Louise Zanré, Director of JRS UK, shares her vision for a better world and invites us to join advocacy efforts alongside refugees to make the case for their dignity
Advocacy is one of the three parts of the JRS mission. We often spend a lot more time on accompaniment and service – I suspect because many of us attracted to working for JRS are what I think of as being at heart “people persons”. We derive energy and inspiration from being present both with and two the people we accompany. We build relationships and endeavour to offer and to receive hope, dignity and justice through those relationships. And we often do not make enough of the advocacy opportunities we have had and the fact that peoples’ lives are changed as a result.
Being a “people person” myself I get a great deal of pleasure from meeting new people and having the opportunity of explaining to them a little about the reality of the lives of the people we accompany, whether those left destitute by the asylum system in the UK or those who have been detained, and the work of JRS. As a person of faith and conviction I base much of that message I share on the values underpinning the mission of JRS. I dream of a new world of dignity and justice, where everyone is treated with equality and compassion. I hope that, when I speak to groups, or at events; when I have meetings with civil servants, politicians; when I attend network meetings of partner organisations; when I write articles, that I am able to speak with truth, compassion and with passion and that the people I address or meet with are better equipped to conceive of and to want to work towards that new world.
It is a big ask – of myself and of those listening – and I am sure that I am not always as effective as I might be. It is also a big ask as we are up against so much. There are too many myths about refugees and asylum seekers. The world is far from perfect and sometimes the issues we are confronted with can seem to be insurmountable. It is difficult to know what response to make to the fact that so many people are being forced to risk dangerous journeys to get to Europe; to the fears that so many people have over competition for resources, jobs, housing or health care provision.
However it is especially at this time when things can seem to be so dark and depressing that it is of particular importance that we do try our best to counter a prevailing message of blame, of not being able to be generous, of not being able to participate together in society.
A new immigration bill was announced recently in the Queen’s speech. Unsurprisingly, the highlights make for pretty depressing reading – landlords having to check immigration status of prospective tenants to determine if they can legally rent housing to them, appeal rights only being permissible in immigration cases after deportation, making it more difficult for immigrants to get bank accounts, making money earned from illegal working the proceeds of criminal activity and therefore able to be confiscated, to name a very few. On top of existing restrictions they make the UK a very unwelcoming place indeed.
In the face of this we all need to be diligent advocates. We will be sharing with you campaigns against particular measures – whether to stop indefinite detention; to try and convince our government to resettle more refugees; or to lobby MPs about the immigration bill. But we will also be asking you to listen to the experiences of our refugee friends, their hopes and dreams. And we will be asking you to work with us to dream a new world, to try to be more welcoming ourselves in everything we do or say, to challenge injustice and to pray and reflect. Without our refugee friends and without you, nothing I nor JRS can do will substantially change things.