Hosting refugees in Africa: a conversation with Fr Debrework of JRS

Fr Endashaw Debrework SJ of the Jesuit Refugee Service shares his experiences of working with refugees in Eastern Africa.

The Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Eastern Africa, Fr Endashaw Debrework SJ, had a full agenda for his three-day visit to Canada in November. It proved most enlightening to those who were privileged to spend time with him. Fr Endashaw oversees the work of JRS in five countries – Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan – and is a global advocate for social justice and policy issues pertaining to refugees and displaced persons.

A refugee-hosting continent

In Canada, Fr Endashaw particularly wanted to share some of the root causes of forced migration and to make the point that Africa is not only a refugee-producing continent but also a refugee-hosting continent—and that the latter involves major challenges for organizations like JRS that are trying to accompany refugees and meet their needs.

On 28 November, Fr Endashaw was in Ottawa where he had meetings with Global Affairs Canada and with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to discuss the complexity of migration patterns in Eastern Africa, a region which, together with the Horn of Africa, hosts over 9 million refugees. In the Toronto area on 29 and 30 November, Fr. Endashaw visited St Patrick Catholic Secondary School, which has numerous refugee students; and St Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering, which helped Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) raise funds for a JRS skills training centre in Ethiopia.

Fr Endashaw also spoke at a public event on 29 November at St Michael’s College in Toronto. It was entitled “Hosting 9 million displaced people: The response of JRS in East Africa” and was co-hosted by CJI, JRS Canada, St Michael’s College Campus Ministry, the Mary Ward Centre and Romero House. Fr Endashaw shared what JRS is doing in the region and emphasized that the international community must do more to enact the core principles of UNHCR—that is, resettlement, repatriation and integration—and to provide sufficient resources to do this properly. His talk and interaction with people in attendance were greatly appreciated.