Preparations are being made and excitement is growing at JRS in preparation for Walking with Refugees; a conference that will give practical and academic insight into the notions of accompaniment. Walking with Refugees will take place on the 18th September, and last week at our centre in Wapping, refugees, practitioners and theologians met to discuss what accompaniment means to them. The conversation offered a chance to spend some time reconnecting with the key values of JRS and how these guide our work in accompanying destitute asylum seekers in London and those held in detention centres at Heathrow. The ideas coming out of the conversations that took place last week will be discussed and presented at the conference.
Accompaniment is central to the work undertaken by JRS UK, connecting faith with pragmatism; pastoral care with policy; and a listening ear with advocacy. For our friends who are living in a hostile urban environment, JRS’s mission to accompany is often the first human encounter that they experience – where one person can devote their attention and empathy to a refugee; giving them the space and time to tell their story. Through such pastoral care, JRS breaks down the economic spheres of human relations, whereby people are seen only in terms of their exchange value. The very act of accompaniment cannot be calculated economically, and embodies our mission to facilitate the involvement of individuals and communities, to thereafter promote cooperation and networking on behalf of refugees. JRS sees each person as an individual with skills and passions and, in the same way that we treat each refugee who comes to JRS with dignity and respect, our advocacy work is shaped by values that are the foundation for our whole mission.
The conversations that took place last week were the third in a series of conversations on this subject, and happened mainly in small groups – giving people an opportunity to share and reflect on their own personal experiences.
During the conversations, questions arose about how accompaniment works in the context of borders and how it is rooted in solidarity and faith – able to transverse the physical boundaries between us and those locked up in detention or who are impulsively deported. The group further discussed where joy is found in the accompaniment of refugees; how it can allow an equal relationship of mutual respect and friendship to grow. The conversation focused on encounters between refugees, academics, and practitioners, ensuring that the resulting theological reflections were not simply about refugees, but developed with refugees – underlining how JRS not only values empowerment and self-determination, but wishes to listen to, and sit beside those that we serve.
Walking with Refugees: a conference on accompaniment
This project seeks to reflect on the practice of accompaniment, examining not only what it can contribute to the lives of refugees, but also how it can be transformative: transformative for those who walk with others, and transformative even of the social structures that marginalise refugees.
This conference will be the fruit of a unique collaboration between Campion Hall, University of Oxford, and the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, bringing together academics working in theology and related disciplines, practitioners serving refugees, and – most importantly – those seeking asylum themselves.
Would you like to attend Walking with Refugees?