London, 2004, p 5). 
6 No refuge: the Challenge of Internal Displacement, by Kathleen Newland et al, OCHA, Geneva, 
7 Jeff Crisp, African Displacement, UNHCR, Geneva, 2006. 
8 In Abuse, Poverty and Migration, published by the Karen Human Rights Group, 2009, it is argued that the concept of livelihood refugee is a more comprehensive term that covers the situation of forced migration from Burma and IDPs within Burma (p 54). 
9 Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action, UNHCR, Geneva, 2007