The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is committed to its threefold mission of accompanying, serving, and advocating for and on behalf of refugees.

JRS serves refugees by empowering them with skills that allow refugees to live in dignity. Through its various programmes, JRS has served approximately 20,000 displaced people in the nations of Malawi, South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe.

  • Education
  • Vocation and Livelihoods
  • Emergency Services
  • Legal Assistance
  • Advocacy

When a person is forced to flee his or her country and moves to a refugee camp, the average stay is 17 years. This means many people spend years in a camp without proper education or vocational training that will be necessary for life outside the camp. JRS combats this by providing pre-primary, primary, secondary, tertiary and adult education to people living in camps.

JRS partners with Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM), an educational programme designed to provide university diplomas and Community Service Learning to people in refugee camps, host communities or on the margins of society. In the Dzaleka refugee camp, JRS implements and works with JC:HEM in order to provide Jesuit University educational opportunities to refugees and asylum seekers.

JRS is also affiliated with the Student Resettlement Programme, designed to resettle students to Canada in time to enrol in a university there.

In Zimbabwe and Malawi JRS also focuses on training teachers both within and outside the refugee camps. These teachers are trained for real-life situations to prepare them for working with children who have experienced trauma. They also complete training in computer literacy, planning, and speaking French and English. 

Vocation and Livelihoods

Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution hope their new home will be safe and offer more opportunities for a secure life. This includes access to livelihoods so they can support themselves and their families. This need, while universal, is more acute in urban areas which lack the facilities to support refugees gratis, though the reduction in the food ration in many camps is resulting in the need for a cash income to supplements the food received and ensure food security.

In every country JRS offers access to a range of vocational skills courses for adults. These include baking and bread-making, carpentry, building, bricklaying, tailoring and dressmaking, hairdressing and cosmetology, amongst others. The objective is to prepare people to take up work when a durable solution is found and to begin their own business to generate income. The courses thus include business skills (in South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe) computer skills (in Zimbabwe) and language (South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe and Malawi). In South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe “start-up kits” are provided to graduates and small business grants for selected applicants. In each program there is allowance made for a number of non-refugee applicants from the local community and care is taken that vocational areas do not place refugees in direct competition with local people but that the refugee businesses answer a need.

In South Africa the Arrupe Women’s Business Centre is an innovative project designed to cater for vulnerable women who otherwise have not been able to succeed in business. Refugee women work alongside South African women to learn skills in craft making and in literacy / English language in order to sell their produce and generate income.

Emergency Services

Every refugee has a different story and unique needs. For those who come to a new country without money or a support system, JRS assists in trying to help them gain some income security. However, many refugees spend a period of time unemployed, without homes, and without basic living materials. JRS will provide emergency help for such people for a limited time while planning longer term strategies to help them carve out a future. JRS also refers such people to medical services and if necessary advocates on their behalf so they gain access to the services that are their right.

In one country JRS provides food parcels and hygiene packs to people crossing the border. These services are meant to sustain refugees for a short period of time while they take the first steps to a more stable existence. JRS may also provide transport tickets to enable individuals to reunite with family members.

Legal Assistance

Each country has a unique set of laws and protocols for refugees to get legal status and gain documentation. JRS assists newly arriving people to navigate the legal system and in some cases – like in Angola – provides legal assistance in the asylum-seeking process itself. JRS monitors human rights abuses and educates both refugees and local police and government staff of the rights afforded to people seeking asylum in Southern Africa.

In Angola, workshops are conducted in order to educate asylum seekers, refugees, and government employees on the legal complexities of migration. Some workshops are carried out specifically for government officials to help them understand the appropriate documentation for refugees and asylum seekers. Other workshops are carried out specifically for asylum seekers in order for them to understand what they are legally entitled to.

Since the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process can be lengthy, many individuals often spend years waiting to find out if they qualify for refugee status assists refugees in filing appeals. JRS has represented nearly 3,500 individuals in the RSD appeals process in Angola in recent years. 


One philosophy of JRS is the need for people to work together in order to improve the lives of refugees. JRS therefore collaborates with different government agencies such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other NGO’s to foster better living situations for refugees in these areas. JRS also advocates on behalf of refugees by lobbying with government and health care organizations in order to change policies and provide further support for refugees in these urban areas.