Arriving in London, from Ireland, I experienced no hassle. When I travelled I encountered no immigration officers, no security checks, no suspicious eyes assessing and evaluating my validity for entry. I didn’t even need a visa. While I’m here I can legally work. I have friends and family. I have support. I have shelter.
Since arriving, I’ve learned that those who avail of the JRS’s support, its friends, are not as fortunate as I. Often they have none of these luxuries we consider basic, human necessities required for our well-being, our happiness, even our survival. I empathise with how difficult it is to be destitute in London after fleeing persecution, ending up exiled in a strange country with some hostile to your presence, to be refused leave to remain, refused shelter and accommodation, unable to work legally, all the while being far from home, friends, and family.
So who am I? Why am I here? I am studying social work in Trinity College Dublin. I have traversed well worn path from Dublin to JRS. I will be volunteering with JRS in London for nine-weeks. Arriving new to JRS was initially a littler nerve-wracking, which is normal when starting somewhere new, meeting new people. But Jonathan, Liliane, and the team made me feel very welcome. I was struck most by how JRS puts its values into action. Everyday usually everyone has lunch together, which is so different to working in most profit orientated offices. Having lunch together as a community embodies JRS’s most important value: hospitality. Hospitality in action consists of walking alongside, accompanying the most vulnerable with openness and love, which hopefully can somewhat counter the degrading, dehumanising, and disempowering asylum process.
“The only thing a human being can surrender to is love, to discover how in such a stressful situation there is still a notion of love that you yourself and the person can hold on to, which helps to restore a small piece of lost dignity. And that’s a journey on which you embark with somebody together’”
Michael Schopf SJ, JRS Europe.
I was excited to see JRS’s values in action at the day-centre. Every Thursday destitute asylum seekers are welcomed to JRS’s day-centre in the Hurtado Jesuit centre in Wapping, London. Nearly one-hundred attended. There, the JRS community, comprised mostly of volunteers, offer support, a hot-meal, tea, coffee, and heaps of biscuits from 10 – 15.30. The day-centre meets many basic needs, food, shelter, but it also meets psychological needs too through friendship. It seems too simple but it’s vital to supporting our friends in their struggle for sanctuary. The primary function of the day-centre is to accompany. As a trainee social worker, JRS offers me an opportunity to practice many skills such as person-centred approach, active listening, cultural competency, and anti-oppressive communication. There is great sensitivity and understanding required when communicating to an individual who experiences great trauma. In the case of asylum seekers, asking ‘where are you from’ can be insensitive. Usually, it’s a normal question we all use to get to know someone new but in the cases of our friends it has the potential to cause great suffering.
I am looking forward to learning and experiencing everything that JRS has to offer.