Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an international Catholic organisation with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS undertakes services at national and regional levels with the support of an international office in Rome. Founded in November 1980 as a work of the Society of Jesus, JRS was officially registered on 19 March 2000 at the Vatican State as a foundation.
JRS is also concerned with advocacy and human rights work. This involves ensuring that refugees are afforded their full rights while in exile and during repatriation as guaranteed by the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and working to strengthen the protection afforded to internally displaced persons (IDPs). It extends to lobbying for and promoting international human rights legislation, either through participation in international campaigns and coalitions or through membership of international fora, such as the UN Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC).
JRS Eastern Africa works with ten projects in five countries in Eastern Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, and Ethiopia, assisting refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees. Altogether, there are more than five million refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in the five countries where JRS works. Kenya and Ethiopia host the largest numbers of refugees while South Sudan hosts nearly 1.5 million IDPs. The majority of the refugees in the region come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. Due to on-going conflict, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan have the largest internally displaced populations and returnees.
JRS Eastern Africa provides assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in camps and cities, as well as individuals displaced within their own countries. The main areas of work are in the field of education, emergency assistance, livelihood activities and social services. JRS started working in Africa in the early 1980s. One of the earliest commitments was in Ethiopia, providing food, shelter and medical aid to thousands of people displaced within their own country by war and famine. At the end of 2009, nearly 105,000 people were assisted by JRS Eastern Africa.
Signs of progress towards peace and stability in southern Sudan, northern Uganda and Darfur directed JRS to work in resettlement communities, particularly along the southern border of Sudan. However, the deterioration of the situation in South Sudan since December 2013 has caused the organisation to begin new interventions for communities affected in Upper Nile State and Western Equatoria State. Conflict and destabilisation in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, as well as Eritrea, have led to large refugee outflows into Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda, over-crowding camps and leading many refugees to continue their plight into cities.
JRS Eastern Africa is changing and adapting its projects accordingly in order to respond as best possible to the situation and the resulting needs.