Ethiopia: Cardinal Berhaneyesus meets refugees at JRS's Refugee Community Center in Addis Ababa
19 January 2018

Cardinal Berhaneyesus is welcomed by a refugee at the JRS's Refugee Community Center in Addis Ababa (JRS)

Addis Ababa, 19 January 2018 - The service of refugees is a work of the Church, according to Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M., Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa. He was speaking during his apostolic visit to the JRS Refugee Community Center (RCC) on 12 January 2018. Welcoming his Eminence, Mr. Mulugeta W/Eyesus, JRS-Ethiopia Country Director, concurred saying, “[t]he mission of JRS is the mission of the Catholic Church and JRS challenges all sorts of injustices and works to ease human suffering through its different services and accompaniment or journeying further with the refugees to express God’s love for the most disadvantaged and isolated communities”.

His Eminence was taken on a tour of the center and given a briefing of the activities that take place there. Afterwards, he met all the beneficiaries who were present and gave them a message of peace. He explained that Catholic translates to “all-embracing”, meaning that the Church works for all nations regardless of race, religion, gender and any other considerations. He invited all present to pray with him for peace to reign all over the face of the earth.

Cardinal Berhaneyesus highlighted Pope Francis’ concern for the global refugee crisis noting how the supreme pontiff has been relentless in engaging and reminding the international community of its obligations towards migrants and refugees. He commended JRS’s reputation for transparency in financial matters, which has earned it the trust of donors, and applauded its wide-ranging services to refugees despite limited resources. He emphasized the importance of maintaining good relationship with other partners, including the UNHCR and the government of Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugees and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), which is crucial in ensuring continued support for its operations.

His Eminence also stressed the importance of teaching Amharic language for refugees in order to facilitate their integration within the local community. He showed that refugees and foreigners will be much more comfortable attending mass and other church services if they know the local language.

On behalf of JRS, Mr. Mulugeta further expressed his appreciation for his Eminence’s support to JRS and the refugee community it serves. He reiterated JRS’s commitment to the cause of refugees noting that the pledges of the government of Ethiopia – comprising nine major areas – offered a great opportunity.

Mr. Neway Alemayehu, JRS-Ethiopia Program Officer, gave his Eminence a brief rundown of all the programs that JRS is engaged in various places across the country.  He pointed out that often in some areas such as Dollo Ado Camp JRS was accompanying refugees well before other organizations arrived on the scene. Although the support JRS provides is limited in material terms, accompanying the refugees in their times of grief and loneliness has an immense impact on their lives. He went on to say that “[d]ue to the reputation JRS has built in Ethiopia over the years, we usually receive invitations to work in many other places. However, due to financial and budgetary constraints, we have been unable to expand our services to more places.”

Mr. Neway highlighted the importance of the recently opened Child Protection center whose purpose is to create a safe space for children, conduct case work and facilitate foster care for unaccompanied children, and provide counselling support to those suffering from trauma. The program also aims to empower the children through a variety of activities including training and schemes like child parliament, a forum where the children learn to tackle their concerns on their own.  A study has shown that nearly 760 unaccompanied refugee children reside in Addis Ababa. The prevalence of psychological trauma resulting from exposure to violence in their childhood makes the Child Protection center a timely intervention.

Cardinal Berhaneyesus praised the initiative, and reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to child protection, noting how the issue of child abuse has become a matter of utmost concern as awareness of its magnitude in today’s society continues to rise. He stressed the importance of putting in place strong policies, standards and code of conduct to ensure the rights and wellbeing of the children in our care are safeguarded.

Cardinal Berhaneyesus interacting with refugees at RCC Addis AbabaCardinal Berhaneyesus interacting with refugees at RCC Addis Ababa

Cardinal Berhaneyesus interacting with refugees at JRS's Refugee Community Center (RCC) in Addis Ababa (JRS)

As a token of appreciation for his visit, his Eminence was presented with a painting depicting the life of a refugee in Gambella camp. The Cardinal was so moved by the painting that he shared a memory of a time, back when he was much younger, when he ministered in a refugee camp. Some of the people he served were later resettled to other countries and he has had the chance to meet them on various occasions.

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