Shrinking the Distance


Shrinking the Distance

Mike reflects on the importance of volunteering at the Day Centre

10 September 2019

Shrinking the Distance

Mike worked for twenty years as a Probation Officer in London before joining JRS UK as a Day Centre volunteer.

Since 2012 I have given up most Thursdays to volunteer in the vibrant and challenging JRS UK Day Centre. This has offered a richly uplifting personal experience, anchored in the foundational principles of Catholic social justice, respecting the dignity of the human person and recognising the importance of human solidarity.

The time I have so far spent at JRS has been unremittingly rewarding and has offered me a privileged opportunity to meet with, work alongside, and support refugees and vulnerable asylum seekers, many of whom offer their greetings and friendship when they arrive at the Day Centre, and prior to leaving. I now feel a warm attachment and measured respect for those who have now become friends, whose stories of displacement and rejection have resulted in unmerited destitution, which mean that they are almost totally reliant on the charitable support of JRS and other voluntary bodies.

Around 60% of people who attend JRS had slept rough within the last year, and over a third were physically afraid of those they lived with. In March 2019 a landmark ruling in the High Court found the government’s ‘Right to Rent’ scheme to be unlawful, on the grounds that it causes racial discrimination. This hostile environment also criminalises other everyday activities, such as driving and working and increasingly bars access to essential services such as NHS care. Many of those classed as foreign national offenders are among the most vulnerable detainees in immigration detention, and many of those who acquired criminal convictions did so because of coercion from human traffickers, and once destitute it is so easy to be caught up in a web of punitive measures.

JRS has called for an end to indefinite immigration detention, with a 28-day time limit, and for decisions about detaining and continuing detention to be independent of the Home Office. As a volunteer, I am able to draw freely upon by my professional background, meeting with refugee ‘friends’ at JRS often at times of great individual distress, opening up an emotional space and presence when necessary, and bringing active compassionate listening to such encounters. At moments when my patience or attention is lacking, I have always aimed to recall the enduring words of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, ‘If I see a person or persons suffer and the distance between us does not shrink, then my place, is not good, not enviable’.


Day Centre Volunteer

Every Thursday JRS UK run a day centre where we welcome destitute refugees into a warm and friendly environment. Our Day Centre volunteers help in a number of ways through the day and ensure that our refugee friends are greeted by a friendly face and have a listening ear.

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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